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St. Jerome: Introduction


1 For Jerome's own biographical eulogy of Paula, in Letter 108 (to Eustochium), see his Epistulae, ed. Hilberg, CSEL 55.306-51 (BHL 6548), trans. in Schaff and Wace, A Select Library, 6.195-212. Among the wealth of historical studies on Jerome and his circle are Kelly, Jerome: His Life, Writings, and Controversies; Rousseau, Ascetics, Authority, and the Church; Clark, Jerome, Chrysostom, and Friends; Rader, Breaking Boundaries; McNamara, "Cornelia's Daughters"; and Peter Brown, The Body and Society, pp. 366-86. The standard study is still that of Cavallera, Saint Jérôme.

2 For example, the late-eleventh-century book-list of Peterborough Abbey (c. 1100) includes five volumes of Jerome's commentaries on the Old Testament books of Joshua and the major and minor prophets: see Lapidge, "Surviving Booklists from Anglo-Saxon England," p. 77. For a catalogue of extant manuscripts that can be assigned to specific English medieval libraries, see Ker, Medieval Libraries of Great Britain.

3 See Sparks, "Jerome as Biblical Scholar," pp. 517-26.

4 CSEL 54.143-211; also PL 22.394-425, trans. in Schaff and Wace, A Select Library, 6.22-41. For a bibliographical listing of Jerome's works, see Altaner and Stuiber, Patrologie, pp. 394-404, and Quasten et al., Patrology, 4.212-47.

5 His place of burial, "bethlem castello" (in the town of Bethlehem), and the day of his death (Sept. 30) are recorded in the early medieval manuscripts of the so-called Pseudo-Jerome Martyrology, parts of which originated in the fifth century, where he is entitled simply "presbyter." But Bede adds the word "saint" in his brief notice for Jerome in his Martyrology. See Quentin, Les martyrologes historiques, p. 108; the relevant passage is translated by Felice Lifschitz in "Bede, Martyrology," in Head, ed., Medieval Hagiography: An Anthology, p. 192.

6 Hieronmyus noster, printed in PL 22.175-84, is BHL 3869; it was sometimes attributed to Gennadius, fifth-century author of a continuation of Jerome's own De viris illustribus. There are two printed versions of Plerosque nimirum (Pseudo-Sebastian, because sometimes attributed to one Sebastian of Monte Cassino): the original (BHL 3871) is edited by Bonino Mombrizio, Sanctuarium, 2.31-36; the other version, in PL 22.201-14 (BHL 3870), is a clumsy attempt to combine Hieronymus noster and Plerosque nimirum. A valuable recent account of the medieval hagiography concerning Jerome, to which I am much indebted, is that of Rice, Saint Jerome in the Renaissance, pp. 23-48.

7 PL 22:177-78. On the Antioch dream, see Rice, Saint Jerome in the Renaissance, p. 3. For the ME version, see the edition below, lines 94-113.

8 Rice, Saint Jerome in the Renaissance, pp. 39-45, gives a detailed account of the sources and possible meanings of the lion story.

9 In the so-called Lausiac History (36, vi-vii) by Palladius, one of the famous fifth-century collections of lives and sayings of the desert fathers, there is a brief but devastating portrait of Jerome:
A priest, Jerome, dwelt in the same place [Bethlehem]; he was a man of good birth and well gifted in Latin letters, but he had such a disposition that it eclipsed his learning. Posidonius [a hermit of Bethlehem] had lived with him a goodly number of days and he whispered into my ear: "The fine Paula who takes care of him is going to die and escape his meanness, I believe. And because of him no holy man will live in these parts. His anger would drive out even his own brother."
Palladius, Palladius: The Lausiac History, trans. Meyer, pp. 104-05.

10 LA pp. 653-58; trans. Ryan, 2.211-16.

11 See below, ch. 5 of Winter's ME translation (lines 251-327). The most accessible printed edition of the forged letters (BHL 3866-68) is PL 22.239-326. For more recent editions and further references, see Henryk Fros' supplement to BHL, Novum Supplementum, pp. 421-22 (numbers 3866-68).

12 The end of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem is usually dated 1291, when the Mamluks captured Acre. Jerome's cult in Rome and the forged letter collection are discussed by Rice, Saint Jerome in the Renaissance, pp. 49-63.

13 Keiser, "St Jerome and the Brigittines."

14 Le Goff, The Birth of Purgatory, pp. 289-333. On sermon exempla, see most recently Scanlon, Narrative, Authority, and Power, and Bremond, Le Goff and Schmitt, L'"Exemplum." For a late ME collection of exempla, see Arnoldus of Liége, An Alphabet of Tales, ed. Banks.

15 See Rice, Saint Jerome in the Renaissance, pp. 73-75, who points to the popularity of the Ciceronian dream as a subject of paintings commissioned by the Hieronymites.

16 See below, ch. 3 of Simon Winter's Life of St. Jerome, lines 147-250.

17 Bridget, Revelaciones, ed. Birger Bergh et al., 4.119 (Revelationes 4.20); 6.204-05 (Revelationes 6.60).

18 The Bridgettine Breviary of Syon Abbey, ed. Collins, pp. xvii-xviii; Colledge, "Epistola Solitarii ad Reges."

19 See below, Introduction to Chapter VI (St. Austin), pp. 236-37 and note 25, on Lydgate's verse saints' lives and for recent bibliography on Capgrave and Bokenham.

