Abstract In the oldest versions of the Old French Vie de Saint Alexis, the saint’s renunciation of the profane takes the form of movement. Alexis’s flight from Rome and his return after seventeen years are the defining moments of this version of the Life in Old French, yet scholars have tended to focus on place as it reveals the holy identity of Alexis. This article contends that movement, defined as the absence of fixed place, indicates holiness throughout the text and that Alexis’s flight and return are the true markers of his progression towards perfection. Ultimately, this article posits that Alexis’s holiness in the oldest redactions is always an absence for the audience and movement is one metaphor by which this absence is expressed in the text. Similarly, the narrative movement in the text and the transmission of the tradition of the Life both undermine the centrality of place and reinforce the relationship between movement and holy revelation. In contrast to later, more popular redactions, the oldest witnesses of the Life in Old French present a more universalizing view of the saint and ultimately contribute to the formation of the hagiographic paradigm. Scholarship on the Old French Vie de Saint Alexis has tended to favour the oldest versions of the Life, which were probably composed in the late eleventh and early twelfth century, notably those preserved in four manuscripts known by the sigla LAPV.1 This scholarly favouritism arguably limits our perception of the Alexis tradition in Old French and even of medieval francophone literature more generally, as Alison G. Elliott has argued in the Introduction to her edition of the S and M2 redactions.2 While the Alexis tradition in Old French is more varied than these witnesses alone suggest, the present study posits that the LAPV redactions of La Vie de Saint Alexis offer a more universalizing view of sainthood, specifically by emphasizing the alienation of the saint, the mediating role of the clergy, and the authority of the papacy. This view of saintliness is one that the increasingly powerful papacy in Rome would eventually confirm, beginning in 1170 when Pope Alexander III decreed that the papacy alone had the authority to canonize saints. Previously, canonizations had been mostly local phenomena with little if any papal oversight, resulting in a geographically limited veneration of most saints. The Vie de Saint Alexis, however, offers an example that transcends the Mediterranean. The LAPV versions of the Life are both local and universal especially because they insist on movement and the unimportance of place. Alexis’s flight from Rome and his return after seventeen years are the defining moments of this version of the Life. Indeed, Alexis’s renunciation of the profane in these redactions takes the form of movement and uses it as a means to connect the ascetic life of the saint with the larger community of Christians. Although the later redactions of La Vie de Saint Alexis — namely those represented by the manuscripts S, M1, and M2 — maintain Alexis’s voyages, even adding another destination in the S manuscript, these versions are more focused on the individual than the community, painting Alexis as a more sympathetic, more accessible being, but otherwise offering a more specific and more intimate view of his life that counteracts the universalizing effect of the earlier redactions. Therefore, if the LAPV redactions have been given more attention by scholars, they also contributed more to later medieval perceptions of holiness and present more orthodox views of sainthood within a universal, Catholic tradition. Similarly, if these redactions promote the authority of the clergy and the papacy, they in turn are ultimately validated by these same authorities. Recent studies of La Vie de Saint Alexis have tended to focus on place as it reveals the holy identity of Alexis, especially as it is informed by Heideggerian and post-Heideggerian phenomenology, including Molly Robinson Kelly’s study of place and its relationship to the hero in Old French literature, Cary Howie’s work on the erotics of enclosure, and Emma Campbell’s discussions of gender and monasticism.3 To some degree these studies all suggest that place, and more pointedly enclosed spaces in the Alexis tradition, become non-spaces or non-lieux for the saint.4 In other words, the spaces in the narrative in which the saint is enclosed are at once fixed and known by the community of believers and also separate areas of alienation and transcendence, removed from the society that the saint ultimately serves. For Michel de Certeau, the non-lieu of hagiography derives from its being ‘dans le discours un ailleurs du discours’, ‘une fonction de “vacance”’ from the norms of the everyday, at once familiar to its audience and also a leisure activity that diverts the audience from its routine.5 He advances that saints’ lives are composed of a series of movements from place to place through which the hero is displaced, but which always point back to a founding location.6 Indeed, the life of a saint is necessarily transposed — temporally, geographically, linguistically, culturally, socially — from one Christian context to another through rewritings and retellings, but always in the service of the saint’s cult, which is essentially tied to place. The non-lieu is a spiritual space that arises from the contrast between the saint’s movement and the place around which the saint is displaced, pointing to a truth beyond the text.7 While any place the saint occupies is necessarily a non-place, I would suggest that a non-place need not be an enclosed or fixed place. A moving body represents a non-place just as well. The saint’s geographic displacement is more accurately the absence of fixed place, which paradoxically signifies the presence of the saint. As the descriptions of the physical and spiritual journey of St Alexis meld this world and the next, the space he occupies in the text may usefully be described as liminal. The concept of liminality, as defined by anthropologist Victor Turner, refers to the temporal suspension and/or physical separation from regular social life of one or more actors during rites of passage, usually as a means to mark a transition from one state of being to another.8 Expanding on Turner’s concept, liminality is here defined more broadly as a temporary or prolonged space-time removed from secular society. The first of two characteristics of Turner’s liminality that inform this study is the idea