Sueno, Eadwin & Loric help privileged virgin realize her choice

working man Roy Nelin

In twelfth-century England, a maiden of extraordinary beauty and sanctity sought to live as a virgin dedicated to Christ. She was from a wealthy, noble family. Her family expected her to pursue worldly affairs, acquire riches and honors, and have children. Her family furiously opposed her plans for a life of virginity and poverty. Sueno, Eadwin, and Loric, men much less privileged than she, helped her to realize her personal choice.[1] Sueno, Eadwin, and Loric, along with many other marginalized men throughout history, deserve to be recognized for their selfless service to women.

Sueno helped the maiden, who became known as Christina of Markyate, from the time she was a small girl. Sueno was an elderly canon from the Monastery of the Blessed Mother of God Ever Virgin. He was known for his influential teaching. He was also known for his lustfulness. After Christina decided to preserve her virginity for God, Sueno explained to her the glory of virginity and the difficulty of keeping it. Another listener responded cynically:

This man is still so inflamed by lustful desires that unless he were prevented by the greater power of God he would shamelessly sleep with any deformed and crippled leper. [2]

Christina supported Sueno:

Christina listened to this {disparaging comments about Sueno’s sexuality} with weary contempt and indignantly interrupted, saying, “If you have anything good to say, speak, and I will listen; if not, I am going.”

Christina’s support of Sueno strengthened his pursuit of holiness. She in turn benefited from his teaching and encouragement of her.

Sueno deeply regretted temporarily repudiating his friendship with Christina. Soon after Christina consented to marriage, Sueno heard the news. He was barred from visiting her or sending her messages to understand why she had consented to marriage. Without further information, he assumed that she had rapidly adapted to new circumstances. In the Middle Ages, women’s superior dynamism had already been recognized for more than a millennium.[3] However, Christina had consented to marriage only under intense familial and community pressure. That truth eventually became known to Sueno:

Reflecting on the constancy of the blessed maiden, and recalling at the same time his own lack of loyalty, the miserable fellow broke out into laments, and beating his breast with his fists, he became the harsh and unmerciful avenger of his own mistake.

Sueno urgently sought forgiveness:

When he found the opportunity he sent secretly once, twice, and a third time begging her for the love of Christ not to spurn conversation with a miserable old man from whom she might with good reason turn away because of his lack of trust … Raising his hand and putting it to his face, and weeping so copiously that a river of tears washed over his hand, he called God as his witness that he repented of this deed more than any other. Thereby he obtained pardon for his error and renewed his former friendship with Christina.

Like many other men in the Life of Christina of Markyate, Sueno was shown to be morally inferior to Christina. Both were happy to renew this unequal friendship.

Sueno then sought for Christina to be released from her marriage. He spoke to her husband. He convinced him to consent to renouncing their marriage. Christina’s parents responded by bribing a bishop to insist that the marriage remain in force. After Christina envisioned the Virgin Mary supporting what Christina wanted, Sueno appealed to his Prior with the story of her vision. Sueno also “importuned Christ night and day for the afflicted maiden’s deliverance.” Sueno’s prayers and tears for Christina had an effect. One day during his celebration of the Mass, at the altar Sueno heard a voice:

Fear not, Sueno, I will set free the woman for whom you have prayed. And when she is free you will see her with your own eyes and speak to her with your own lips and your heart will rejoice.

Men like nothing more than to serve women. Sueno would rejoice in Christina being free from her marriage and realizing her choice.

The devout hermit Eadwin also sought to serve Christina. Christina secretly informed him of her predicament. He offered to help her escape. Eadwin contacted his relative Roger of Markyate. Roger was an elderly, devout monk who lived in his own hermitage. Eadwin approached Roger about hiding Christina in his hermitage. After learning that Christina was married, Roger refused to have her. He angrily chided Eadwin:

“Have you come here to give me a lesson in how to dissolve marriages? Get out of here as fast as you can, and think yourself lucky if you get away unscathed; you deserve a whipping.” And he threw him out of his cell.

Eadwin didn’t give up his efforts to help Christina. He journeyed to Canterbury to appeal to the Archbishop of Canterbury. After Eadwin persuasively presented Christina’s case to him, the Archbishop absolved Christina in absentia of her marriage. The Archbishop instructed Eadwin to “sustain the precious dove of God with as much help and advice as you can.”