20 Felicity Riddy points out that "the literary culture of nuns in the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and that of devout gentlewomen not only overlapped but were more or less indistinguishable" ("Women Talking about the Things of God," p. 110). Among other surveys of the subject, mainly focusing on female audiences, see Carey, "Devout Literate Laypeople"; Hutchison, "Devout Reading"; Meale, "Laywomen and Their Books."

21 See Jacob, The Fifteenth Century 1399-1485, pp. 1-29.

22 On Bridget, see below, the explanatory note to line 328.

23 Bateson, Catalogue of the Library of Syon Monastery; De Hamel, Syon Abbey.

24 On the relevant portions of the Rule of Saint Savior, the Bridgettines' code of conduct, see Ellis, Viderunt eam filie Syon, pp. 23-24, 32-36.

25 Bateson, Catalogue, pp. 84, 156, 173, 180, 181. See also Bridgettine Breviary, ed. Collins, p. xl.

26 Hutchison, "Devout Reading," p. 220. Collins (Bridgettine Breviary, pp. lxxxix-xl) inclines to Thomas Fishbourne, Confessor-General of Syon in the 1420s, rather than Winter. For the text of the Myroure, see Blunt, ed., The Myroure of Oure Ladye.

27 De Hamel, Syon Abbey, pp. 59-60.

28 For the most detailed account of Winter and Margaret, and the importance of the Yale manuscript, see Keiser, "Patronage and Piety," 32-53, especially p. 38. See also Hutchison, "Devout Reading," p. 226. Winter's authorship of the life of Jerome was first suggested in an unpublished work by Ian Doyle, according to Görlach, South English Legendary, p. 20n8.

29 Ian Doyle, discussing ways in which members of religious orders sought to publish their works, sees in Winter's dedication of the prose Jerome to Margaret, encouraging her to permit its circulation and recopying, the clearest example of how the process of "publication through dedication" worked. But Doyle remarks that the small number, and monastic milieu, of the surviving copies indicate in this case that Winter's work failed to gain an audience outside religious circles, since even the printed edition by de Worde was probably produced for Syon Abbey itself. See "Publication by Members of the Religious Orders," pp. 116-17.

30 Chapter 1 is printed below (lines 93-166); Winter's chapter 2, not included here, is adapted from the first of the forged letters of St. Augustine to Cyril of Jerusalem. See the edition by Hamer and Russell, Supplementary Lives, pp. 326-28.

31 Chapters 3 and 5 are printed below (lines 167-327).

32 "Therefore we must establish a school of the Lord's service . . ."; see Benedict, The Rule of St Benedict, trans. McCann, p. 4.

33 Hutchison, "Devout Reading," pp. 221-22.

34 The liturgical feast day of Jerome (September 30), while not among the principal feasts at Syon, was celebrated with special reverence, with nine lessons and the grade of "Inferius duplex." See the fifteenth-century calendar in Bridgettine Breviary, ed. Collins, p. 11. There is no provision for a proper Office for Jerome in the Breviary itself, which reflects the Syon nuns' own liturgical "use." The Syon Myroure of Oure Ladye makes it clear that the monks' services, which they sang separately from the nuns, at different times of the day and night, were "after the common vse of the chyrche" (ed. Blunt, p. 24). According to Collins (Bridgettine Breviary, p. xv), the monks' office for Jerome would be similar to that in the Sarum Breviary.

35 The other surviving ME prose life of Jerome, that in GiL, does include a version of the lion episode.

36 Winter's Life of Saint Jerome was the first of the chapters in this volume to be completed, some years ago. In the interim, two other editions of the text have appeared: that by Hamer and Russell, based on MS Lambeth 72 (see below) as part of their important volume, Supplementary Lives, pp. 321-65, 511-13, and containing the life and all eighteen miracles plus the lion episode (from the Yale manuscript), but omitting the prologue and list of chapters; and that by Waters, "Symon Wynter, The Life of St. Jerome," pp. 141-63 (translation), 232-49 (edition). Waters' edition is based, like the present one, on the St. John's manuscript; she does not include either the list of chapters or the lion story, but offers a somewhat different and larger selection of miracles, viz., Winter's chapters 2, 5, 6, 8, 9, 14, 16, and 19, abridged in places by omission of selected passages.

37 See also Hamer and Russell, Supplementary Lives, pp. xxii-xxv.

38 Described by James, Descriptive Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Library of St. John's College, Cambridge, pp. 285-86.

39 Keiser, "Patronage and Piety," p. 42.

40 Gibbs, ed., The Life and Martyrdom of Saint Katherine of Alexandria; see the manuscript description in Voigts, "A Handlist of Middle English in Harvard Manuscripts," pp. 64-66. For a modern translation, and a partial transcription of the Harvard text, see Winstead, Chaste Passions, pp. 114-63, 184-201.

41 The manuscript is described in Dutschke et al., Guide to Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the Huntington Library, 1.152-53.

42 The manuscript (a devotional miscellany, which includes a contemplative treatise, The Abbey of the Holy Ghost, and a ME prose legend of St. Dorothy found, like Winter's Saint Jerome, elsewhere in Gilte Legende manuscripts) is described in James and Jenkins, Descriptive Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Library of Lambeth Palace: The Medieval Manuscripts, pp. 599-601. See also Hamer and Russell, Supplementary Lives, p. xxv.

