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  • Anchoress and Abbess in Ninth-Century Saxony: The Lives of Liutbirga of Wendhausen and Hathumoda of Gandersheim
  • Sibylle Jefferis
Anchoress and Abbess in Ninth-Century Saxony: The Lives of Liutbirga of Wendhausen and Hathumoda of Gandersheim. Translated with an introduction and notes by Frederick S. Paxton. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic Univ. of America Press, 2009. Pp. xviii + 204. $29.95.

The two English translations of the Lives of Liutbirga and Hathumoda are excellent and pleasant to read. Not only do they represent the two longest and complete Latin Lives of Manuscript Hist. 141 of the Staatsbibliothek Bamberg, but Frederick S. Paxton has also provided ample footnotes with biblical and classical references, as well as explanations to better understand the contents.

We can be grateful that Paxton is not only a Latinist, who records all the pertinent sources and references to the texts, as well as the style of the prose biographies and the elegiac style of the Dialogue following the Life of Hathumoda, but that he is also a historian, who has researched the whole history of medieval Saxony (now Lower Saxony) and the family histories of Liutbirga, Gisla, and Hathumoda, as described in the introduction.

The abbot Andreas von Michelsberg in Bamberg (1483–1502) had copied the two Lives, together with the Life of Leoba (or Lioba) in Part 4 of his Catalogue of Saints, where all the other entries are very brief summaries or excerpts of saints’ lives, at the very end of the “holy virgins” of the Benedictine order. The two portrayals of Liutbirga and Hathumoda on the title page of Paxton’s book are found on folios 244 recto and 228 verso in the Bamberg manuscript, respectively. Andreas provided women with a halo, since he and probably the two original authors tried to represent both as saints, although they are rather biographies of saintly noble women, Liutbirga the first anchoress in Saxony and Hathumoda the first abbess of Gandersheim.

The style of the two Lives is not that of saints’ lives, but biographies of saintly women who lived for a long time in convents. They did not perform miracles and did not produce a cult after their death. They were not considered as saints by their contemporaries, but they devoted their lives to prayer for their relatives and friends, so that they could all go to heaven without sin. The two Lives were written as memorials to the two women and their parents and families. They are historical and hagiographical in style and in content.

Most of the knowledge about these two families’ lives is drawn from the two biographies, but Paxton researched, in addition, annals, charters, and necrologies of the cloisters in Saxony and beyond and found connections with Fulda to both; as well as with Halberstadt, which was the bishopric for Wendhausen; and Hildesheim, the bishopric for Gandersheim; as well as with Corvey, where Agius, the author of Hathumoda’s Life, came from; and with Herford, where Hathumoda studied at first under the guidance of her grandmother, abbess Aeda, to name just a few. Paxton reported that lives of saints and also lives of bishops and abbots were produced in those places, which could have served as models for Agius of Corvey. From the lists of donations by those cloisters to Wendhausen and to Gandersheim, one can infer that they were awards for the prayers of the sisters.

The two family foundations of Wendhausen and Gandersheim were houses of canonesses and not of cloistered nuns belonging to a bishopric. They tried to stay independent and had that pledge renewed a few times by the kings. Louis the Younger issued a charter of immunity to Gandersheim in 877, and Otto I reaffirmed the right of Gandersheim in 947. Later, Roswitha von Gandersheim was to write about the history of Gandersheim in her Primordia, including Hathumoda and her mother Oda. She probably knew the Life of Hathumoda. [End Page 267]

Paxton mentions that the cloisters did not need miracles from Liutbirga and Hathumoda, because they already owned relics of older saints, who protected them and promoted a cult. But maybe the reason was also that they were only canonesses and not completely following...


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