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The Martyrdom of St. Andrew: Introduction

1 Bede, Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People, pp. 115, 143, 149.

2 Eddius Stephanus, The Life of Bishop Wilfrid, pp. 44-47. On these and early Anglo-Saxon church dedications to Andrew, see Levison, England and the Continent in the Eighth Century, p. 262.

3 The town of St. Andrews is home to Scotland's oldest university (1411) and one of the world's oldest and most famous golf courses. For a lively survey of the development of the legends about Andrew's cult in Scotland, see Lamont, The Life of Saint Andrew, pp. 67-81.

4 Levison, England and the Continent, p. 72.

5 For the early Christian texts and contexts, see MacDonald, The Acts of Andrew and the Acts of Andrew and Matthias; also MacDonald, Christianizing Homer. For translations of the Old English versions and their nearest analogues, see Boenig, trans., The Acts of Andrew in the Country of the Cannibals.

6 For the OE text and a modern translation, see Ælfric, The Homilies of the Anglo-Saxon Church 1.586-99. The standard edition is now that of Clemoes: Ælfric's Catholic Homilies, pp. 507-19.

7 Although plural in form, the word "Acts" is treated here as a single literary work and therefore as a singular noun.

8 The most recent edition is that of Prieur, ed., Acta Andreae.

9 For a translation of the Greek Acts of Thomas, see Elliott, The Apocryphal New Testament, pp. 479- 505. For a view of the social context of such works, see Davies, The Revolt of the Widows. Medieval English versions of the legend of Thomas of India (who is invoked several times in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, e.g., in The Summoner's Tale, III[D]1980) include that of Ælfric in Ælfric's Lives of the Saints, ed. Skeat, 2.398-425, with facing English translation (see especially lines 263-365); and that in SEL, DM 2.571-86 (see especially lines 292-366).

10 For a summary of modern scholarship and translations of the chief extant fragments, see Elliott, The Apocryphal New Testament, pp. 231-83.

11 Eusebius, The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine, trans. Williamson, p. 89.

12 Gregory's summary (Elliott, The Apocryphal New Testament, pp. 272-83) was in turn revised and incorporated in the collection of apocryphal acts known today as the Historiae Apostolicae of Pseudo-Abdias, which is accessible only in early printed editions. Gregory also devoted a substantial chapter (chap. 30) of his De Gloria Martyrum to Andrew. See Gregory of Tours, Glory of the Martyrs, pp. 48-51.

13 The standard edition of the Latin version is that of Bonnet in Acta apostolorum apocrypha, ed. Lipsius and Bonnet, 2.1-37 (with Greek parallel text); English trans., "Acts and Martyrdom of the Holy Apostle Andrew," in Roberts and Donaldson, 8.511-16 (electronic versions at http://www.newadvent. org/fathers/ and also at http://

14 Maxilla is mentioned only at the end of the story as the person who arranges for the burial of Andrew's body.

15 On the Cross in English literary tradition, see Bennett, Poetry of the Passion. See also Bestul, Texts of the Passion.

16 "Acts and Martyrdom," trans. Roberts and Donaldson, 8.513 (this passage also preserved in the Hyde Breviary, ed. Tolhurst, Monastic Breviary of Hyde Abbey, 4.393); compare LA, trans. Ryan, 1.17.

17 E.g., lines 29-40.

18 Görlach, The Textual Tradition of the South English Legendary, pp. 74-75.

19 This form of the word, from OF croiz/crois, was more common in Southern usage, whereas cross (from ON kross from Old Irish cros) was more common in the North, supplanting the Southern form by the end of the ME period. See the entry in the OED.
The Cult and Legend of St. Andrew (feast day November 22)