43 Görlach, South English Legendary, p. 20n7. For Horstmann's edition, see his "Prosalegenden," pp. 328-60.

44 See our edition, lines 10-11 and 343, 346. Compare Horstmann, "Prosalegenden," p. 329, line 4, and p. 359, lines 33 and 38.

45 See above, note 36.

46 In addition to Hamer and Russell's description in Supplementary Lives, p. xxii, see also Hamer, ed., Three Lives from the Gilte Legende, pp. 32-33. See also Görlach, South English Legendary, pp. 19-21. The complete GiL is being edited by Hamer and Russell for EETS. One possible provenance of GiL is St. Albans Abbey, which had close links with Syon Abbey in the later Middle Ages.

47 See the description by Barbara Shailor, Catalogue, 2.120-23.

48 Keiser, "Patronage and Piety," pp. 43-44.

49 Similarly, the copy of the Lay Folks' Catechism in the same manuscript is designated "a significantly reworked text." A. Hudson, qtd. in Shailor, Catalogue, p. 121.

50 The book is numbered 14508 in Pollard and Redgrave, Short-Title Catalogue.

51 De Worde used the same small Caxton device in four other books he produced in the 1490s after taking over Caxton's business. See McKerrow, Printers' and Publishers' Devices in England and Scotland, 1485-1640, pp. 2-3 and figure 2. On de Worde's links to Syon Abbey, see Keiser, "Patronage and Piety," pp. 43-45, who surmises that printing the book may have been de Worde's way of developing relations with Lady Margaret Beaufort, granddaughter of the Margaret of Clarence for whom the book was originally written. See also Blake, "Wynkyn de Worde," pp. 132-34.

52 For Winter's use of repetition, see, e.g., lines 13-23 of the Prologue, and lines 175-84 of chapter 3. For examples from another Bridgettine work, see the passage quoted by Ann Hutchison from The Myroure of Oure Ladye, p. 64. See above, note 26.

53 For a group of texts, known to have been copied in either London or the adjacent areas of Middlesex and Surrey, displaying forms and spellings of common words very similar to St John's (though none of them identical in every respect), see McIntosh, Samuels, and Benskin, eds., A Linguistic Atlas of Late Mediaeval English, 4.298-306, 493-500.

54 For specifics, see the notes to the text of these lines.
St. Jerome (feast day September 30)

Jerome (ca. 340-420) was one of the leading intellectual saints of the medieval church. Born into a Christian family in the Roman empire's Balkan provinces, in a region later overrun by the Goths, he studied grammar, rhetoric, and probably law, in Rome, where he was also baptized, before continuing his studies of Christian and pagan authors in other Western centers of learning such as Aquileia and Trier. By the 370s, after some sort of breach with his family, he left for the East, studying Greek writers in Constantinople and Antioch, still reading widely in pagan and Christian literature but also living for some years as an ascetic in the Syrian desert near Chalcis, where he also began to study Hebrew. He was ordained a priest at Antioch in 379, then returned to Rome to serve as secretary to Pope Damasus, where his work as a biblical scholar began in earnest, and where he participated in and championed the Eastern Christian lifestyle of celibacy and semi-monastism that was finding favor among some wealthy Romans, especially women, with several of whom Jerome formed spiritual friendships. His fervent support of the celibate life and his acerbic satires on corruption and decadence in Roman society won him many enemies, however, and the clerical establishment effectively expelled him from the city in 385 after the death of his patron Damasus. Jerome once more set out for the East, visiting monasteries and scholars in Egypt and Palestine in the company of two close friends and pupils: the patrician Roman widow Paula and her daughter Eustochium, a consecrated virgin. Eventually they settled in Bethlehem, where Paula's wealth founded a complex of four monasteries, three for women, and one for men; here Jerome settled down to work at his biblical translations and other writings. Paula administered and funded the whole community until her death in 404, when her responsibility passed to Eustochium.1

Like Ambrose of Milan, Augustine of Hippo, and Pope Gregory the Great, Jerome was celebrated in the Middle Ages as a "Doctor" (i.e., teacher) of the Church, one of the most prolific and influential writers of the patristic age. His translations of the voluminous exegetical writings of the Greek Origen, and his own commentaries on the scriptures, in which he concentrates (unlike his fellow "doctors") on elucidating the literal meaning of the text, would have been sufficient in themselves to secure for Jerome a place of honor in medieval Christian tradition, and every library of standing possessed a set of the commentaries of "Jeronimus," or "Hieronymus," as he appears in the medieval catalogues.2 But he was also celebrated for having edited and translated, from Hebrew and Greek, the greater part of the Judeo-Christian Bible, producing the authoritative medieval Latin version, the so-called "Vulgate."3 In addition, he wrote numerous works of Christian apology and anti-heretical polemic, three popular saints' lives (Hilarion, Malchus, and Paul the Hermit), and one of the great early Christian collections of letters, some of which are in themselves important theological and moral tracts (e.g., his famous Letter 22, a defense of virginity addressed to Eustochium).4

