Centre for Medieval Studies Lecture Series

Natalie Van Deusen

“Í dyggðum skær”

St. Agnes of Rome in Post-Reformation Iceland

Thursday, November 15, 2018, at 16.30
Lögberg 101

Natalie Van Deusen

The legend of St. Agnes, the thirteen-year-old Christian virgin who was martyred in Rome in 304 CE, survives in three Old Norse prose redactions, all of which are translations of the Pseudo-Ambrosian Passio Agnetis. Agnes was the co-patron of two churches in medieval Iceland, and hers was a Holy Day of Obligation during the country’s Catholic period; her prose legend, like those of the other virgin martyrs, seems to have been especially popular among women in religious orders, for whom the legends of virgins probably had their largest audience. There are also several poetic renderings of the legend of St. Agnes in Iceland, both from the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period. The earliest of these, “Agnesardiktur” (ca. 1300-1550), is extant in thirteen manuscripts dating from the beginning of the eighteenth century. Next is a rímnaflokkur, “Agnesarrímur,” composed in the seventeenth century by Rev. Eiríkur Hallson í Höfða (1614-1698) for his friend’s young daughter, Hólmfríður Benediksdóttir; the rímur in four fits are extant in only one manuscript. “Agnesarkvæði,” allegedly composed ca. 1725 by Þorvaldur Magnússon, seems to have enjoyed widespread popularity, and is found in over one hundred manuscripts and audio recordings in Iceland and Canada. One of the manuscripts preserving “Agnesarkvæði,” Lbs 2286 4to (1892-93), also preserves a fourth and (to this point) unknown poem by an anonymous author, “Agnesarvísa,” a single stanza recorded from the memory of the same woman on whom the manuscript’s compiler, Sighvatur Grímsson Borgfirðingur (1840-1930) relied on for his transcription of “Agnesarkvæði.” This talk discusses the three post medieval Agnes poems, including the hitherto undiscussed one-stanza “Agnesarvísa.” It focuses on the way in which the three poems treat the legend, and examines their sources, interrelationship, transmission, and dissemination.

Natalie Van Deusen is Associate Professor at the University of Alberta, where she teaches Scandinavian language, literature, and culture. Her research interests include Old Norse paleography and philology, manuscript culture, hagiography and religious literature, and gender studies.

The talk will be delivered in English. All are welcome to attend.