Andrew in the New Testament gospels and book of Acts is, like most of the other disciples, overshadowed by the figures of Peter, Paul, John, and James. Despite his small role in the canonical books of the New Testament, however, he emerges in the fourth century, along with the other apostles, with a widespread cult and a growing legendary tradition of his own. According to this tradition, he preached the gospel in Asia Minor and Greece before being martyred there, at Patras, an Achaian city, which by the mid-fourth century claimed to possess his bodily remains or "relics." From Patras the relics were removed, "translated," to the new imperial capital of Constantinople by Emperor Constantius in 361, where they remained in the great Church of the Apostles. But Andrew's fame, his liturgical feast (November 30), and portions of his relics, had spread to other parts of the Roman world at least by the sixth century, as is amply witnessed by Gregory of Tours in southern Gaul (see below) and by the activities of Pope Gregory I in Rome. The latter, after his stay as papal legate in Constantinople (579-86) received from the Byzantine emperor the gift of the apostle's arm (along with St. Luke's head). Reputedly, Gregory gave Andrew's feast a prominent place in the Roman liturgy (which he helped rewrite) and hence throughout the regions of the Latin West influenced by Roman usage. Gregory's own new monastery in Rome was dedicated to St. Andrew, and the monks whom he recruited from there to carry the gospel to the heathen English (597) also brought with them the cult of Andrew. While the missionaries' first new monastic foundation at Canterbury was dedicated to Sts. Peter and Paul (consecrated after Augustine's death in 604), one of the first major churches built outside Canterbury was that of St. Andrew at Rochester (604).1 Also dedicated to Andrew was another important early Anglo-Saxon church, built in the North at Hexham (672-78) by St. Wilfred.2 Not long afterwards Andrew was also on his way to becoming the national saint of Scotland, some of his relics supposedly having been carried to the then-Pictish kingdom of Fife by an Achaian wanderer, St. Rule, in the fifth century (this tradition was probably invented in the eighth or ninth century, or the twelfth).3 Meanwhile, another Englishman, St. Boniface, the missionary to the Saxons, was consecrated bishop by Pope Gregory II in Rome on St. Andrew's day, November 30, 722.4 Continued early English interest in Andrew is reflected in the survival of a long Old English poem, Andreas, and an anonymous prose homily (in the Blickling Homilies), recounting a bizarre legend in which Andrew journeys in a ship piloted by Jesus (in disguise) to the land of the cannibal Myrmidonians to rescue the apostle Matthew, who has been blinded and imprisoned (that's only the beginning).5 Also among the Anglo-Saxons, the homilist Ælfric produced a prose homily in Andrew's honor drawing on the apostle's passio, or story of his martyrdom in Patras, in Achaian Greece.6 Ælfric's account draws on the hagiographic tradition of the "Acts of Andrew," with which we are concerned here.

The Acta Andreae7 (Acts of Andrew) typifies in various ways the early Christian hagiographical genre of apocryphal acts of the apostles. Works of this type sought to provide diverting and inspiring accounts of the apostles' lives and deaths as a sort of massive supplement to the canonical New Testament book attributed to the third evangelist, Luke, in the second half of the first century and known today simply as Acts (Greek Praxeis). The original Greek Acts of Andrew, on which the surviving texts are based, appears to have been composed in the second or third century, like the other principal apocryphal acts, by an unknown author, possibly in Syria or Egypt and probably in a community espousing an "encratic" form of Christianity, that is, one in which sexual continence and a more or less dualistic attitude towards the body and the material creation (associated with the devil) were of special concern.8 A common motif of the apocryphal acts (and in turn of early martyrdom legends) is the conversion of the wife or daughter of a pagan ruler, e.g., in the Acts of Thomas, where both the Indian noblewoman Migdomia and the queen herself are converted by Thomas' preaching and thereafter shun their husbands' beds.9