Unlike his contemporaries, the bishops Ambrose and Augustine, who were the subjects of saintly vitae by younger contemporaries, Jerome was not widely recognized as a saint in his own age or for a long time afterwards.5 The earliest formal Vitae Hieronimi now known are two short anonymous works, probably composed in the ninth century, apparently independently of each other. They are usually referred to by their incipits or opening words, Hieronymus noster and Plerosque nimirum, although each was attributed spuriously in medieval manuscripts to respectable ancient authors.6 While both offer some guidance as to Jerome's career as a writer, quoting copiously from the biographical information which he himself provides here and there in his own writings, the two works simplify and reduce his life and travels drastically, to produce a pattern closer to conventional hagiographic models of sanctity. For example, they omit almost all traces of his long-lasting intimacy with Paula and Eustochium, mentioning them only in passing as recipients of this or that letter. Moreover, the vitae represent Jerome as spending only one period of his life in Rome, that of his early education in grammar and rhetoric, living like a monk there, and being widely imitated for his virtues and celibacy; after only three years, he becomes, anachronistically, a cardinal priest (in Plerosque nimirum) or is about to be elected pope (in Hieronymus noster). At this point, either the Arian heresy (in Plerosque nimirum) or the plotting (insidiae) of some gluttonous priests (in Hieronymus noster) causes him to leave Rome and journey to the East to begin his lifelong settled monastic existence in Bethlehem where he embarks on his great work of translating and commenting on the scriptures. Thus the two Roman periods, and likewise the two Eastern sojourns, are each telescoped into one, which avoids the possible implication that Jerome, having once left Rome for the solitude and purity of the desert, subsequently was induced by the prospect of high office in the church to return to Rome and abandon his desert life of ascetic contemplation and prayer. One of the narrative highlights of Hieronymus noster is a more or less verbatim rendering of Jerome's famous account of his dream of being condemned by God as a "Ciceronian" addicted to pagan learning, but the placement of the story in the narrative suggests that Jerome experienced this vision in Rome itself (rather than, as actually occurred, in Antioch during his first visit in the East).7The hagiographer thus creates the impression that the dream was part of the process by which Jerome was converted, at an early age once and for all from the life of this world in Rome to the life of the spirit in the East.

The greater portion of Plerosque nimirum, however, is taken up with the lengthy and elaborate story of Jerome's encounter with the lion. Originally derived from one of the fables of Æsop, the account in Plerosque nimirum is appropriated mainly, perhaps through oral tradition in Rome itself, from an earlier Greek life of an Eastern saint, Gerasimus. Its inclusion in the vita is apparently a rather desperate attempt to provide the putative saint with a memorable miracle. But, as Eugene F. Rice suggests, the story might have been read as an elaborate and charming allegory of the saint's success in subduing the "beast within."8 It also depicts Jerome as the benign, tranquil, forgiving, and hospitable father of a traditional all-male monastic community, effectively contradicting the portrait imprinted in Jerome's letters and polemical writings of a prickly, irascible, and vituperative homme aux femmes.9

This reductive idealized portrait of Jerome was adopted and regularized by important late medieval authors of such standard encyclopedic works as the Speculum historiale, by Vincent of Beauvais, and the Legenda aurea (LA), by Jacobus de Voragine. For example, LA synthesizes and abridges the verbose and repetitive early vitae, further simplifying and remodeling the saint's story in the hagiographic mold (so that the lion episode now constitutes almost half the whole), while adding a few more details to the construction of Jerome's image as a saint. The most striking of these anecdotes (of twelfth-century origin) explains that the plot (insidiae) by which the hostile Roman clergy contrive to have Jerome expelled from the city consists of someone planting a woman's robe next to his bed, so that when Jerome awakens in the middle of the night to attend the service of matins, he absentmindedly puts on the female garment and is thus accused of having had a woman in his bed.10 The story discreetly acknowledges, while simultaneously discrediting as a malicious slander, Jerome's complex rapport with women, whom desert saints traditionally were supposed to avoid like the plague.

The final phase in the development of Jerome's Latin hagiography occurred in the early fourteenth century, when the dearth of miracles in the available accounts of his life was remedied by an unknown author who produced a collection of forged letters, the first and lengthiest portion of which purports to be a series of accounts of Jerome's life and posthumous miracles by his disciple, Eusebius of Cremona; the other two portions, which appear either together with the Pseudo-Eusebian set or separate from it, are similarly contrived correspondences between bishops Augustine of Hippo and Cyril of Jerusalem, relating the miracles and visions that followed Jerome's death, including many examples of his posthumous powers of intercession. These audaciously fictitious letters were highly successful, to judge by the hundreds of Latin manuscript copies and the large number of vernacular versions. As Rice explains, the purpose of the forged letters, in which, for example, Jerome's "ranking" in the saintly hierarchy is raised to parity with John the Baptist,11 and in which Saint Augustine is presented as Jerome's inferior, was initially to promote the cult of Jerome's relics at the end of the thirteenth century in Rome at the church of Santa Maria Maggiore, where the crib of Jesus' nativity was already said to be preserved. The clergy of Santa Maria claimed that Jerome's bones, at the saint's request, had been brought secretly to Rome from Bethlehem around the time when the Mamluk Saracen armies were completing their conquest of Palestine.12