Eadwin arranged for Christina to escape from her home and hide with an anchoress. Because Eadwin was prevented from speaking with Christina, his youthful servant Loric spoke with her. Loric longingly whispered to her: “Would that I might have you outside the city.”[4] Christina blushed and was embarrassed. She then took control of the situation. She ordered Loric:

“Go and tell your master to prepare two horses, one for me and one for you, at a precise time,” and she fixed the day of the week. “As soon as Aurora appears, wait for me with the horses in that field over there,” and she pointed to the spot with her finger. “I will come to you there. Don’t make a mistake and run up to someone else instead of me. When my horse is ready, you will recognize me by this sign. I will place my right hand to my forehead with only the finger raised. When you see this, rein in the horses immediately. But if I am delayed, take it that I am waiting for the right moment. [5]

The servant Loric might have responded, “Hey princess, tell someone else what to do to help you. I’m out of here.” Instead, he listened carefully, strove to remember all her instructions, and dutifully reported back Eadwin, who was formally his master.

The day for escape that Christina set finally arrived. Christina carried out her plan:

After her parents had gone to the hermitage, Christina went out toward the river, carefully scanning the meadow to see if her companion were there. As he was nowhere to be seen, she put it down to his laziness and off she went to church

At church she prayed that Loric would come soon and that her escape would be successful. Perhaps out of annoyance with the laziness that she attributed to Loric, she didn’t pray that he would escape punishment for helping her. After exiting the church and again longingly scanning the meadow for Loric, Christina returned home. She was sad and disappointed. But “suddenly something inside her, like a small bird full of life and joy” generated words in her throat:

Theodora {Christina}, arise! Why are you so slow? Look, Loric is here!

Christina jumped up, put on male garments as a disguise, and set out for her rendezvous with Loric. She had forgotten to leave her father’s keys to his chest for silver, gold, and other precious items. He had entrusted those keys to her. But by happenstance an opportunity arose for her to return the keys via her sister. Absorbed in her concern for herself, Christina made her way to the rendezvous spot. There she made the secret signal. The humble, obedient Loric had the horses ready for her:

She seized one of them, but then hesitated, overcome with embarrassment. Why delay, oh fugitive? Why respect your femininity? Put on manly courage and mount the horse like a man. So she put aside her fears, and jumped on the horse as if she were a man, set spurs to its flanks, and said to the servant, “Follow me at a distance, for I fear that if you ride with me and we are caught, they will kill you.”

Christina, more than capable of shedding her femininity when doing that was advantageous for her, recognized a reality that many today don’t: men are punished much more severely than women, and men are killed much more frequently. So it was in the Life of Christina of Markyate.

After a six-hour journey, Christina and Loric arrived at Christina’s place of safety. As soon as her escape was discovered, search parties were sent along all roads to find them. The searchers, proceeding “in a great fury,” had been ordered:

to pursue her swiftly, to catch her, to bring her home disgraced, and to kill anyone whom they might find in her company.

Christina remained safely hidden, but Loric was captured. Through a vision Christina learned:

the youth had been released from the chains of the flesh in a happy death, according to the manner of the faithful.

In romance as in life, violence against men matters little, especially in stories about women.

After Christina had escaped with the help of Eadwin and Loric, Sueno cursed her mother. He blamed her mother, who had physically assaulted Christina, for driving her out of their home.[6] Sueno declared to her mother:

“You should know,” he said, “that many dreadful things lie in story for your house, in particular a terrible fire.” All subsequently happened as the man of God had said it would.

Christina’s mother lost in the fire many material things. But she didn’t lose her life.[7]

Sueno, Eadwin, and Loric are marginal figure in the Life of Christina of Markyate. Christina, the center of the story, was a rich, elite maiden who decided that she wanted a life of poverty and virginity. At considerable risk to themselves, Sueno, Eadwin and Loric helped Christina to realize her personal choice.[8] In the gynocentric society that prevails to this day, women have a broader range of life choices than men do. Women and men together should strive to value more highly men’s lives, lessen men’s responsibilities, and expand men’s life choices.

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Notes:

[1] The hermit’s name Eadwin is variously spelled as Eadwine and Edwin. The Latin text has Eadwynus. Eadwin’s youthful servant Loric (Loricus in the Latin) is named only when the inspired voice tells Christina that Loric has come to help her escape from her home and marriage.