Such themes are evident in vivid detail in the extant portions of the Greek Acts of Andrew; for example, in the exciting life of the Christian convert Maxilla (alias Maximilla), wife of the Roman proconsul Aegeas. Her Isolde-like efforts to shun the marriage chamber and spend more time with Andrew and other spiritual friends include bribing a wanton slave girl to be her substitute in Aegeas' bed. In this original Greek version, Andrew's martyrdom is finally ordered by the frustrated and enraged husband, who blames the apostle, with good reason, for the destruction of his marriage.10 This narrative tradition was, however, substantially complicated and transformed by later censorship and revisions made in reaction, apparently, to the pronouncements of clerics such as Eusebius of Caesarea (in his History of the Church 3.25),11 branding the Greek Acts as heretical. As a result the original collection of Acts, detailing Andrew's missionary journey and adventures from Syria through various Greek and Macedonian cities (Constantinople/Byzantium, Philippi, Thessalonika) to Patras in Achaia, has not survived except in a sixth-century Latin summary (BHL 430), thought to be by Gregory of Tours (died 594), and this circulated only among the learned higher clergy.12 Portions of the original Acts, especially the martyrdom chapter, are extant in rare manuscript copies in Armenian, Coptic, and Greek, but otherwise the apostle's legend was rewritten and purged of its more sensational and "unorthodox" elements by a succession of anonymous Greek and Latin hagiographers. The best known version in the West is the so-called Letter of the Presbyters and Deacons of Achaea (henceforth Passio Andreae, BHL 428) which poses as an eyewitness account.13 This expurgated version of the apostle's martyrdom almost completely eliminates the role of Maxilla, along with the sexual intrigue14 and the encratic material, providing instead a stylized didactic debate between Andrew and the governor, Aegeas, in which the pagan judge voices scepticism about certain aspects of the Christian faith, giving the saint his cue to rehearse some basic tenets of Christian teaching while his audience is involved in the suspenseful anticipation of the violent martyrdom itself. The revised legend preserves little from the original tradition except the apostle's heroic determination to follow his master on the cross and his refusal to be rescued by his irate followers. Notable in all the versions, early and late, of Andrew's death is his elaborate greeting to the cross on which he is to die, a speech that exists in numerous variant forms and that probably influenced other old and famous tributes to the Cross including Fortunatus' Pange lingua and the Old English Dream of the Rood.15

Andrew in the Legenda aurea (LA) and the South English Legendary (SEL)

Latin versions of Andrew's passion similar to the Passio Andreae lie behind the account of his martyrdom included in the second chapter of Jacobus (James) de Voragine's LA. Jacobus, however, drew on a wide range of sources, including not only the Passio but also the gospels (for Christ's calling of Andrew), Gregory of Tours' summary of the original Acts (probably in the redaction by Pseudo-Abdias, from which Jacobus selects a few of Andrew's adventures prior to his arrival in Patras), and a medieval exemplum or didactic tale in which Andrew, now a saint in heaven, answers three riddling questions in order to rescue a Christian bishop from being seduced by a devil-woman.

The anonymous Middle English version of Andrew's passion printed here was composed in the late thirteenth century as part of the SEL (see above, General Introduction). The Martyrdom of St. Andrew is a highly abbreviated, swift-paced version of the apostle's martyrdom, drawing many of its features of plot and phrasing from the version in the LA, and other features apparently from the Passio Andreae itself, while omitting much that is in both these sources. The SEL-poet also seems to have added occasional touches of his own. For example, like the LA version, he omits the account given in the older Passio of the crowds who come to rescue Andrew from prison, the night before his crucifixion, and who are rebuked by the saint and exhorted to emulate his desire to suffer in patience like Jesus before him. LA also omits much of the preliminary dialogue between Aegeas and Andrew the next morning, when the judge in the older Passio adopts at first a kindlier tone, hoping that Andrew has changed his mind during the night, and twice offering him his friendship and a happy life if he will give up his foolish beliefs and lead back his Achaian converts to the worship of the gods, who are poised to wreak vengeance otherwise. This finally provokes an angry response from Andrew, who condemns the proconsul as a "Son of death, and chaff made ready for eternal burnings"; LA preserves only this part of the lengthy dialogue, where Andrew defiantly bids the judge do his worst, insisting that he (Andrew) will be more pleasing to God the more he suffers.16 In the equivalent passage of SEL (lines 53-64), on the other hand, the poet preserves enough of the old form of the dialogue to suggest the judge's initial conciliatory offers, but omits most of the ensuing dialogue, so that the proconsul's friendly overture is juxtaposed dramatically with the angry response from Andrew. This produces an effect quite different from that in either of the Latin sources, since here in SEL Andrew's anger is apparently provoked by the judge's wheedling offer of earthly comforts, rather than by the threat of torture or the vengeance of the gods. The SEL-poet throws this extreme viewpoint into high relief by omitting the other ideas that accompany it in the Latin sources. It is possible that he is simply following an intermediate Latin (or French?) version in which the work of conflating different Latin sources had already been done, but this seems unlikely. The poet seems to have browsed among the available versions to find the most dramatic moments, particularly those permitting him to sharpen the encounters between persecutor and martyr with wry personal touches and colloquial idioms.

