Varin, Amy Lucille, “Medieval texts of the life of St. Gwenole”, PhD thesis, Harvard University, 1983.

  • PhD thesis
Citation details
Medieval texts of the life of St. Gwenole
Harvard University
Abstract (cited)
Different versions of the life of St. Gwénolé, founder of the Abbey of Landévennec, vary considerably according to the use the author wished to make of the text. The earliest surviving text, the Vita Sancti Winwaloei [VSW] of Wrdisten, Abbot of Landévennec in the ninth century, is both a historical work and a devotional work. As history, it is inspired in part by the ninth-century rise in nationalist consciousness throughout the Celtic world, which in Brittany may have been encouraged by Nevenoe's establishment of an independent Breton state. It contains an origin story for Brittany, largely derived from Gildas. As an aid to devotion, it offers a rich intertext of Scriptural references which serve to under­line the religious significance of Gwénolé’s life.

A shorter version of the VSW, generally thought to be Wrdisten's source, is actually an abridgement of his text, probably written at Montreuil-sur-Mer in Normandy. This text, which contains an episode borrowed from the Life of St. Ethbin, has been reduced to a string of miracles for the edification of a less sophisticated audience than the readers of the longer VSW. Condensed even further by John of Tynemouth, the short version has been incorporated into the Nova Legenda Angliae.

Wrdisten also wrote a verse life of Gwénolé as a com­panion piece to his long prose life, a sermon for the feast of St. Gwénolé designed to instruct those who could not read the VSW, and a letter, based primarily on the sermon, to enclose with a gift of relics sent to Bishop John of Arezzo.

Closely related to Wrdisten's works are three hymns, one by Clement of Landévennec, Wrdisten's contemporary, the others anonymous, recalling Gwénolé's miracles and asking his protection, and a number of charters composed in the eleventh century to document Landévennec's earliest acquisitions of land. Apart from one which makes Gwénolé contemporary with Charlemagne rather than with the Breton migration, these charters agree with Wrdisten's official biography.
Subjects and topics
History, society and culture
Clement of LandévennecClement of Landévennec
Entry reserved for but not yet available from the subject index.

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(supp. fl. 6th c.)
Gwenole, Guénolé, Winwaloe, Winwaloeus, Guingalois
Reputed founder, first abbot and patron saint of Landévennec in Cornouaille (now in Finistère, Brittany).
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WrdistenWrdisten (Gurdisten)
(fl. 9th century)
Uurdisten, Gurdisten
Abbot of Landévennec and author of a Life of St Winwaloe/Gwenolé.
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Dennis Groenewegen
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March 2020, last updated: January 2023