Christina of MARKYATE (ca.1096-1154)

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“From a manuscript of the fourteenth century, kept at the British Library in London, we owe how much we know today of one of the most fascinating and less known figures of medieval mysticism: Cristina of Markyate, a secular English anchorite and later a nun. It is the only documented case of female mysticism before Julian of Norwich and Margherita Kempe. The Life of Cristina of Markyate, this is the title of the work indirectly attributable to Cristina, is an anonymous and incomplete text, originally written in the twelfth century by a monk from the Benedictine monastery of St. Albans who was very close to her. The biography of Cristina takes place in one of the most difficult moments in medieval English history, the epochal transition that follows the battle of Hastings in 1066, in which the Normans had severely defeated the Anglo-Saxons.
Born from a rich family of merchants of Anglo-Saxon origin, Cristina is a strong and determined woman, who chooses to consecrate herself to Christ from an early age, secretly pronouncing a vow of chastity. Escaped from an attempt to abuse by the powerful bishop of Durham Ranulfo Flambard (right arm of King William the Red), Cristina attracts on her the revenge of the bishop who does not accept the refusal and that finally manages to tear the marital consent. At the tragic epilogue, however, follows the escape from the paternal house and the world: around 1118, in fact, thanks to the help of her teacher, the canon of Huntingdon Sueno, Cristina embraces the anchoretic life and she secretly led to Alfwena’s cell of Flamstead. Here she finds shelter for two years, then she is transferred to a hermitage that enjoyed the protection of the abbey of St. Albans, a place where she would remain very long: the cell of the hermit Roger to Markyate. The years spent in Flamstead and Markyate are the hard years of imprisonment: the slightest suspicion of her presence in those places would have attracted her persecutors who had not surrendered to her flight.
The anchoretic experience also marks the spiritual and intellectual growth of Cristina, who is an illiterate: she is not able to write, but reads Latin. In these years her spiritual and ecstatic visions are increased in which the experience of the divine takes place mainly through the mediation of the Virgin Mary and of Christ. In Markyate, around 1122, she received a reassuring vision of Christ transcribed in Life (Vita, c.39, translation by F. P. Ammirata).
Soon Cristina is dissolved by the marriage bond and, with the arrival of the death of some of her most brutal persecutors and the resignation of her parents, she is finally free to live as a “bride of Christ”. At the death of the hermit Roger, Cristina, who meanwhile rejected the proposals to run the female communities of Fontevrault and Marcigny, arrived overseas, chooses stubbornly to take charge of the hermitage of Markyate. Around 1130, she came into contact with her third master, Abbot Geoffrey of St. Albans, a powerful man sensitive to female religiosity, who had already promoted the foundation of the convent of Sopwell for the “sanctae mulieres” of the hermitage of the woods of Eywoda. Abbot Geoffrey founded the convent of Markyate so that Cristina, after her monastic profession at St. Albans, could “guide and educate” her disciples. The narration of Life mysteriously interrupted around 1140, a few years before the erection of the convent of Markyate. Thanks to some sources we have news of two further facts that allow us to establish that at least until 1155 Cristina is still alive. After 1155 there is no more news of the visionary abbess, nor of one of her cult.”
(Quoted from: Iole Turco,

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