British and French Saints Added to the Golden Legend

It is not at all unusual to find handwritten notes added in the margins of manuscripts and printed books. Here is an example from the printed Golden Legend from Worcester Cathedral Library, catalogued SEL B 50 4, where more than half the page consists of notes. The first picture shows the whole page, and the second one magnifies the actual notes.


Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)



The Latin title of the printed page is Tabula sanctorum meaning List of Saints. The last printed line is Finis tabule, meaning End of the list. More than half the page is therefore blank, offering plenty of space to the note writer. The notes are not very easy to read. The handwriting is not clear and regular like the lines of print and of course it is all in Latin!

However it is possible to see that there is a list numbered 1 to 18 and divided into two columns as shown below.


Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)


Each column has a different number of Saints and there are two number elevens on the right hand side. Some of the names will be familiar to British Christians, but some are unusual and maybe not known to us in modern times. Why were all these Saints listed and is it possible to find out where the list has come from?

The Latin paragraph that heads the notes explains the note writer’s intention:

There are other stories told in England that the writer has taken from older French and English works

The clear message is that these are extra Saints not included in the original Latin version of the Golden Legend, and that the list has been compiled from other sources that are available in both French and English. A probable source is one of the three Caxton editions of the Golden Legend, translated into English and published between 1483 and 1493. The Saints are handwritten in exactly the same order as they appear in Caxton, suggesting strongly that the list has been copied from one of them. Worcester Cathedral Library does not possess a copy of the Caxton Golden Legend, but it is possible to see an edition on the Internet, courtesy of Fordham University, New York, referenced at the end of the Blog.

In the introduction to his edition, Caxton admits that he used three different copies of the text to compile his work, one in Latin, one in English and one in French. He plainly thought that his English readers would be interested in all three. By the 1480s, England had lost all its possessions in France except for Calais, but between 1066 and 1452 had ruled over many parts of that kingdom and indeed until the nineteenth century, British monarchs claimed to be still the rightful rulers of the whole country. Many traditionally French Saints must then have been well-known in England, even though they are no longer remembered here today.

The first three Saints in the list are still venerated in France. Gentian was martyred near Amiens in northern France during the persecutions of Diocletian and is honoured with a statue in Amiens Cathedral. Nicasius was Bishop of Rheims, killed by Vandal invaders around the year 400, and Eugenia was martyred around 258. According to the Golden Legend she ran away from home to escape the influence of her pagan father who was the Roman Governor of Alexandria. She disguised herself as a man and in this disguise entered a monastery where she was eventually made Abbot.

The note-writer did not have enough room to list all the relevant Saints, so he or she used a smaller space on a previous page to continue, as shown below.


Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)


Here the Saints are numbered from 19 to 24, and consist of:


Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)


These Saints should be more familiar to twenty-first century English Christians. Four of them are British Saints: Edmund King of East Anglia killed by Viking invaders in 869; Hugh, a Carthusian monk and Bishop of Lincoln; Brendan, an Irish monk, founder of monasteries and cathedrals in Ireland; and Erkenwold, founder of Barking Abbey and Bishop of London between 675 and 693, buried in Old St Paul’s.

On a third page the writer lists other saints without bothering to number them:


Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)


The name of Ives is perhaps better known than the details of his life. It is striking that no mention is made of the once locally venerated Kenelm, which suggests that the notes were not written in the English Midlands. Signatures on the title page include John Barnard of York, so perhaps the notes were made while the book was in the north of England, far away from Clent and Winchcombe.


Tim O’Mara


The Caxton edition of the Golden Legend is available on the Internet, courtesy of Fordham

University, New York:



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s