Book Series Medieval Women: Texts and Contexts, vol. 10

Virgins and Scholars

A Fifteenth-Century Compilation of the Lives of John the Baptist, John the Evangelist, Jerome, and Katherine of Alexandria

Claire Waters (ed)

  • Pages: 494 p.
  • Size:160 x 240 mm
  • Illustrations:2 col.
  • Language(s):English, Middle English
  • Publication Year:2008

  • ISBN: 978-2-503-51452-9
  • Hardback
  • Available
  • ISBN: 978-2-503-56234-6
  • E-book
  • Available


"The edition does not disappoint. A model of erudition and critical acumen, it provides top-notch editions and facing translations of the lives, a thorough scholarly apparatus that is easy to use, an ample bibliography, and an introduction that illuminates the form and content of the texts themselves as well as their cultural and political environments."    (Karen A. Winstead, in Journal of English and Germanic Philology 110/1, January 2011, p. 138)


This collection of prose vitae of four virgins and scholars - Saints John the Baptist, John the Evangelist, Jerome, and Katherine of Alexandria - was almost certainly copied, and the texts very likely composed, at Syon Abbey or Sheen Charterhouse in the mid-fifteenth century. The lives cover a wide range of hagiographic modes, from hagiographic romance to affective, devotional appreciation to doctrinal treatise in narrative form. From the life of Jerome, composed by a monk for his aristocratic spiritual daughter, to the life of Katherine, reputedly translated for Henry V, to those of John the Baptist and John the Evangelist, which set their subjects in a recognizably Birgittine context, they show the interaction of men and women, lay and monastic, in the production of devotional literature. The diversity of their approaches and sources, moreover, shows the links between English dynastic politics and continental religious literature and spiritual traditions. As examples of translation practices, of monastic politics, and of religious instruction, these lives provide a window onto the devotional culture and literary worlds of fifteenth-century Europe.