State of the Art: Holy Heroes

Course Name

State of the Art: Holy Heroes: Saints' Lives in Early Medieval England





Course date

semester 2 (2018 - 2019)

Registration open until

10/10/2018 - 18/01/2019


UL, Lipsius, room 308


Thijs Porck (UL), Rolf H. Bremmer Jr (UL), Marcelle Cole (UU), and Kees Dekker (RUG) + guest lecture by Christine Rauer (St Andrews)

E-mail Contact

Thijs Porck

Course objectives

This course is suitable for students with an interest in Old English literature and medieval studies. A basic knowledge of Old English language and literature is highly recommended; students who have not followed a course in Old English must contact the course coordinator some weeks before the course starts for an alternative, online means to grasp the basics of Old English.

Completing the course successfully, the student will know what kinds of research are currently being conducted in the field of medieval English Literature, specifically with regard to Anglo-Saxon hagiography and the cult of saints, at Dutch universities and beyond.

The student will know about the conditions of that research (state of the art, the individuals active in the field), and will be familiar with a number of sources that need to be consulted to conduct that research.

The student will have the experience needed to identify a research problem, to formulate this in speech and on paper, and to conduct individual explorations.

The student will be in an ideal position to prepare and write an MA paper worthy of the epithet ‘State of the Art’.

Course content

Desert harlots, victorious virgins, military martyrs and cross-dressing confessors – this course will consider a great variety of saints celebrated in early medieval England. The worship of saints was an important aspect of the religious life in the early Middle Ages and inspired one of the most popular genres of medieval writing: saint’s lives. Early medieval England particularly stands out in Europe for the relatively many native saints that were honoured with a vita, both in Latin and the vernacular. In this course, we will analyse these texts (often with the aid of a translation) in their cultural-historical context. Topics that will be discussed include the differences between female and male saints; the influence of the traditional Germanic poetic style on hagiography; and the religious, political and economic motivations of the worship of saints.

This course enables ambitious MA students to explore in depth an area in the field of medieval English Studies that may play a vital role in their future careers, as teachers, writers, translators, or researchers. Engaging for 13 weeks with medievalists from four universities across the country to discuss the research these academics produce, study the theoretical considerations that lie at its basis, and explore the instruments of this research (including the library and internet resources), students will develop insight into the field of English Studies at large, as well as the state of the art in their future professions. This course also helps students develop their own research ideas, their abilities to move beyond literary sources, and to write convincingly about their findings.

Course outline

Classes will take place on Friday afternoon, from 14:00 to 17:00.

01-02-2019: Week 0: Porck – Optional fieldtrip to Exhibition ‘Relieken’ (Catharijnenconvent Utrecht)

08-02-2019: Week 1: Porck – Introduction: Saints, relics and saints’ lives

15-02-2019: Week 2: Porck – The Latin life of St Guthlac

22-02-2019:Week 3: Porck – Old English versions of the life of St Guthlac

01-03-2019: Week 4: Dekker – Gregory the Great’s Dialogi in Werferth’s Old English translation: Translation, purpose and influence

08-03-2019: Week 5: Dekker – Miracles and the miraculous in the Old English Dialogi

15-03-2019: Week 6: Cole – St Cuthbert

22-03-2019: Week 7: No class/break

29-03-2019: Week 8: Cole – Cross-dressing saints

05-04-2019: Week 9: Rauer – The Old English Martyrology

12-04-2019: Week 10: Bremmer – Two kings turn saint: Oswald of Northumbria and Edmund of East Anglia

19-04-2019: Week 11: No class – Easter

26-04-2019: Week 12: Bremmer – Collective Sainthood: The Seven Sleepers and The Forty Soldiers

03-05-2019: Week 13: Porck – Cynewulf’s Juliana

31-05-2019: Concluding Student Symposium

07-06-2019: Deadline for final essay


4 research assignments (40%) + individual research project, resulting in a piece of writing of c. 3500-4000 words (60%)

[5 EC option: if students want to follow this course for 5 EC: 4 research assignments (80%) + individual research project, resulting in a piece of writing of c. 1000 words (20%)]

Work formats:

Lecture, seminar, individual research

Background Literature and Course Materials

to be anounced

Further information

Course dates
13 three-hour meetings, on Friday afternoon, spread over a full semester.

Study load
10 ECTS (= 280 hours)
Seminars: 12 x 3 = 36 hrs
Preparation and work per week 12 x 5 = 60 hrs
4 Research assignments 4 x 10 = 40 hrs
Individual research project = 143 hrs

No extra costs for students.