Two Anglo-Saxon saints this week, both relevant to Old English literature:
Hilda, Abbess of Whitby 614-680 (Nov. 18)—certainly deserves acknowledgment for her own witness and accomplishment in establishing several monasteries. It was her final “double monastery,” Whitby, where she led both nuns and monks, that became famous:
…it was a great center of English learning, one which produced five bishops (during Hilda’s lifetime or that of the Abbey?). Here a stable-boy, Caedmon, was moved to compose religious poems in the Anglo-Saxon tongue, most of them metrical paraphrases of narratives from Genesis and the Gospels.
Edmund, King of East Anglia ca. 840-870 (Nov. 20)—killed by Danish raiders when he refused to disavow his Christian faith. They beheaded him, but you can’t stop a saint that easily. From the Martyrdom of St. Edmund:
When Ivar the impious pirate saw that the noble king would not forsake Christ, but with resolute faith called after Him, he ordered Edmund beheaded, and the heathens did so. While Edmund still called out to Christ, the heathen dragged the holy man to his death, and with one stroke struck off his head, and his soul journeyed happily to Christ. There was a man near at hand, kept hidden by God, who heard all this, and told of it afterward, just as we have told it here.
Then the pirates returned to their ships and hid the head of the holy Edmund in the thick brambles so that it could not be buried with the rest of his body. After a time, after the pirates had departed, the local people, those who were left, came there where the remains of their lord’s body without a head was. They were very sad in heart because of his killing, and especially because they didn’t have the head for his body. Then the witness who saw the earlier events said that the pirates had the head with them, and that it seemed to him, as it was in truth, that they hid the head in the woods somewhere.
They all went together then to the woods, looking everywhere through the bushes and brambles to see if they could find that head anywhere. It was also a great miracle that a wolf was sent, through the guidance of God, to protect that head both day and night from the other animals. The people went searching and also calling out, just as the custom is among those who often go into the wood: “Where are you now, friend?” And the head answered them: “Here, here, here,” and called out the answer to them as often as any of them called out, until they came to it as a result of the calling. There lay the grey wolf who watched over that head, and had the head clasped between his two paws. The wolf was greedy and hungry, but because of God he dared not eat the head, but protected it against animals. The people were astonished at the wolf’s guardianship and carried home with them the holy head, thanking almighty God for all His miracles. The wolf followed along with the head as if he was tame, until they came to the settlement, and then the wolf turned back to the woods.
Seriously, translating this story from Anglo-Saxon (I hasten to add that someone else translated the version quoted above) was one reason I decided to become a medievalist. It is just too good.