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Heroes and Heroines of the Faith: Saints in Anglo-Saxon England


Admission requirements

A relevant BA-degree and a good working knowledge of Old English language and literature.


The worship of saints constituted an important and conspicuous aspect of the religious life in Anglo-Saxon England. This cult not only expressed itself in pilgrimages, statutes and artful reliquaries, but especially in the literary genre of saints’ lives. Early medieval England particularly stands out in Europe for the relatively many native saints that were honoured with a vita, both in Latin and the vernacular. In this course we will study a number of Old English saints’ lives, whether in prose (mainly written by Ælfric) or in poetry. Various kinds of saints will be discussed: male and (especially) female, martyrs and confessors, fen fighters and desert harlots, early Christian and contemporaneous English. Questions that will be addressed include: in what respect did the lives of female saints differ from those of male saints? What effect did the application of the traditional poetic style have on the representation of female saints? To what extent are lives stereotypical or individual? Was the worship of saints purely religiously motivated or also otherwise (politically, economically)? In short, the texts will be read against the cultural-historical background of Anglo-Saxon England.

Course objectives

  • The students will extend their knowledge of and insights into OE hagiographic literature and develop research skills which they can apply to the course subject. At the end of the course, the students will be able to carry out a small-scale research problem by independently reading and interpreting relevant primary and secondary literature.

  • Students will extend their abilities to present their research results both orally and in written form on a near-professional level.
    Upon completion of the course, students will be well equipped to write their MA thesis on a topic in English philology.


The timetable will be available by July 1st on the website.

Mode of instruction

Two-hour seminar per week

Assessment method

Presentation and participation (20%), final essay (80%).
In the case of a fail, you are entitled to rewrite your final essay.


Blackboard will be used to provide students with additional information/reading material.

Reading list

  • Szarmach, Paul E., ed. (1996). Holy Men and Holy Women: Old English Prose Saints’ Lives and Their Contexts Albany, NY: SUNY Press.

  • Nelson, Mary (1991). Judith, Juliana, and Elene. Three Fighting Saints. New York, etc.: Peter Lang. Available as e-book.

  • Donovan, Leslie A. (1999). Women Saints’ Lives in Old English Prose. Translated from Old English with Introduction, Notes and Interpretative Essay. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer.

  • Reader/Blackboard with sundry texts.


Students should register through uSis. If you have any questions, please contact the departmental office, tel. 071 527 2251 or mail.
Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply.

Contact information

MA Literary Studies departmental office, Van Wijkplaats 3, room 002A. Tel. 071 527 2251 or mail.
Coordinator of studies: Mr. J. Donkers, MA, P.N. van Eyckhof 3, room 1.01b.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration via Contractonderwijs