Like many other collections of miracle stories, these give voice to various larger themes that were of contemporary concern. George Keiser has drawn attention, for example, to the collection's emphasis, particularly in the Pseudo-Cyril letters, on the doctrine of Purgatory and the Greek church's opposition to it, pointing out the difficulties this disagreement had caused in the papal negotiations with the Greeks (in the second half of the thirteenth century), aimed at reunifying the two churches.13 The doctrine of Purgatory was also an important instrument of clerical control over the laity in the later Middle Ages, fostering and justifying the expansion of the sacrament of confession, and such intercessory practices as masses and prayers for the dead and papal indulgences. The miracles of Jerome are in some respects typical of the prodigious body of narrative literature, including collections of sermon exempla, produced during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, in which the doctrine of Purgatory and its attendant fears are dramatized for the benefit of an impressionable public.14

Not only did Jerome's Roman cult prosper during the fourteenth century, but it spread across Europe as the saint was adopted as special patron by remarkably varied groups of devout lay people and clerics, such as the prosperous Bologna law professor, Giovanni D'Andrea (died 1348), or the several religious orders known collectively today as the Hieronymites. Some of these groups were attracted by the way the hagiographic narratives depicted Jerome's austere, penitential mode of life, and some, paradoxically, by his rejection of abstruse higher learning. For while Jerome is acknowledged in his vitae as a learned master of languages, his dream-inspired conversion from the love of pagan, secular literature and philosophy appealed to those who were influenced by the teachings of the more radical Franciscans and hostile to the reviving classicism of the quattrocento, as well as to the learned tradition of scholastic theology.15 Criticism of the latter is implied in one of the Pseudo-Augustine letters, where Jerome chides Augustine for indulging in the kind of speculative metaphysics that characterized the theology of the so-called Schoolmen in the late medieval universities.16

While the penitential themes of Jerome's life and writings, as Eugene Rice has shown, helped enhance his prestige and importance among devout readers in the later Middle Ages, it seems likely that his popularity was also fostered in some circles by those aspects of his history that are all but suppressed in the medieval vitae, namely his spiritual friendships and intellectual rapport with religious laywomen. Learned clergy, who had access to Jerome's letters and the prologues to his other works, evidently made known to their own female acquaintances more of the facts of Jerome's life than the vitae themselves allowed. For example, Jerome is given special attention in the Revelationes or visions of St. Bridget (Birgitta) of Sweden (c. 1302-73), where he is praised in two separate contexts as a "lover of widows," amator uiduarum.17 Bridget did learn some Latin after she began to live in Italy later in her life, but it is more likely that her knowledge of Jerome was imbibed from one or other of the learned male counsellors who produced and edited the Latin text of her Revelations: particularly Alfonso de Vadaterra (died 1388), a former Andalusian bishop who was associated with a Hieronymite community in Italy and who was Bridget's closest clerical confidant during most of her years in Italy and her literary executor after her death.18

The two passages in Bridget's Revelationes where the epithet amator uiduarum occurs form the nineteenth and concluding chapter of an early-fifteenth-century ME version of Jerome's life and miracles, translated from Latin for a twice-widowed English noblewoman by the Bridgettine monk who was her confessor and spiritual counselor. In some privileged late medieval circles, where religious men and women were mingling with a measure of freedom for devotional and instructional purposes, the relationships of early saints such as Jerome and the widow Paula perhaps provided an inspirational model for later similar pairings, and one that implicitly endorsed not only the education of women but also the act of translating sacred texts into the vernacular.

Simon Winter's Life of St. Jerome

Unlike most of the ME vernacular saints' legends composed in the fourteenth century, which remain anonymous and whose audiences are still uncertain, a considerable number of the fifteenth-century legends are firmly attributed to authors who are now well known, such as John Lydgate, Osbert Bokenham, and John Capgrave,19 and who wrote for a growing audience of clerics and lay patrons, many of whom were women.20 Another male author with a devout female audience was Simon Winter, whose ME prose life of Saint Jerome is the subject of this chapter. Winter was one of the first generation of monks of the Bridgettine abbey of Syon on the north bank of the River Thames a few miles west of London. The last of the great medieval English monasteries, Syon was initially founded in 1415 by Henry V as a penitential act of atonement for his father Henry IV's responsibility for the deaths of the deposed king, Richard II (1400), and Archbishop Scrope of York (1405).21 Shortly beforehand, for similar reasons, he had founded the Carthusian monastery (or "Charterhouse") of Bethlehem of Sheen, on the south bank of the Thames, almost opposite the later site of Syon.

Monasteries founded under the auspices of St. Bridget of Sweden (c. 1302-73)22 were mixed communities of nuns and monks living in separate quarters but under the direction of one abbess. In addition to the traditional monastic practices of continuous liturgical observance, private prayer and meditation, and chaste living, the Bridgettines also placed unusual emphasis on reading and study. As a result, and doubtless because of its large royal endowment of funds, Syon, along with the Sheen Charterhouse, was to become an important center of book collection, production, and dissemination, and the Syon library was destined to be one of the largest English medieval library collections, the catalogue of which still survives, along with not a few of its books.23 Unfortunately the medieval catalogue records only the contents of the monks' library, not that of their female counterparts.