On the other hand, the SEL-poet seems uninterested in much of the Latin versions' doctrinal and didactic materials, which are typical of hagiographic narratives of this sort. For example, in both the Passio and LA Andrew is allowed to explain to Aegeas in some detail how Jesus foresaw and predicted His Crucifixion, after which the apostle expounds the serial paradoxes of the theology of the Cross. He also explains more than once how important it is for the violence of persecution to be met with patient, non-violent suffering, not with resistance or evasion. Virtually all of this didactic material is omitted from the the Martyrdom of St. Andrew, except for the preliminary give and take between Andrew and Aegeas17 that precedes the longer didactic passages. The poem concentrates almost exclusively on narrative and dramatic elements, while allowing some space for Andrew's quasi-mystical lyricism (see especially lines 74-80, on the Cross, and 91-92, on Jesus).

A notable difference between the LA's legend of Andrew and the earlier Acts tradition is the former's addition, as a lengthy coda to the martyrdom, of a popular late medieval miracle tale, the story of the Three Questions. The SEL-poet also adapts this part of the Andrew legend from LA, but for the sake of dialectal and poetic variety, we have omitted SEL's version of the miracle tale, opting instead for the somewhat more complete and less popularized translation in the late-fourteenth-century Scottish Legendary (ScL). For the ScL text and a separate introduction, see St. Andrew and the Three Questions, I(b), below.


The text of this edition of the SEL Martyrdom of St. Andrew is that of Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Ashmole 43 (A), of the first half of the fourteenth century, probably no later than c. 1330. Nothing is yet known of the manuscript's early ownership, but on the basis of the scribe's dialectal usages it has been localized in Gloucestershire in the English Southwest Midlands, where the first version of SEL is presumed to have originated. The manuscript preserves many, though not all, individual SEL texts more completely than most others, and frequently offers sensible and reliable readings. Although Ashmole is somewhat later than London, British Library MS Harley 2277 (H) and Cambridge, Corpus Christi College MS 145 (C), the base texts of the EETS edition of SEL by Charlotte D'Evelyn and Anna J. Mill (DM), and although it has other drawbacks, it is certainly among the best of the manuscripts of SEL as a witness to the revised text as it existed in the early fourteenth century, that is, after the early revision labeled "A" by Manfred Görlach.18 For these reasons, we have selected Ashmole as base text in all but two of our SEL selections (see Life of St. George, II, below). A list of the manuscript's contents is in Carl Horstmann's ESEL, pp. xiv-xvii, and in DM 3.33-34).

Here in the Martyrdom of St. Andrew, as in other selections, apart from the spelling and punctuation adjustments that are standard in METS volumes, we aim to present the wording of the manuscript faithfully, largely without emendation except where Ashmole is clearly in error. Emendations are identified in the textual notes. Selected variants from London, British Library MS Harley 2277, fols. 174v-176r, 176v; Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Laud Misc. 463 (SC 1596), fols. 124v-126r; and the DM edition of the former are occasionally cited in the textual notes to suggest something of the textual variety and instability of this version of Andrew's legend.


