Vita sancti Ethbini

  • Latin
  • prose

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

The life suggests that Ethbin was of noble British origin. After his father died, his mother entrusted him to Samson, bishop of Dol, and he soon left to enter the monastery of Tauracus, which was presided over by one Similianus. There he met Winwaloe (here identified as sacerdos et monachus), with whom he shared a miraculous experience: they welcomed a leper, who ultimately revealed himself to be an appearance of Christ. Finally, after the Franks had come and destroyed the monastery, Ethbin moved to Ireland, where he performed a miracle at St Brigit’s tomb and spent the remainder of his life as a hermit in silva que Nectensis dicitur.

Ethbin’s connection to Winwaloe is commonly explained as an innovation on the part of the monks of Landévennec. In Quimper MS 16, Ethbin is identified by a second name, Idunet or Idiunet, although after three pages, it is not mentioned again. The intention may have been to reinforce the connection because one of the charters in the same MS uses the same name for a brother of St Winwaloe.

E. Vallerie has suggested that the use of Ethbin’s links to Samson and the former monastery of Tauracus had political aims: that it was designed to affirm the rights and claims of Landévennec over the territory around of Tauracus, which he identifies as Saint-Taulé (Carantec, Finistère).

First words (prose)
  • Beati Idiuneti confessoris vitam scripturus, peto habere suffragatorem quem ipse in se habuit habitatorem
Landévennec version :
ff. 135v–140
beg. ‘Beati Idiuneti confessoris vitam scripturus, peto habere suffragatorem quem ipse in se habuit habitatorem’
Unsorted :

Manuscripts with the name variant Etbinus.

Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS lat. 5345
pp. 4–7
rubric: ‘Incipit vita beati Etbini confessoris’
13th century?
Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS lat. 5284
ff. 188v–183rb
rubric: ‘Incipit vita beati Etbini confessoris’
13th century?

Hardy also mentions a manuscript from the abbey of Cambron in Hainaut/Henegouwen (MS Coenob. Camberonensis in Hannonia).

f. 124r–v
beg. ‘Temporibus imperatoris Iustini iunioris sanctus Ethbinus in Britanniae partibus natus fuit ...’
To be verified.
ff. 101–102, 103–105, 107–109v

Three versions: 1. one without prologue, from the now lost legendary of St-Salvator, Utrecht; 2. version from a MS of Anchin abbey; 3. version with variant name Edumeti.


The introduction to the Bollandist edition (p. 486, § 55) in ASS states that the text was taken from a copy made by Heribert Rosweyde (d. 1629); that Rosweyde used a manuscript of Anchin abbey (ex Ms. Aquicintino) as his exemplar; that he had collated his text with a manuscript of Marchiennes abbey (Ms. Marchianensi), a manuscript also consulted by Surius; and that Rosweyde’s transcript was deposited in the Museum Bollandianum, later the Burgundian library in Brussels. Rosweyde’s sources may correspond to, or at least invite comparison with, the legendaries in Douai, MS 865 (Anchin) and MS 840 or 842 (Marchiennes). Cf. Brussels MS 8913 above.

  • Latin

The text is usually dated to the 10th or 11th century.

Origin: Montreuil-sur-Mer, abbey of Saint-Saulve
Montreuil-sur-Mer, abbey of Saint-Saulve
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By 914 the monks of Landévennec had fled the Normans and found refuge in the abbey of Montreuil-sur-Mer (Normandy), where they appear to have introduced the cult of Winwaloe/Gwenolé (Walloi). Two decades later, c.935, the monks returned to Landévennec.

Amy Varin has suggested that Ethbin may have been of local importance to Montreuil-sur-Mer and that it was during this time of contact between both abbeys (914 x c.935 or later) that a life was written for him, one that was closely modelled after that of Winwaloe; and that Ethbin’s vita was taken to Landévennec, where he was not previously known.