Winter and his fellow monks would thus have served as priests, confessors, spiritual advisors, and probably teachers to the nuns who formed the majority of the community's members, although most of this relationship was conducted through elaborate partitions contrived to prevent actual physical contact.24 Among the books Winter himself is known to have contributed to the Syon library are some volumes of Latin sermons that he presumably compiled for his own and his colleagues' use at Sunday services. According to the Syon catalogue, he also appears to have composed commentaries on certain well-known antiphons of the Virgin Mary.25 It has also been suggested recently that he may have been the author of an important Syon book, The Myroure of Oure Ladye, which translates and explains the nuns' Latin liturgical Hours, and their festival Masses and Offices, while also discussing the role of reading and study as the necessary accompaniment of their liturgical celebrations.26

In general the Syon congregation's male members were permitted greater freedom of movement, and contact with a larger world, than the strictly enclosed nuns. As a foundation of the king, for example, the abbey was of special interest to the royal family, and, particularly in its early days, to the widowed Margaret, duchess of Clarence. Her second husband, Thomas, duke of Clarence, brother of King Henry V, was killed in the French wars in 1421 (her first husband, John Beaufort, by whom she had six children before he died in 1410, was half-brother to Henry IV and brother to the powerful bishop of Winchester, Henry Beaufort). In the years following Thomas' death, with her two eldest sons living as prisoners of war in France, her daughters growing up, and herself getting on in years, Margaret appears to have taken up residence near Syon Abbey and to have adopted a quasi-religious way of life, obtaining papal permission to receive visits from the brothers of Syon so that they could celebrate Mass in her household, hear her confession, and preach sermons for her benefit. She herself funded some important gifts to the Syon monks' library, including the production of a deluxe manuscript of saints' lives (now in Germany) illuminated by Hermann Schere, one of the leading artists of the day, and the purchase of an older bible.27 For reasons still unknown, Simon Winter was the Syon priest selected to be the community's liaison with the duchess, serving her spiritual and sacramental needs as counselor, celebrant, confessor, and, evidently, providing her with devotional reading. Winter became ill around 1428 or 1429, when Margaret, praising his zeal as a monk and his spiritual service to her, petitioned the pope for him to be allowed to transfer to a monastery with a less demanding regime, but whether he ever did so or whether their relationship continued, is still not known. He died in 1448, eight years after the duchess herself.28 The life of Jerome must have been written at some point between 1422, when the duchess began her relationship with the abbey, and her death in 1439/40.

In his interesting dedicatory Prologue, Winter explains how the duchess, and others who he hopes will obtain copies of the life of Jerome, are to use it to their "goostly profyte" (lines 8-9).29 What is surprising in this detailed guide to reading the work is Winter's lack of attention to the sanctity of Jerome himself. The whole work is presented as a kind of textbook of lessons for God's "scolers" in the "scole" of earthly existence where they must "use the sharp dysciplyne of this scole" (line 24) and "studye" (line 36) and "lerne . . . to lyve and to dye" (line 21). Thus he says that in the first two chapters, which focus on Jerome's life and death, "we may lerne and take ensample to lyve a Cristemannys lyfe in penaunce and straytnes" (lines 13-14),30 then in two later chapters he says there are examples of holy dying; but if this "holsum lesson" (line 25) seems burdensome, then in three other chapters (recounting Augustine's accounts of how Jerome posthumously described his life in Heaven),31 the reader may "see there the greet reward that is gove to them that fervently labour aboute this scole" (lines 26-27). The metaphor of the Christian life as a school in which we study the way to salvation had been a part of monastic tradition since the introduction of St. Benedict's rule, where it permeates the last paragraph of the well-known prologue.32 It appears to have received special elaboration, however, among the Bridgettines, whose regime, as mentioned earlier, more than those of most female religious orders, encouraged reading and study. The author of the Myroure of Oure Ladye gives the nuns detailed advice on the practice of reading itself, in a manner that parallels Winter's prologue to the Duchess Margaret, pointing out that certain kinds of reading can "sturre vp. [the] affeccyons to comforte and to hope" in those who may be feeling despondent, while other reading matter arouses love and desire for Heaven or fear of Hell and damnation. In the same work, he refers metaphorically to prayer and the observance of the liturgy as a form of "gostly study," urging the sisters to "inwardly and bysely, & contynewally trauayle in this spyrytuall study."33

This Bridgettine emphasis on the religious life as a process of reading and study, learning and contemplation, as well as of prayer and liturgical observance, provides further justification for their attraction to Jerome's cult and life story, a great part of which itself is defined in terms of continual learning and involvement with books.34 His first and crucial life crisis in the Legenda aurea account is the choice between profane and spiritual kinds of reading and study; his second crisis is the frank admission of the struggle against lustful thoughts while coping with the rigors of the ascetic life, a struggle with which many nuns, monks, and celibate layfolk could identify only too well; his later career is expressed mainly in terms of his liturgical compositions and compilations of scriptural readings, and the great linguistic labor of his translation of "holy wryt" and the Vitas patrum. Winter includes all this in his first chapter's adaptation of the Legenda aurea life, but he simplifies the narrative in various ways by omitting Jacobus' elaborate etymological exegesis of Jerome's name, along with most geographical names, learned allusions, one impish aside in which Jacobus suggests that Jerome may not have been a virgin after all, and another longer passage that makes clear how many enemies Jerome had.