Sounds and spelling. The Ashmole scribe (like the C scribe: see below, the Introduction to the Martyrdom of St. George, II[a]) frequently renders the third-person singular pronoun as is, dropping the initial h-; we have normalized all instances of is, without comment, to his. The A scribe also occasionally elides syllables in common verbs: Inele (line 46) for Ic ne wole ("I will not"); spext (line 48) for spekest; saistou (line 27) for sayest thou; wost (line 27) for wotest (i.e., "you know," second-person singular). Among distinctive vowels, the reflex of OE y/i is usually, though not invariably, u: e.g., sulf (line 2, "self"), wule (line 9, "while"), put (line 22, "pit"). Other spellings disconcerting for modern readers include the frequent use of v/u where we expect f, as in vor and vorsake (lines 3, 6) instead of for and forsake; deve (line 26) for defe ("deaf"); and vaste (lines 67, 83) for faste. The modern sh sound is usually represented sch (e.g., fischeres, line 3; scholde, line 37), whereas words normally beginning with wh- have simply w- (e.g., wule, line 9; wat, line 23, "what"). In accordance with METS editorial policy, the ME letter Ʒ (yogh), which often indicates the palatal consonant that many phonetics experts represent as [j], but that is usually represented y in modern English (e.g., your, year), has been spelled g in our edition in those instances where the word's modern equivalent has g (e.g., give and get and their compounds). Readers should be aware, however, that, especially before front vowels (e, i/y), and often before back vowels also, the sound in ME was that of Modern English y. Compare Chaucer's comment about the Monk, "He yaf nat of that text a pulled hen" (General Prologue, CT I[A]177). Instances in the Martyrdom of Andrew are rare (e.g., agen line 35), but common in other texts in this volume.

Pronouns. The most distinctive pronouns are those of the third-person plural: hi ("they"), hem ("them"), hor ("their"). We normalize the second-person singular pronoun the to thee. The plural forms are Ʒe and Ʒou, which we render as ye and you.

Verbs. The suffix -eth is used in the present tense, third-person, both singular and plural, and in the imperative plural: cometh (line 5), hath (line 23), beth (line 26), worth (lines 60, 64). The unstressed prefix y- (from OE ge-) is common not only in the past participle but also as a verb-stem prefix: igo (line 23, "gone"), iturnd (line 55, "turned"), isay (line 4, "saw," third person singular), isé (line 36, "saw," first-person singular). Negatives are frequently double or triple, for emphasis, as in Chaucer and modern non-Standard English: e.g., I ne prechede therof noght (line 43, "I didn't preach about it at all").

Vocabulary. The SEL-poet's vocabulary is native English, with very few recent loanwords from French. As one would expect from a Southwestern work, there is little or no Scandinavian influence. The poet uses numerous words of Old English origin that are now obsolete: e.g., seththe (line 10, OE syþþan, "after"), lere (line 10, OE læran, "teach"), nym and nome (lines 19 and 29, OE niman, "to take"), rode (line 40, OE rod, "cross"), quath (line 23, OE cweþan, "to say"), stude (line 38, OE stede, "place"), herie (line 49, OE herian, "praise"), worth (line 60, OE weorþan, "become"), mo (line 64, OE ma, "more"; OE mara, our "more," means "greater/bigger"), swithe (line 65, OE swiþe, "great/greatly"), yer (line 91, OE geara, "formerly/of yore"). Words such as these were still current in varying forms a century later among cosmopolitan writers such as Chaucer and Gower, unlike other native words found in SEL: e.g., yeme (line 19, OE gieme, "care/attention"); luther (line 57, OE lyþer, "wicked"); bern (line 57, OE bearn, "young man/child"; compare modern Scots bairn); thole (line 59, OE þolian, "endure/suffer"); pulten (line 72, from a putative OE pyltan, "thrust"); afoung (line 77, OE onfon, "receive"; past ppl., onfangen); stei (line 94, OE stigan, "to climb").

French loanwords include: siwede (line 7, AN suer/siwer, "sue"); justice (line 14); doutede (line 43); prechede (line 43); joie (line 44); false (line 24); poynt (line 38); vertu (line 40); sige (line 53, "seat"); folie (line 55); torment (line 58); pyne (line 61); scourgi (line 66); croiz (line 83, "cross");19 honur (line 101); manere (line 108).

Possibly of Scandinavian origin is pasken (line 8; compare mod. Swedish paska, "dabble," as in water).

Indexed in

IMEV 2848.


London, British Library MS Harley 2277, fols. 174v-176r, 176v.

Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Ashmole 43 (SC 6924), fols. 199r-200v.

Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Laud Misc. 463 (SC 1596), fols. 124v-126r.

Previous editions

Furnivall. Early English Poems and Lives of Saints. Pp. 98-101.

The South English Legendary. Ed. D'Evelyn and Mill. 2.543-46.

Go To The Martyrdom of St. Andrew in the South English Legendary (c. 1270-80)