Written in the decades before Ancrene Wisse, the Early Middle English hagiographies of the Katherine Group depict three virgin martyrs, Katherine, Margaret, and Juliana. Using touch and eyewitness accounts as measures of proof, the legend equates St. Margaret’s body with the textual corpus inscribed on animal hide. The manuscript’s documentary authority is verified through proximity to the holy body of the saint, and, in a similarly body-centred (and precarious) authority, the anchoress functions as the centre of an ephemeral textual community in the early thirteenth century. The Katherine Group narratives and codicological evidence indicate an anchoritic-lay literary culture operating adjacent to clerical manuscript culture, consistent with Catherine Innes-Parker’s theory about co-existing informal and formal vernacular textual cultures in the West Midlands. This “informal,” or ephemeral, textual community shaped lay literacy and manuscript use, including perceptions about the documentary authority of vernacular textual artifacts.


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pp. 33-50
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