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PELAGIA:  text is taken from Caxton's English version of the Golden Legend (Ellis edition)

Life of S. Pelagienne

Here followeth the Life of S. Pelagienne, and first of her name.

Pelagienne is said of pelagus, which is as much to say as the sea, for as in the sea all waters abound, in like wise abounded she in the sea of this world of all riches, and of delices. She was the sea of iniquity and the flood of sins, but she plunged after into the sea of tears, and washed her in the flood of baptism.

Of S. Pelagienne.

Pelagienne was the foremost and noblest of the women of Antioch, full of riches in all things. She was right fair of body, noble of habit, vain and variable of courage, and not chaste of body. On a time as she went through the city with great pride and ambition, that there was nothing seen on her but gold and silver and precious stones, and over all whereas she went she filled the air with divers odours and sweet smells, and tofore and after her went a great multitude of young men and maidens, which were also clad with right noble vesture and rich. And a holy father which was named Nonnon, bishop of Heliopolis, which now is called Damietta, passed through the city and saw her. Then he began to weep right bitterly because she had more care to please the world than she had to please God; and then fell down upon the pavement and smote the earth with his visage, and wet it with his tears, and said: O most high God, have pity on me, sinner, the adormnents and array of one common woman hath surmounted in one day all the wisdom of all my life. O Lord, let not the array of one woman of folly confound me tofore the sight of thy dreadful majesty. She hath arrayed herself with high study, and all her might for earthly things, and I had purposed, Lord, to have pleased thee, but I have not accomplished it because of my negligence. Then he said to them that were with him: In truth I say to you that God shall set this woman in witness against us in the doom, because that she so busily painteth her for to please worldly friends and lovers, when we be negligent for to please the heavenly spouse, our Lord God. And when he had said these, or semblable words, he fell suddenly asleep, and him seemed that a foul dove or black culver flew about him whilst he was at mass at the altar. And when he commanded that they that were not baptized should depart and go their way, this dove departed anon and came again after the mass, and was plunged in a vessel full of water, and went out all clean and white, and flew up so high that she might not be seen, and then he awoke.

On a time when he preached in a church Pelagienne was present. She then became so repentant that she sent him a lettter by a messenger thus saying: To the holy bishop of Jesu Christ, Pelagienne, disciple of the devil, etc. If thou art verily the disciple of Jesu Christ, the which, as I have heard said, descended from heaven for the sinners, vouchsafe to receive me, repentant sinful woman. To whom the bishop sent again: I pray thee not to tempt my humility, for I am a sinful man. If thou desirest to be saved, thou mayst not see me alone, but among other men thou shalt see me. Then she came to him tofore many, and took his feet, and most bitterly weeping, she said: I am Pelagienne, the sea of iniquity, flood of sins, the swallow of perdition, and the devourer of souls. I have deceived many by deceits which now all I abhor. Then the bishop demanded her, saying: What is thy name? She said: I have been called from my birth Pelagienne, but for the pomp of my clothing men call me Margaret. Then the bishop received her benignly, and enjoined to her healthful penance, and informed her in the dread of God diligently, and regenerated her by holy baptism. The devil then cried there, saying: O what violence I suffer of this old servant of God. O violence, O evil old age, accursed be the day in which thou wert born contrary to me, for thou hast taken away my greatest hope.

On a night, whilst Pelagienne slept, the devil came to her and awoke her, and said: Lady Margaret, what harm did I ever to thee? Have I not adorned thee in all riches and in all glory? I pray thee tell me wherein I have angered thee, and I shall amend it anon. I require thee, leave me not lest I be made reproach unto the christian people. And then she blessed her and blew on him, and the devil vanished away. And the third day after, she assembled all the goods that she had and gave it to the poor people for the love of God. And a little while after she fled away by night, without knowledge of any person, and took the habit of a hermit and set herself in a little cell, and there served our Lord in much great abstinence. And was of much great and good renomee unto all the people, and led a right holy life and good, and was called brother Pelagien. After, a deacon of the same bishop that had baptized her, went to Jerusalem for to visit there the holy places. Then that bishop said to him that, after the visitation of the holy places he should seek a monk that was named Pelagien, and that he should visit him, for he should find there the true servant of our Lord, and so he did. And anon she knew him, but he knew her not for the great leanness that she had. And Pelagien demanded him: Have ye a bishop? And he said: Yea, lady. And she said to him: Say to him that he pray for me, for truly he is the apostle of Jesu Christ. And then the priest departed and came again the third day, but when he came he knocked at the door of the cell and none answered, he opened the window and saw that she was dead. Then he came and told it to the bishop. Then the bishop and the clergy and all the monks assembled for to do the exequies for this holy man, and when they had taken the body out of the cell, they found that she was a woman. And then they marvelled greatly, and gave thankings unto God, and buried the body much honourably the eighth day of October, the year of our Lord two hundred and four score.


© The segmented texts, annotations and audio files at are copyrighted by Laura Gibbs, 2006. No copyright is claimed for any images.