Winter's most striking omission, however, which changes the character of the vita considerably, is the lion episode itself, which Winter does not even summarize.35 In the Yale manuscript (see below), a version of the lion episode has been added after Winter's chapter 19 (the visions of St. Bridget), to form a twentieth chapter. That this additional chapter was not part of Winter's original composition is evident from the surviving copies of his prologue and table of contents, in which the whole work is clearly said to comprise nineteen chapters, none of which refers to the lion. Moreover, although the Yale manuscript's text of Winter's Life of Saint Jerome clearly derives from a good manuscript family, it has been much interpolated and revised. If the lion story were part of the original Winter text, it would be logical to expect it to have survived as part of chapter 1 of the Life, as in the Latin vita by Pseudo-Sebastian, and not appended awkwardly to the posthumous miracle collection. It makes more sense to assume that the reason why all but one of the surviving copies lack the lion story is that it was excluded by Winter himself from the outset. And with good reason, since it is quite alien to the portrait of the saint that Winter created. One of the effects of the animal tale, as we observed earlier, is to provide a more balanced portrait of Jerome as a kind old sage in communion with nature, the saintly abbot of a rural monastery, coping with an assortment of mundane problems, including wounded or stolen animals, monks distraught over the daily wood supply, crafty merchants, and the need for oil. But in Winter's version of the Vita Hieronimi, perhaps reflecting the idealism of Syon in its early years, nothing is allowed to contradict the image of Jerome as the archetypal scholar and teacher in the "scole" of the penitential life, committed to unrelenting study, asceticism, writing, and prayer:
And in all these chapitrys, we may see the greet worthynesse and holynesse of hym that was bothe a disciple and a mayster in this scoole, Saynt Jerom, hou holy and strayte he was in lyvynge, and hou myghty and mervaylous aftir his deth, and hou profitable hit is to do aftir hym, to trust hym, and to do hym servyse. (lines 46-50)
Text and Manuscripts

For reasons of space, the following edition of Simon Winter's ME prose Life of Saint Jerome includes only the prologue and list of contents, the Life proper (chapter 1), and three chapters (3, 5, 19) from the bulky posthumous miracle collection; to these is added an anonymous ME prose version of the lion episode, which survives in only one of the five extant medieval copies of Winter's work.36

Our text of Winter's Life of Saint Jerome is based on the earliest manuscript copy, now at St. John's College, Cambridge. Reference is made in the notes to variant readings in the three other manuscript copies and an early printed edition. Following are brief descriptions of the five extant copies.37

St John's: Cambridge, St. John's College MS N.17 (250).38 The manuscript is finely written in an Anglicana book hand of the second quarter of the fifteenth century, and thus probably not much later than the composition of the work (between 1422, when Duchess Margaret, for whom the work was written, began living near Syon Abbey, and her death in 1439/40). It was formerly part of a larger hagiographic collection, which Keiser thinks may have been prepared by a Carthusian scribe from the Charterhouse of Sheen near Syon, at Duchess Margaret's request, for some other member of the royal family.39 The collection probably existed as one volume as late as the late eighteenth century when the record of sales begins. Other surviving portions of the manuscript, rebound in its now separate parts in the early nineteenth century, are: Cambridge, St. John's College MS N.16 (249), containing prose lives of St. John the Evangelist and John the Baptist (who figures prominently in the miracles of Jerome); Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University MS Richardson 44, containing a prose life of Saint Catherine of Alexandria (which like that of Jerome stresses desert asceticism and the rejection of secular philosophy);40 San Marino, Huntington Library MS HM 115, containing John Lydgate's Life of Our Lady.41

Horstmann: London, Lambeth Palace Library MS 432, fols. 1-17.42 Our variants from this manuscript refer to the edition by Carl Horstmann, to whom the St. John's manuscript (and the other copies) were apparently unknown when he edited the work from Lambeth 432 (third quarter of the fifteenth century), described by Görlach as "the most garbled text."43 Among other shortcomings, it lacks the dedication to Margaret of Clarence and, through scribal omission of a 15-word passage from the prologue, mangles the author's important advice regarding the use and recopying of the text. In addition to numerous other scribal errors and omissions reflected in Horstmann's edition, Lambeth 432 also coyly substitutes "wisdommys" for "widows" in the final chapter's distinctive epithet for Saint Jerome, "lover of widows."44 A few, but not all, of the other shortcomings of Lambeth 432 are signaled in the notes, with reference to Horstmann's edition. Although still valuable until recently as the only modern edition of the whole work, it is now superseded by that of Richard Hamer and Vida Russell.45

Lambeth 72: London, Lambeth Palace Library MS 72, fols. 188v-202r. This copy is included in a recension of the important fifteenth-century English prose legendary, GiL,46 where Winter's Life of Saint Jerome replaces the more usual and shorter GiL life (a fairly faithful rendering of that in Jean de Vignay's French rendering of LA). The Lambeth text of Winter's Life of Saint Jerome has been somewhat adapted for inclusion in the legendary, in that it lacks the dedication, prologue, list of chapters, and chapter headings. Otherwise it is very similar to the St. John's text. We have not collated Lambeth thoroughly with the other texts (only two or three of the more distinctive variants from chapter 1 are listed separately in our notes) and readers are referred to the edition by Hamer and Russell, which is based on Lambeth 72 and provides a fuller textual apparatus than the present edition.