[2] Life of Christina of Markyate 3, from Latin trans. Talbot, Fanous & Leyser (2008) p. 5. I reference the text with the Latin section numbers and the page in the English translation of id. Subsequent quotes are from id. 3 p. 5 (Christina listened…); 14 pp. 15-6 (Reflecting on the constancy…; When he found…); 27 p. 27 (importuned Christ…; Fear not…); 29 p. 29 (Have you come here…); 30 p. 30 (sustain the precious…); 31 pp. 31-2 (Go and tell…); 32 p. 32 (After her parents…); 33 p. 33 (suddenly something…; Theodora…); 34 p. 34 (She seized…); 34 p. 35 (to pursue her swiftly…); 36 p. 37 (the youth…; You should know…).

[3] Virgil, Aeneid 4.569: varium et mutabile semper femina (woman is always varying and circumstantially responsive).

[4] Jaeger (2005) p. 103 more precisely translates these words. He comments, “they sound like the prelude to a love confession and the invitation to a tryst.” Id.

[5] This translation draws on Jaeger’s translation, id. Jaeger notes:

Talbot translates, ‘When the dawn is breaking’. The writer’s Apparente aurora (Life, p. 86) is poetic language, however. The biographer wants allure in his formulations, at least in this episode. Prima luce would have been the more literal formulation.

Id. p. 113, n. 19. The episode more generally draws upon romantic conventions. Id. pp. 103-4.

[6] Her mother’s domestic violence against her was emotional as well as physical:

there was one time, when, on an impulse she {Christina’s mother} took her away from a banquet and, out of sight, seized her by the hair and beat her till she grew tired of it. She then brought her back, lacerated as she was, into the presence of the revellers to mock her. The scars on her back never faded as long as she lived.

Life of Christina of Markyate 23, p. 25. Medieval scholarship, like current domestic violence policies, has failed to recognize that about as many women commit domestic violence as do men.

[7] After her parents’ home was destroyed by the fire, Christina provided refuge for them in her hermitage at Markyate.

[8] While Christina of Markyate was never officially recognized as a saint, the earliest surviving manuscript of the Life of Christina Markyate, from the 1360s, is headed De S.Theodora, virgine, quae et Christina dicitur (“Of Saint Theodora, A virgin, who is also called Christina”). Bugyis (2015) p. 34 observes:

Much of the scholarship on Christina’s Life has concentrated on the various rhetorical strategies employed by its writer to fashion and champion Christina as a saint.

Id. explores why the Life seems to figure Christina in a “distinctly episcopal cast.” Id. abstract & p. 35. Nonetheless, according to the dominant conventions of current medieval scholarship, men championing Christina as a saint and episcopal figure is part of the masculine agenda that constrains women:

one of the key observations emerging from current scholarship is that medieval women of spirit were often complicit in the matrix of masculine agenda that constrained and channelled them, even at the same time that they challenged or disrupted these regulative discourses.

Royle (2011) p. 231. Men such as Sueno, Eadwin, and Loric are scarcely recognized servants and tools for wealthy elites in gynocentric society and gynocentric scholarship.

[image] Photograph (detail, touched up slightly) of Roy Nelin, a box packer in the roundhouse in Proviso yard, Melrose Park (near Chicago), Illinois, December 1942. From Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information Collection 12002-1 (DLC) 93845501 at the U.S. Library of Congress. Call number LC-USW36-580. No known restrictions on publication. Thanks to the Library of Congress and flickr Commons.

References:

Bugyis, Katie. 2015. “Envisioning Episcopal Exemption: The Life of Christina of Markyate.” Church History. 84 (01): 32-63.

Fanous, Samuel, and Henrietta Leyser, eds. 2005. Christina of Markyate: a twelfth-century holy woman. London: Routledge.

Jaeger, C. Stephen. 2005. “The loves of Christina of Markyate.” Ch. 6 (pp. 99-115) in Fanous & Leyser (2005).

Royle, Joanna. 2011. “Managed Holiness and Negotiated Recollection in the Life of Christina of Markyate (c.1098-after 1155).” Women’s History Review. 20 (2): 227-244.

Talbot, C.H. trans, Samuel Fanous and Henrietta Leyser, rev. and ed. 2008. The life of Christina of Markyate. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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