Vita brevior sancti Winwaloei ‘The shorter life of Winwaloeus’

  • Latin
  • prose, verse

Shorter version of the Latin Life of Winwaloeus (Gwenolé), abridged from the longer version written by Wrdisten. BHL suppl. 8956d. In addition to being generally shorter, it also adds to it by borrowing an episode from the vita of St Ethbin, in which Christ appears to Gwenolé and Ethbin as a leper.

First words (prose)
  • Britannia insula de qua stirpis nostre origo olim, ut vulgo refertur, processit, [...]
ff. 86v–95r
rubric: ‘Incipit vita sancti Uuingulaori confessoris, v nonas martis’
beg. ‘Britannia insula de qua stirpis nostre origo olim, ut vulgo refertur, processit, [...]’
  • Latin
Origin: France, northFrance, north
Entry reserved for but not yet available from the subject index.

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Entry reserved for but not yet available from the subject index.

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Montreuil-sur-Mer, abbey of Saint-Saulve
Montreuil-sur-Mer, abbey of Saint-Saulve

Abbey founded as the abbey of Saint-Walloy (‘Saint Gwenolé’), following the arrival of monks from Landévennec who had fled Norman attackers and brought with them relics of their founding saint. It was refounded in the early 12th century and dedicated to Salvius of Amiens.

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On the assumption that the author must have had access to both Wrdisten’s life of the saint and a life of St Ethbin, Amy Varin has made the case for Montreuil-sur-Mer, or perhaps a monastery in Flanders, as the likely place of composition. See Vita sancti Ethbini.
prose, verse (primary)
Textual relationships

In earlier scholarship (e.g. Le Jollec, Latouche, De Smedt), it is often suggested that the shorter vita was the original on which Wrdisten’s vita is based. Current scholarship, however, prefers to view this relationship as going in the other direction.

(Possible) sources: Vita (longior) sancti WinwaloeiVita (longior) sancti WinwaloeiLonger version of the Latin Life of Winwaloeus (Guénolé) written by Wrdisten. BHL 8957–8958. The bulk of the work is in prose (BHL 8957), while the final part gives a shorter, metrical account (BHL 8958).Vita sancti EthbiniVita sancti Ethbini

Short, anonymous vita of St Ethbin, al. Idiunet/Idunet (in the Quimper MS), a fellow monk of Winwaloe. BHL 2621.

Related: Vita interpolata sancti WinwaloeiVita interpolata sancti Winwaloei

A short redaction of the vita of St Winwaloe, based on an abridged, homiletic redaction (BHL 8962, called Sermunculus de vita s. Winwaloei by J.-C. Poulin). BHL 8953. A distinct feature of the present version is that it also borrows an episode relating to St Ethbin from the Vita brevior, with a unique conclusion in which both saints travel to Ireland.

Vita sancti Winwaloei (BHL 8964b)Vita sancti Winwaloei (BHL 8964b)

A redaction of the vita of St Winwaloe of Landévennec, which is attested in two medieval manuscripts of English provenance. BHL 8964b.



(supp. fl. 6th c.)
Reputed founder, first abbot and patron saint of Landévennec in Cornouaille (now in Finistère, Brittany).

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(time-frame ass. with origins of Brittany (narrative world))
Saint in Brittany, of obscure origins. His vita associates him with the monastery of Tauracus (possibly in Taulé, Carantec, Finistère) and with Winwaloe/Gwenolé of Landévennec. He is also said to have been educated by Samson of Dol and to have spent the final years of his life in Ireland. Montreuil-sur-Mer possessed relics of the saint and it has been suggested that his vita was composed there.

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Primary sources Text editions and/or modern translations – in whole or in part – along with publications containing additions and corrections, if known. Diplomatic editions, facsimiles and digital image reproductions of the manuscripts are not always listed here but may be found in entries for the relevant manuscripts. For historical purposes, early editions, transcriptions and translations are not excluded, even if their reliability does not meet modern standards.

[ed.] Latouche, Robert, Mélanges d’histoire de Cornouaille: Ve-XIe siècle, Paris: Librairie Ancienne Honoré Champion, 1911.  

Contents: Introduction (1-2) -- La vie de saint Guénolé (3-39) -- La vie de saint Idunet (41-46) -- Le cartulaire de Landevenec (47-77) -- Conclusion (79-82) -- Appendice I: les possessions territoriales de l'abbaye d Landevenec aux XIe siècle (83-90) -- Appendice II: la vie de saint Ronan (91-95) -- Appendice III: la plus ancienne vie de saint Guénolé (97-112) -- [plate].

 : <link>
97–112 [‘Appendice III: la plus ancienne vie de saint Guénolé’]
[ed.] De Smedt, Charles, “Vita S. Winwaloei primi abbatis Landevenecensis auctore Wurdestino”, Analecta Bollandiana 7 (1888): 167–264.
Internet Archive: <link>
174–249 An edition of the longer and shorter version together, but with differences marked typographically.
[tr.] Simon, Marc, “Vie de saint Guénolé confesseur”, in: Marc Simon (ed.), Landévennec et le monachisme breton dans le haut Moyen Âge: actes du colloque du 15e centenaire de l’abbaye de Landévennec, 25-26-27 avril 1985, Association Landévennec 485–1985, Landévennec: Association Landévennec, 1986. 323–335.

Secondary sources (select)

MIRABILE, Online: Studio del Medioevo Latino, 2009–present. URL: <http://www.mirabileweb.it>. 
MIRABILE è un knowledge management system per lo studio e la ricerca sulla cultura medievale promosso dalla Società Internazionale per lo Studio del Medioevo Latino e dalla Fondazione Ezio Franceschini ONLUS di Firenze.
Poulin, Joseph-Claude, L’hagiographie bretonne du Haut Moyen Âge. Repertoire raisonné, Beihefte der Francia, 69, Ostfildern: Thorbecke, 2009.
– PDF: <link>
Poulin, Joseph-Claude, “Sources hagiographiques de la Gaule [SHG], V: Le dossier de Saint Guénolé de Landevennec (Province de Bretagne)”, Francia 23:1 (1996).
 : <link>
Lapidge, Michael, and Richard Sharpe, A bibliography of Celtic-Latin literature, 400-1200, Royal Irish Academy Dictionary of Medieval Latin from Celtic Sources, Ancillary Publications, 1, Dublin: Royal Irish Academy, 1985.
[id. 958.]
Varin, Amy, “The relative ages of two versions of the Vita sancti Winwaloei”, Proceedings of the Harvard Celtic Colloquium 3 (1983): 69–90.
Varin, Amy Lucille, “Medieval texts of the life of St. Gwenole”, PhD thesis, Harvard University, 1983.  
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.
Dennis Groenewegen
Page created
January 2023, last updated: June 2023