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January 9, 2011

The Life of Christina of Markyate- Summary

The Life of Christina of Markyate- Summary

Christina was born in a town called Huntingdon to mother, Beatrix, and father, Auti. Christina was baptized as Theodora, which means "Gift of God," but she later changed it for spiritual reasons. One day while Christina was still in her mother's womb, Beatrix was sitting at her window looking out "at the monastery of the Blessed Mother of God that was in the town. When behold! She saw a dove, whiter than snow, leave the monastery and fly gently straight towards her. With its wings folded, it plunged itself deep into the right-hand sleeve of the tunic she was wearing" (3). The dove remained with her for seven days; this was a sign from God that the child in her womb was very special to him.

One day, Beatrix went to church and then came home as she always did. Between 1:30 and 4:15 p.m. on November 6, Beatrix gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. From her very first day she was virtuous. Before Christina was old enough to know the difference between right and wrong, she would to whip herself whenever she thought that she had done something wrong.

Christina always had a very personal relationship with God; she used to pray to him out loud as if he were standing right there listening to her. She did this in such a loud voice that everyone in the house could hear her, and it was only until she was teased about it that she began saying her prayers to herself.

When Christina was young she met a canon named Sueno; he was known for his good life and his ability to teach the word of God. Sueno helped Christina to preserve her virginity for God by offering her encouraging words meant to strengthen her resolve. One person told her that he was so infused by lustful desires that he would sleep with anyone, including a leper. This upset Christina and she told that person that if she did not have anything decent to say then she was not going to listen. Hearing this, Sueno's devotion to God was strengthened.

Christina's parents decided to take her with them to the abbey of St. Albans; in order to beseech protection for their family. Christina was impressed with the way that the monks lived and declared that she wished to be like them. When they were leaving, Christina "scratched the sign of the cross with one of her fingernails on the door so as to mark that in that monastery in particular she had stowed away her heart's desire" (5). The next day, she went to church for mass. After the services, she went up to the priest and offered a penny, saying to herself "for to thee in surrender of myself I offer this penny. Deign to grant me, I beseech thee, purity and inviolable virginity" (6). After they had returned home, Christina told Sueno that she had vowed her virginity to God and Sueno confirmed her vow before God.

Every day her holy virtue grew, which made the devil envious; so he devised a plan that would bring her to the dark side. Christina's maternal aunt used to be the concubine of Ranulf, the bishop of Durham, and they had children together. After he was done with her, Ranulf married her off to a man in Huntingdon. Whenever he was in town he would stop and stay with Christina's aunt. It was custom that whenever Ranulf was visiting Christina's family would come over for a visit. On this particular visit Ranulf looked at Christina and he immediately wanted her. Ranulf arranged for her to meet him in his bedchamber. After a while Ranulf gave the signal to his attendants to leave and they were alone. Ranulf grabbed her by one of the sleeves of her tunic. Christina did not want to consent to this nor did she want to openly refuse his advances. Christina looked behind her and saw that the bedchamber door was shut but not bolted; so she bid him to let her go and bolt it. Ranulf made her promise that she would not deceive him by trying to leave. Christina promised and he let her go. Christina left the room and bolted the door from the outside, and she went home as quickly as she could. Ranulf thought that the only just revenge for what she had done to him was having someone else have sex with her; thus breaking her vow of virginity.

Ranulf put his plans on hold while he went to London. When he came back he tried once again to win Christina over by bringing her "silken garments and precious trinkets of all kinds" (8). Christina looked at the presents in disgust. This angered him and he decided to proceed with his plan. He spoke with a man named Beorhtred about proposing to Christina, he told him that he would speak to her parents and urge things along. Beorhtred asked for her hand and she refused. Her parents tried to bribe her with gifts, but it did no good. A year of their begging and her refusing went by, until one day, when they were all together at church, her family turned on her and reproached her for her behavior. Christina gave into her family and she was betrothed to Beorhtred. Although Christina was betrothed to Beorhtred, she did not give up her vow of chastity, and openly stated that she would not give into carnal desires.

Because Christina consistently refused to consummate her marriage, her parents put her under house arrest. They would not let her see any religious person, and instead surrounded her with impious people.

Her parents presided over the Gild Merchant Festival, and they thought it fitting to elect their daughter, Christina, to be the cup-bearer. They hoped that having to hear all the lewd comments would sway her resolve. She went the whole day without drinking anything and did not give into her parent's wishes.

Every time Christina outwitted her parents, they grew more and more angry. Their newest scheme was letting Beorhtred in Christina's room at night; their hope was that he would violate her while she slept. The first time this happened, Christina was awake and dressed, waiting for him. She recited the story of St. Cecilia and her husband Valerian; they were a holy married couple, because they lived chastely together. When he came out, Christina's family chastised him for being spineless.

On another night, they forced him back into her chamber; they told him that they would help him if he needed them to. Christina sensed what was going to happen, and she hid behind a curtain, clinging to a nail. When Beorhtred came in her could not find her nor could her family. At one point, one of them touched and held her foot, but the curtain was so thick that he could not tell that it was her foot that he was holding.

