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Last Updated: Friday, 18 July, 2003, 15:15 GMT 16:15 UK
Ancient manuscript on the web
St Albans Abbey
Anglo-Saxon Christina of Markyate visited St Albans Abbey
A 12th century manuscript featuring the tale of a liaison between one of Britain's early feminists and a monk has been reproduced on the internet.

The rarely-viewed St Albans Psalter partly recounts the story of Christina of Markyate and her admirer, Abbot Geoffrey, in medieval times.

The online reproduction is the result of a 72,000 project by the University of Aberdeen's History of Art, Modern Languages and Historic Collections departments.

The psalter, made in the 1130s, features the Chanson of St Alexis, the earliest piece of French literature, and contains coded pictorial references relating to the events of Christina's life.

Running off

Christina, an Anglo-Saxon noblewoman was born in 1096 in Huntingdon, had made a childhood visit to St Albans Abbey in Hertfordshire.

As an adult, she was betrothed against her wishes and on a return visit to St Albans, made a private vow to escape from her family and become a nun there.

After running off, she came under the protection of Roger the Hermit, a St Albans monk.

On his death, she took over his room at a priory in Markyate, and was subsequently protected by Abbot Geoffrey.

She exerted considerable influence over his administrative decisions and he supported her financially.

Although their close relationship remained chaste, malicious gossip and jealousy soon spread throughout the abbey.

She was very attractive to men, but at the same time she wanted to protect her virginity in order to maintain that independence
Dr Jane Geddes, the University of Aberdeen
Dr Jane Geddes, head of the University of Aberdeen's History of Art department, said Christina's story was an unusual and fascinating one, partly because it was dictated by a woman.

"If a story about a woman was to be told in those times, it would usually have been carried out by a man and seen through a man's eyes," she said.

"Looking back from our world today, Christina could be seen as a feminist.

"She was a very independent young lady, but was full of conflicts.

"She was very attractive to men, but at the same time she wanted to protect her virginity in order to maintain that independence."

Dr Geddes said that the St Albans Psalter was an obvious candidate for display on the web, mainly because access to the original, kept in St Godehard's church in Hildesheim, Germany, is difficult.

Fugitive Catholic

Experts say the manuscript will be of great interest to anyone studying medieval art and feminism.

The psalter was probably kept at Christina's small priory at Markyate, not far from St Albans, until the Reformation.

During the Civil War, a fugitive English Catholic took the manuscript to the English Benedictine monastery of Lamspringe, founded in 1643, in Lower Saxony.

The manuscript has been kept at Hildesheim since 1803, where relatively few Britons have seen it.

Hi-tech imaging could reveal lost texts
04 Jul 03  |  Science/Nature
Strict security for medieval book
18 Mar 02  |  Scotland

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