Provenance: FlandersFlanders

No description available

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Ghent, Blandijnberg abbeyGhent, Blandijnberg abbey

No description available

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It appears that with the help of Arnulf, count of Flanders, the cults of both Winwaloe and Ethbin were later introduced at the monastery of Blandinberg in Ghent, which may help explain the route of transmission to the abbeys of Marchiennes and Anchin, which produced the legendaries now in Douai.

prose (primary)
Textual relationships

According to Amy Varin, the Vita is closely modelled after Wrdisten’s Vita of St Winwaloe.

(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).
Related: Vita brevior sancti WinwaloeiVita brevior sancti Winwaloei

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.

Vita sancti Ethbini/EgbiniVita sancti Ethbini/Egbini

A short redaction of the vita of St Ethbin, here called Egbinus, from the hagiographic collection of John of Tynemouth.




origins of Brittany (narrative world), c. 4th-6th centuuries
origins of Brittany (narrative world), c. 4th-6th centuuries
id. 63849

The time of migration and settlememt in Brittany, c. 4th-6th century, typically associated with the founding rulers (Conan Meriadoc, Gradlon/Grallon, Guiomar/Guigemar, etc.) and early founding saints (e.g. Paul Aurelian, Samson of Dol, Tudwal/Tugdual of Tréguier, Winwaloe of Landevenneg, Brioc, Malo, Corentin of Quimper, Paternus/Padarn, Goueznou).

(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

[ed.] La Borderie, Arthur de, Cartulaire de l’abbaye de Landévennec: première livraison, Rennes: Société archéologique du Finistère, 1888.
Gallica: <link>
[ed.] Van Hecke, Joseph, Benjamin Bossue, Victor De Buck, and Antonius Tinnebroek, Acta sanctorum: ex latinis et grecis, aliarumque gentium monumentis, servata primigenia veterum scriptorum phrasi, 68 vols, vol. 56: Octobris VIII [Oct. 17–20], Brussels: A. Greuse, 1853.
Documenta Catholica Omnia: <link>
474–486 (introduction, in two parts); 487–488 (text); 488 (Annotata)

Edition headed Acta sancti Ethbini, ex Ms. Aquicintino, coll. cum. Ms. Marchianensi a., and Vita sancti Ethbini, levitae et confessoris, discipuli S. Winwaloei.

[ed.] Surius, Laurentius, De probatis sanctorum historiis: partim ex tomis Aloysii Lipomani ... partim etiam ex manuscriptis codicibus, 7 vols, 1st ed., Cologne, 1570–1581.
 : <link>
Vol. 5, 871–873

Secondary sources (select)

Le Bourdellès, Hubert, “Les Bretons à Montreuil-sur-Mer vers 920: leur création culturelle”, Bulletin de la Société Nationale des Antiquaires de France 1995 (1997): 44–52.
Persée: <link>
Vallerie, Erwan, “Saint Idunet et le monastère de Tauracus”, Études Celtiques 24 (1987): 315–317.
Journal volume:  Persée – Études Celtiques, vol. 24, 1987: <link>
Varin, Amy, “The relative ages of two versions of the Vita sancti Winwaloei”, Proceedings of the Harvard Celtic Colloquium 3 (1983): 69–90.
Largillière, René, Melanges d’hagiographie bretonne: Saint Ethbin, saint Idunet et saint Dunet; Saint Brévara, Brévalaire, Brandan; Saint Avertin – sant Everzin, Brest: Presse Libérale, 1925. 46 pp.
 : <link>
Duine, François Marie, Mémento des sources hagiographiques de l’histoire de Bretagne: première partie. Les fondateurs et les primitifs, du Ve au Xe siècle, Rennes, 1918.
87–89 [id. 66.]
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>
esp. 41–46 (La vie de saint Idunet)
Hardy, T. D., Descriptive catalogue of materials relating to the history of Great Britain and Ireland to the end of the reign of Henry VII, vol. 1.1: From the Roman period to the Norman invasion, London: Longman, Green and Roberts, 1862.
Internet Archive: <link>
Dennis Groenewegen
Page created
January 2023, last updated: June 2023