Goscelin of Saint-Bertin (or Goscelin of Canterbury) was a Benedictine hagiographical writer. His date of birth is unknown, but it cannot have been later than the early 1040s. He was a Fleming or Brabantian by birth and became a monk of St Bertin's at Saint-Omer before travelling to England to take up a position in the household of Herman, Bishop of Ramsbury (1058–78). During his time in England, he stayed at many monasteries and wherever he went collected materials for his numerous hagiographies of English saints.



According to William of Malmesbury, Goscelin was a monk of St Bertin's. On the other hand, as the author of the Vita Amalbergae virginis, written before 1062, Goscelin appears to be very well informed about the hagiographic tradition in Flanders and Brabant, more especially traditions related to Saint Peter's Abbey of Ghent. He probably stayed there at some time before 1062.


According to William of Malmesbury, Goscelin arrived in England with Herman, bishop of Sherborne, who arrived in 1058.[1] But, William of Malmesbury mistakenly claims that this was the year in which Herman became bishop of Sherborne, an appointment he did not take up until the death of Sherborne's resident bishop AElfwold in 1062-65. It is doubtful, therefore, that his information about Goscelin's arrival is reliable.[2] In fact, Goscelin states, himself, in his Liber confortatorius, that 'he first came to the bishop' at Potterne or Canning (in Wiltshire), implying that he did not travel to England in his company, but joined him there instead. It used to be thought that he arrived before the Norman Conquest, but there is no evidence for this supposition, although it is possible.[3][4]

Goscelin's patron and companion was Herman, Bishop of Sherborne. He functioned as secretary to the bishop and as chaplain to the nuns of Wilton Abbey. His fortunes took a turn for the worse when Bishop Herman died in 1078 and was succeeded by Osmund of Sées, whom Goscelin in his Liber confortatorius describes as a "king who knew not Joseph".[5] In the early 1080s, he was at Peterborough. Later, he wrote hagiography for the monastic communities of Ely, Barking, Ramsey, and St Augustine's, Canterbury, among other places.


William of Malmesbury praises his industry in the highest terms. He was at Ely about 1082, where he wrote a life of St Æthelthryth. Between 1087 and 1091 he was at Ramsey, and compiled there a life of the abbot St Ivo, or Ives. In the 1090s, he went to Canterbury, where he wrote his account of the translation of the relics of St Augustine and his companions, which had taken place in 1091. He wrote it in the octave year after that event, i.e. in 1098-99, and dedicated the work to St Anselm. A Canterbury obituary, quoted by Henry Wharton in Anglia Sacra, gives 15 May as the day of death of a certain Goscelin, who may have been this man, but does not name the year. He was still alive in 1106, when he wrote an account of the translation of St Wihtburh, of Ely [6]

His works consist of the lives of many English saints, chiefly of those connected with Canterbury, where he spent his last years. Some of them have been printed by the Bollandists, by Jean Mabillon, and by Jacques-Paul Migne. Others are contained in manuscripts in the British Museum and at Cambridge. His chief work was a life of St Augustine of Canterbury, professing to be based on older records and divided into two parts, -- an "Historia major" (Mabillon, Acta Sactorum. O.S.B., I) and an "Historia minor" (in Wharton, Anglia Sacra, I). His method seems to have been usually to take some older writer as his basis and to reproduce his work, in his own style.

The Liber Confortatorius dedicated to Eve of Wilton, a former pupil who went to Angers to live as a recluse, is a "letter of consolation", offering spiritual advice to Eve in her new vocation and conveying Goscelin's feelings about her sudden departure.

According to William of Malmesbury, Goscelin was also a skilled musician.


Flanders (St. Peter's Abbey, Ghent)

Edition also available on Wikisource: Vita sanctae Amalbergae virginis

Sherborne and Wilton (Wessex)

East Anglia

Barking Abbey (Essex)

St Augustine's, Canterbury

Kentish Lives

In addition, many other Lives have been ascribed to Goscelin, e.g. those of St Swithin,[7] St Grimbald and St Mildburg, but many such cases now prove unlikely or unsatisfactory.


  1. Love, R. C., "Goscelin of Saint-Bertin", in: The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Anglo-Saxon England (2000), p. 213
  2. Licence, Tom (2006). "Goscelin of Saint-Bertin and the Hagiography of Eadwold of Cerne". Journal of Medieval Latin. 16: 187.
  3. Licence, Tom (2006). "Goscelin of Saint-Bertin and the Hagiography of Eadwold of Cerne". Journal of Medieval Latin. 16: 187.
  4. Stroud, Daphne (2006). "Eve of Wilton and Goscelin of St. Bertin at Old Sarum". Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine. 99: 204–12.
  5. Talbot, C. H. "The Liber confortatorius of Goscelin of Saint Bertin", in: Studia Anselmiana; fasc. 37. Roma: Editrice Anselmiana, 1955
  6. Love, R.C., The Female Saints of Ely (2004)
  7. Bollandists, Acta SS., July; E.P. Sauvage (ed.), Anal. Boll. 7 (1888): 373–80

Further reading

External links

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