Jonas of Bobbio and the 'Vita Columbani' : sanctity and community in the seventh century
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The seventh century was a formative period in the history of western monasticism. It was during this period that a monastic culture became more entrenched on the Continent with the foundation of new monasteries that were more closely tied to royal and aristocratic power. The catalyst behind this development was the Irish abbot and monastic founder, Columbanus (c. 550-615), and his Frankish disciples, the Columbanians. Columbanus’s ascetical exile to the Continent in 590 and his founding of monasteries in the Vosges forests of Burgundy and at Bobbio in Lombard Italy had a deep impact on Frankish and Lombard societies. Luxeuil in Burgundy became the nexus of the Hiberno-Frankish monastic movement in Merovingian Gaul in the years following Columbanus’s death, while Bobbio became an important centre of Catholic orthodoxy and influence in Lombard Italy. This thesis considers our principal source for Columbanus and the Columbanian familia, Jonas of Bobbio’s Vita Columbani abbatis et discipulorumque eius, written between 639 and 642. This is arguably the most important hagiographical work produced in the seventh century and one of the most significant of the early Middle Ages. I propose that the work was principally a Bobbio production meant to re-vindicate Columbanus’s saintly reputation amongst the Frankish communities and to criticize the dissent and disunity that had led to a change in Columbanian practices a decade after the saint’s death. I also consider whether it was addressed to a wider royal and aristocratic audience in Merovingian Gaul and propose new insights into the structure of the work. In addition to a close textual study of the Vita Columbani and Jonas’s other, lesser-known saints’ Lives, the Vita Vedastis and the Vita Iohannis, I explore the career of Jonas himself, seeing him as an individual whose life reflected many of the changing political, cultural, and religious circumstances of his age.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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