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  • A Miracle of St. Sunniva in AM 764 4to
  • Natalie Van Deusen

AM 764 4to, a parchment manuscript from Skagafjörður in Northern Iceland composed ca. 1376–86, comprises forty-eight leaves written in a variety of hands. The codex—which was apparently compiled for the use of the nuns at the Benedictine convent at Reynistaður in Northern Iceland—can be divided into two parts. Part I (fol. 1–23v) is a description of the world’s history organized by Augustine’s six ages of the world and the two ages yet to come. The remainder of the manuscript (Part II) is a miscellany and includes exempla, extracts from the Dialogues of Gregory the Great, an account of Cyrus the Great, an Icelandic version of the dream manual Somniale Danielis, writings of the Church Fathers, lists of English rulers based on Breta sǫgur, a biography of Bishop Jón Halldórsson, Chapters 67–71 from Óláfs saga Tryggvasonar en mesta, a text of Upphaf allra frásagna, a description of the world, genealogies, annals, and epitomes of the lives and miracles of select saints.1

One of the miracles related in the miscellany section of AM 764 4to involves the Norwegian Saint Sunniva and her companions at Selja. The text, which relates events that presumably took place after the discovery and enshrinement of the Selja saints, is defective, and only the final lines are preserved (fol. 35r1–16). The source of the fragmentary miracle account in AM 764 4to has not been identified. While the legend of Saint Sunniva is preserved in several Latin and Old Norse–Icelandic sources from medieval Iceland and Norway, the text in AM 764 4to is clearly not based on any of these, since none relate any posthumous miracles other than Óláfr Tryggvason’s discovery of her relics and those of her companions, as well as a brief reference to a healing spring at the cave. The only extant posthumous miracle accounts associated with Sunniva [End Page 235] and her companions on the island of Selja are summarized in antiphons for their office in Breviarium Nidrosiense. This article considers the fragmentary miracle within the broader legendary and miracle tradition in an effort to ascertain whether the text in AM 764 4to is related to any other extant text, or if it represents an entirely different tradition. The article concludes with a diplomatic edition and English translation of the account.


According to the Latin legend, which is dated to the twelfth century, Sunniva was a pure and pious Irish princess who had inherited her father’s kingdom. A pagan king wished to marry the beautiful Christian princess, and when she refused, he exacted vengeance by invading her kingdom. Sunniva fled Ireland in three ships with a large group of men and women. Through the guiding hand of God, they landed and settled on the islands of Selja and Kinn in western Norway, which were inhabited only by grazing livestock. They soon came into conflict with pagan farmers from the mainland, who believed Sunniva and her followers were stealing their cattle, and appealed to Jarl Hákon Sigurðarson (r. 962–95), a favorite pagan villain in saga literature. Hákon and his troops promptly travelled to Selja to eliminate the group. Sunniva and her followers (including her brother, Saint Alban, whose story was conflated with that of a third-century British saint by the same name) fled to their cave and prayed to God, who caused a landslide that killed and buried the Irish Christians so that they would not be harmed by the pagan troops. According to the legend, the relics of Sunniva and the inhabitants of Selja were discovered in 996 after two pagan merchants stopped at Selja and discovered a glowing head, which they then brought to Óláfr Tryggvason. Having heard accounts of similar events, Óláfr and his bishop journeyed to the island and found the bones of the Selja saints as well as Sunniva’s perfectly preserved body. Óláfr had a church constructed at the opening of the cave and then had Sunniva’s body enshrined at Selja. Her relics were translated to...


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