The next day, Beorhtred came back, equally angry. As he entered her room, she went out another door. She jumped over a very tall fence with ease even though it had sharp spikes at the top. She left Beorhtred on the opposite side of the fence very angry.

Like Jesus, who was persecuted by the Jews, Christina was tormented by her parents. Sueno heard about her nuptials, and since he was not allowed to go and see her; he accused her of "feminine inconstancy" (14). Christina found out about Sueno's accusation and she was very sad. Later, Sueno found out that he was wrong about her, and he was very ashamed. He found out that she was going to be at a family funeral, and hoped o get to speak with her; Sueno found an opportunity to beg her forgiveness, which she gave him.

Auti took Christina to see the reverend prior, Fredebert. Auti asked the prior to tell his daughter to marry Beorhtred; so that she will no longer bring shame to her family. Fredebert told Christina that virgins are not the only ones who are saved, wives and mothers are too. He tells her to marry Beorhtred. Christina agrees with the prior that not only virgins are saved; however, she says that if mothers are saved then virgins are saved more easily. This answer shocked the prior, and he asked her how she could prove that she wanted out of her marriage because she truly loved Christ rather than because she wants to marry another, more wealthy man. She replies that she does indeed want a richer man, "for who is richer than Christ?" (18). This answer swayed Fredebert's opinion and he told Auti that he accepted Christina's vow of chastity, and she should not have to marry Beorhtred. Auti let Christina off of house arrest and she was free to do as she pleased.

Beorhetred agreed to the annulment and he offered to give her money so that she could serve God. Christina's parents were furious. They talked him into bribing the bishop to invalidate the annulment. Christina knew nothing of this plan, and went about her days happily. The bishop summoned both Christina and Beorhtred to appear before him. Once there, the bishop overturned the previous ruling and handed her over to her Beorhtred.

After the announcement by the bishop, Beorhtred began to boast of his victory. Christina asked him what he would do if someone else tried to take her away from him. He said that he would kill that person. Christina warned Beorhtred that she was the bride of Christ, and if he tried to take her away from Christ he would be slain. As she got up to leave, Beorhtred grabbed her cloak, but she loosed it and escaped.

Auti was very angry; "he stripped her of all her clothes except her undershirt," and he decided to evict her from his house. He would have made her leave right away if a guest, who was staying with them, hadn't spoke up for her. Christina stayed the night and attempted to leave the next morning, but her father found her and brought her back against her will.

Christina's mother tried everything she could to sway Christina's mind. She wasted a lot of money on love potions and charms, but nothing worked. Christina's mother would beat her, and she did not care who knew about it. Christ wanted to comfort his handmaiden so he sent her a vision in her dreams. Mary appeared to her. In her dream, Christina went right by Beorhtred and he couldn't touch her. She was led to a tiny room that was up a flight of stairs, this is where she will find refuge from her family.
Sueno prayed to God night and day, and finally Christ answered his call. He told Sueno, "Fear not, Sueno, I will set free the woman for whom you have prayed. And when she is free you will see with your own eyes and speak to her with your own lips and your heart will rejoice" (27).

More and more efforts were made to keep Christina locked away. One day Christina bribed her keepers to secretly let her see Eadwine, who was "a devout follower of the solitary life" (28). He agreed to help her escape. He thought about where she could go and the only name that came to mind was his relative Roger. Roger was an old man, who was very wise. He was a deacon, who lived in a hermitage. Roger was a very devout follower of Christ, and he did not allow himself any pleasure. His only wish was to serve God.

Eadwine asked Roger to take Christina in, and when he heard that she was from Huntington he became very intrigued. He asked Eadwine many questions about her. Roger had been expecting something from Huntington for some time; he just didn't know what it was. When Eadwine told him she had been married, Roger became very angry and threw Eadwine out. Eadwine didn't know what to do, but he did know that he had to help Christina.

Eadwine went to go see the archbishop of Canterbury, who at the time was Ralph. The archbishop gave his blessing to Christina and agreed that it was the right thing to do to help her escape.
Christina heard that Eadwine was back, and she once again bribed her servants to let her see Eadwine's servant. He told her everything. She chose to flee to Flamstead, because it was near Roger's hermitage.

Christina thought up a plan and told it to Eadwine's servant. She told him to go and tell Eadwine to have two horses ready on the decided upon day. At dawn, on that day, the servant is to wait in a certain field. She warned him to be careful not to run into anyone she knows. She will signify her presence by putting her right hand on her forehead with only her forefinger raised. When the servant sees her signal, he is to come immediately.

When the day came Christina went out to the appointed place, but she could not see Eadwine's servant. She then went to the Church of our Lady the Virgin to seek Sueno's permission to leave. He was not there; so she prayed to God that the servant would appear soon and their journey would be successful. Then Christina went to aunt's house; her aunt had come around to Christina's side because Christina had given her many presents.