Yale: New Haven, Yale University Library MS Beinecke 317, fols. 5r-21v.47 Keiser believes that this recension, copied near the end of the fifteenth century in a cramped secretary hand, is from Syon Abbey itself.48 It is valuable for preserving not only the full dedication and prologue but also for identifying Winter as the author (fol. 5r). In other respects, however, the Yale copy is less representative of the work's original form. The scribe, or an earlier reviser, has reworked the text in various places, by adding the lengthy lion episode and other LA passages and details omitted by Winter, along with additional reasons (from one of the older vitae) as to why Jerome had to leave Rome; this recension also suppresses part of the saint's revealing account of his sexual fantasies in the desert.49 It is possible that the lion episode was added to the text during the same stage of expansion and editing. It remains uncertain if the manuscript itself represents a unique text, whose scribe may be the interpolator, or if it is the sole survivor of a more complex textual tradition.

Wynkyn de Worde: [The Lyf of Seint Ierom] [London: Wynkyn de Worde, c. 1499/1500]. The British Library copy (catalogue number IA 5526750) seems to be the only extant copy. Although carrying a small printer's device of William Caxton on the last page (fol. D[5]v), the book is known to be an imprint of de Worde's, who continued to use his master's devices for some years after the latter's death, and even his own later devices incorporate Caxton's initials.51 There is no title page, dedication, or prologue. The table of chapters begins abruptly at the top of the first folio. A small quaint woodcut appears on the second folio, depicting Jerome in his characteristic cardinal's hat, seated in a large chair with a book on his lap and the lion at his feet, one of whose paws he holds carefully in his right hand. The volume comprises twenty-nine unpaginated leaves, with three quires (numbered ABC) of eight folios each (signed on the first four leaves of each quire), and a fourth quire (D) in five (signed on i-iii).


Winter's diction is neither rhetorically ornate nor prosaically simple. He writes a fluent, lucid, and rhythmic prose, alternating quite lengthy complex sentences with short direct statements linked by simple coordinates, such as and and but, with a tendency to use repetition artfully and melodically.52 This mixed style is also characteristic of much medieval Latin prose of the time (e.g., Jacobus de Voragine's Life of Jerome). Given Winter's generally lucid style, we have not found it necessary to gloss very many whole sentences or phrases.

Nor is Winter's vocabulary as a whole much of an obstacle to comprehension. A glance through our glosses reveals that he uses few words that are obsolete today. These include mowe (line 9, "be able"), wene (line 123, "think/expect"), woot (line 17, "knows"), leffull (line 256, "allowed, lawful"), kon (line 18, "know how to"), or (line 33, "before"), clepe (line 268, "call"), behote (line 33, "promise"), evenyng (line 314, "equating"), and heyghneth (line 269, "raises"). Most of the slight difficulties of the work's language arise from the Middlesex scribe's spelling and pronunciation (e.g., latte for let in line 11, dew for due in line 293, lyche for like in line 60, hit for it in line 8, yyf for if in line 24, gove for given in line 26, and the frequent spelling of the preterite and participial suffix as -yd instead of -ed, and of noun plurals as -ys instead of -es). A potentially confusing feature is the consistent dropping of final -n in the past participle of verbs, even where it is retained today (e.g., be for been, do for done, drawe for drawn, knowe for known). This parallels the equally consistent absence of the final -n commonly found in the infinitive and present plural of verbs in Midland English. As is typical of Midland English in the fifteenth century, Winter's personal pronouns are virtually the same as in modern English, even in the plural, except for an occasional appearance (lines 39 and 69) of the native English hem instead of the Scandinavian import them (hem, of course, survives unaspirated in colloquial English: e.g., Give 'em a break). The characteristic plural possessive of Chaucer's English, hire/hir/her/here is almost completely replaced in Winter's usage by theyr(e).53

The language of the lion story in the Yale manuscript (here III[b]), although copied half a century or more later, is very similar to that of St. John's. Stylistically, however, the translator is less sophisticated than Winter, and more closely dependent on his Latin source, but for the most part his translation is fluent and idiomatic, only occasionally marred by stiffly Latinate phrasing, as in enjoyned . . . this offyce (lines 12-13) and entendyd of herte to hospytalyté (64-65).54

Indexed in

MWME 2.593.


Cambridge, St. John's College MS N.17. [Base text; formerly MS 250].

London, Lambeth Palace Library MS 72, fols. 188v-202r.

London, Lambeth Palace Library MS 432, fols. 1-17.

New Haven, Yale University Library MS Beinecke 317, fols. 5r-21v.

Previous editions

Hamer and Russell, eds. Supplementary Lives in Some Manuscripts of the Gilte Legende. Pp. 321-65, 511-13. [Based on Lambeth Palace Library MS 72.]

Horstmann. "Prosalegenden." Pp. 328-60. [Based on Lambeth Palace Library MS 432.]

Waters, Claire. "Symon Wynter, The Life of St. Jerome." Pp. 141-63 (translation), 232-49 (edition). [Based on St. John's College MS N.17; see note 36, below.]

de Worde. [The Lyf of Seint Ierom.] [London: Wynkyn de Worde, c. 1499/1500.] Short Title Catalogue no. 14508.

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