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Virginity and Chastity for Women in Late Antiquity, Anglo-Saxon England, and Late Medieval England: On the Continuity of Ideas

Melissa Hoffman

TCNJ: Journal of Student Scholarhip, Vol.9 (2007)

Abstract: This essay explores the continuity of ideas regarding virginity and chastity from Late Antiquity through late Medieval times in England, with special focus on how two Anglo-Saxon clerical authors, Aldhelm (c. 639-709) and Ælfric (c.955-c.1020), reflect the thinking of patristic writers, tailor their ideas to fit their respective Anglo-Saxon contexts, and influence later medieval thought. Claire Lees’s and Gillian Overing’s argument for approaches that emphasize continuity between Anglo-Saxon England and the later medieval period prompted the author to ask these questions: What themes and images of virginity and chastity from Anglo-Saxon writings were present in 14th – and 15th – century England? Where did Anglo-Saxon writers such as Aldhelm and Ælfric get their ideas of virginity and chastity and were they different from earlier conceptions? The author draws connections between the ideals of virginity represented in the figures of St. Æthelthryth (d. 679) and Margery Kempe (c. 1373- c.1440).

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