When she went back by the meadow he was still not there; so she went home, and sat amongst her mother's servants. She was losing "hope, when suddenly something inside her, like a small bird full of life and joy, struck every fiber of her being with its fluttering. She felt it flying upwards towards her throat and forming these words: 'Theodora, arise! Why are you so slow? Look, Loric is here!" (33). Loric was the name of Eadwine's servant. Christina secretly took the men's clothes that she had set aside and went to the meadow; she was going to disguise herself as a man. Loric was there and they made it to Flamstead safely.

Christina's silk clothes were replaced by a rough garment. Christina was put into a very small chamber; she was to remain her for her entire stay at Flamstead. Christina's family sent search parties after her. They were told to bring her back disgraced, and kill anyone who was with her. Beorhtred went to Roger and tried to bribe his disciples with two shillings. He was told that no woman was there. He then went to Flamstead. They told him that they were not in the custom of helping wives run away from their husband; Beorhtred gave up his search.

After Beorhtred had left, Roger asked his servants who the man was that had come. They told him that he was a man from Huntington looking for his wife. Roger felt very guilty and prayed for Christina. When he found out that she was at Flamstead he was very relieved.

Christina's parents found Loric and had him killed; this made Christina very sad. Christina was given another vision to comfort her: "she saw herself standing on firm ground before a large and swampy meadow full of bulls with threatening horns and glaring eyes. And as they tried to lift their hooves from the swampy ground to attack her and tear her to move. While she was gazing with astonishment at this sight she heard a voice saying, 'if you take a firm stand in the place where you are you will have no cause to fear the ferocity of those beasts. But if you retreat one step, at that very moment you will fall into their power.' She woke up and interpreted the place as meaning her resolution to remain a virgin: the bulls were devils and wicked men" (37).

The devil was very irritated by Christina's peaceful existence. The devil wanted to scare Christina; so he sent her big, ugly toads to invade her room. One even sat in the middle of her Psalter, but she refused to move and she would not acknowledge their presence. They finally went away.

Christina stayed at Flamstead for two years. One day Roger and his disciples were singing when they heard a group of virgins singing. Afterwards, Roger went to pray on what it meant. He was told to expect a very special gift from God. Roger remembered Christina, and knowing that she was going to be leaving Flamstead, invited her to live near him. When she came into his church, he would not look at her, but one time he looked back at her while she was praying. Their eyes met and from that moment on there was a special intimacy between them.

Even though they lived together, they made sure others did not know, because it would be considered scandalous. Roger's house was near to the chapel, and at angle to his dwelling was Christina's room. The room was very cramped and well concealed; so that no one could see it without already knowing that it was there. There was a very heavy wooden log pushed up against the opening; once the log was against the door Christina could not open it. Christina lived with Roger for over four years in that little room.

On March 27, Beorhtred came to visit Roger; he brought his two brothers with him, one was a canon and the other was a layman. Beorhtred said that he came to release Christina from their marriage. He said that the reason he was letting her go was because the Virgin Mary came to him two nights ago and reprimanded him for his constant persecution of Christina.

Christina remained with Roger until he died. Christina had to find someplace else to stay or risk angering the bishop of Lincoln. Christina tried to hide in many different places, but the archbishop finally entrusted her to a cleric. When they first started living together there was nothing, but spiritual love between them. After a while, the devil became jealous again, and sent them lustful desires. The devil wore down the cleric, and he pursued Christina without guilt. Christina resisted his advances. The cleric would often times appear before Christina completely naked. Christina struggled with her own feelings of passion that were welling up inside her, but she pretended that she felt nothing. He continued to try and assault her even when she was sick. Finally, John the Evangelist, Benedict, and Mary Magdalen appeared to him in a dream, threatening him. When he woke up he was terrified, and immediately went to see Christina and beg for her forgiveness.

One of Christina's most relentless persecutors, bishop Lincoln, died suddenly. When he died so did the persecution of the virgins of Christ. Christina settled into a hermitage not far from St. Albans monastery.

The devil kept tormenting Christina, trying to get her to give into evil. She was afraid God had abandoned her. Finally, God sent her Abbot Geoffrey of St. Albans. Christina received a vision; Alfred told her that she was to convince Geoffrey not to go through with his plan. Christina sent a message to Geoffrey, telling him about the dream. This made him very angry. That night Geoffrey received a vision in the form of a dream. Alfred chastised him for not taking heed to Christina's warning. Geoffrey agreed to give up his plan, and from then on he did whatever Christina told him to do. He offered to be the patron of hermitage in return for Christina's intersession with God. Geoffrey supported her financially while she supported him spiritually. Christina would continuously guide Geoffrey's life from then on. He would come to her whenever he had a big decision to make and she would guide towards the right path.

Christina was consecrated on the day of St. Mathews feast by the bishop of Lincoln, Alexander. St. Mathews is said to be the first to consecrate the virgins of Christ.


The Life of Christina of Markyate. Trans. C. H. Talbot. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008.