- Women from the Golden Legend: Female Authority in a Medieval Castilian Sanctoral by Emma Gatland
Translation of collections of saints’ lives based upon Iacobus de Voragine’s Legenda aurea would seem to have begun in late-fourteenth-century Spain and flourished during the subsequent century. Surviving manuscripts are almost without exception related to noble households—three belonging to none other than Isabel the Catholic herself. It is one of these—that belonging to the Royal Chapel in Granada, now San Lorenzo del Escorial, ms. h-i-14—which provides the female lives transcribed (with modernized orthography, accentuation, and punctuation) in the appendix, which occupies nearly half the book (pp. 137–235). Despite the importance, at least in volume, of this appendix, information about the manuscript has to be gleaned from footnotes; nowhere is it formally described or its position within the transmission of the various compilations established. The explicit principle for the choice of this manuscript for particular study is that the manuscript contains the highest number of female saints’ lives of the vernacular compilations, although it is unclear whether this is due to the predilection of the compiler or just that it contains more saints’ lives tout court (see p. 13). Discussion is further hampered by reference to Th. Graesse’s 1846 edition of the Legenda aurea (Giovanni Paolo Maggioni’s edition appeared in 1998) and—although this is by no means the author’s fault—our almost total ignorance of the wider tradition of Latin compilations of abbreviated vitae in the Iberian peninsula. Nevertheless, providing transcriptions of texts from particular manuscripts (with occasional comparison across a group of manuscripts deemed to be related) seems to be the settled form in which [End Page 139] late-medieval Castilian sanctorals are now being progressively consigned to print. Such a practice, however, leads to a confusion of variance—differences through the activity of individual translators (or diverse principles of translation) are not clearly distinguished from scribal variants. Such a distinction would help enormously in clarifying authorial/translatorial impetus in the presentation of sanctity.
Beyond the transcription of the text, the three chapters of study attempt to provide a theoretical understanding of the abbreviated lives of the female saints, delineating the use of “authority” in the texts through the three headings of “Vision,” “Language,” and “Performativity.” These chapters begin with an introduction, attempting to set these very modern themes within a medieval landscape of ideas. This is followed by a series of case studies of individual lives, drawn not solely from Escorial, ms. h-i-14, but (despite the book’s subtitle) from the wider vernacular sanctoral tradition. It is in the latter that some very good work has been done, and Gatland shows an intelligent and discerning engagement with previous criticism on the subjects of female sanctity. The resolute focus, however, on female saints leaves a curious gap. The reader never learns which male saints are included in Escorial, ms. h-i-14; and no comparisons are made with their lives, leaving this reviewer unsure as to the gender-specificity of some of the female saints’ attributes. Nevertheless, Gatland shows herself a balanced, observant, and entertaining interpreter of this material, which, perhaps more than any other medieval subject-matter, is still rendered acutely difficult by unresolved textual indeterminacy.