of social invisibility, meaning that a liminal persona can, but does not need to be, physically absent in order to be considered removed from society; an example of this would be wearing a disguise or undergoing a physical transformation. The second characteristic is that liminality, inasmuch as it is ‘betwixt and between’ two states of being, facilitates a connection to the other world as well as communication with deities and shades.9 This connection between liminality and the beyond obtains unambiguously in the flights of St Alexis in the LAPV redactions. In this way my argument explores the non-lieu within the text in the form of the saint’s geographical movements, which inspire a mystical experience among the audience that is inscribed in the text, and which mimic the historiographical movements described by Certeau. While I am largely in agreement with Certeau and indebted to his work, I am focusing on narrative movement as a device that alludes to the ineffability of mystical experience as a didactic tool for a lay audience. In the LAPV redactions of La Vie de Saint Alexis, Alexis is born in Rome to noble parents who have long prayed for a child. His birth is somewhat miraculous and recalls that of John the Baptist.10 Alexis’s youth is passed over quickly in these redactions up to the point at which his marriage is arranged, by his father, to the daughter of another nobleman of Rome. On his wedding night, just before he is to consummate his marriage, Alexis tells his bride that the pleasures of this life are worth nothing in comparison to the eternal rewards of heaven. He then promptly flees his father’s house, boarding a ship that happens to take him to the port city of Laodicea (in what is now Syria), where he divests himself of the remainder of his earthly belongings and begins life as a beggar in ‘Alsis’ (Sis in Armenian Cilicia, but the Greek and most Latin versions give Edessa, which is farther east).11 Although his family sends out servants in search of Alexis, they fail to recognize him. After seventeen years of prayer and asceticism outside a church in Sis, Alexis flees again to avoid being recognized as a holy man. He gains passage on another ship that returns him to Rome. Unrecognized by anyone, Alexis spends another seventeen years as a beggar under the stairs of his father’s home, where he dies, leaving only a letter that reveals his identity and his holy life. Throughout the text, earthly values are equated with temporal and physical, even geographic fixity, which is contrasted with the movement and temporal fluidity characteristic of holiness. The nostalgic opening introduces a tenuous relationship between earthly concerns and spiritual values: Bons fut li secles al tens ancïenur, Quer feit i ert e justise ed amur, S’i ert creance, dunt ore n’i at nul prut: Tut est müez, perdut ad sa colur, [J]a mais n’iert tel cum fut as anceisurs. Al tens Noë ed al tens Abraham Ed al David, qui Deus par amat tant, Bons fut li secles, ja mais n’ert si vailant: Velz est e frailes, tut s’en vat declinant, Si’st ampairét, tut bien vait remanant. (ll. 1–10) [The world was good in ancient times, for there was faith, justice, and love, and there was trust, from which there is now no profit. Everything is different and has lost its colour. It will never be as it was for our ancestors. In the time of Noah and in the time of Abraham and in the time of David, whom God so loved, the world was good; it will never again be so worthy. It is now old and frail, everything is in decline, it has become worse, and all good is gone.]12Inasmuch as the world (‘li secles’) used to espouse a relationship with the divine through faith, justice, love, and trust (‘feit’, ‘justise’, ‘amur’, ‘creance’, ll. 2–3), it was good. The final line of the passage explains, however, that this relationship has changed over time and can never be recuperated. The emphasis on the good of the past, which has been lost forever, is an allusion to the Fall of man, but it also signals a distance, or perhaps a deterioration, of the connection between profane and divine matters; the implication being that examples such as Alexis’s life and this text, which preserves it for us, attempt to redeem in small part. This introduction is absent from the Greek and Syriac versions, although a form of it appears in in the Latin Pater Deus ingenite, which was most likely a model for the Old French LAPV versions.13 And finally it follows more general introductions in the manuscripts S, M1, and M2 where it is also amplified to include more references to secular bonds (Alexis and his bride are mentioned in ll. 2–3 of the S redaction, whereas the more chivalric M2 mentions lords and vassals in l. 7). From the beginning of the LAPV redactions, Alexis is cast as a mediator between the old and the new. Yet it is not so much Alexis’s placement between two times and two places, as his movement between them that defines his holiness in the work more generally. Later in this introduction, the advent of Christianity is also described in terms of movement: ‘Puis icel tens que Deus nus vint salver, | Nostra anceisur ourent cristïentét’ [Since the time that God came to save us our ancestors had the Christian faith] (ll. 11–12; my emphasis). This action is immediately contrasted with the focus on the staid city of Rome that accompanies the description of Alexis’s father, Eufemien: Si fut un sire de Rome la citét, Rices hom fud, de grant nobilitét: Pur hoc vus di, d’un son filz voil parler. [E]ufemïen, si out annum li pedre, Cons fut de Rome des melz ki dunc i eret: Sur tuz ses pers l’amat li emperere; Dunc prist muiler vailante et honurede, Des melz gentils de tuta la cuntretha. (ll. 13–20) [There was a lord in the city of Rome, he was a rich man of great nobility: I am telling you this because I want to speak about a son of his. Eufemien was the father’s name, he was among the best counts of Rome there were, and the emperor loved him above all his peers. He took a worthy and honourable wife, from the most noble of the whole land.]Kelly has admirably drawn out the primacy of Rome in these redactions of the text, notably as related to Eufemien.14 Indeed, all references to Rome in the first hundred lines of these versions are to Alexis’s family, whether his parents or his bride. This connection to place rooted in his family is one against which Alexis’s life is somewhat of a rebellion. As Carl J. Odenkirchen has pointed out, however, the social and political structures of the Rome of these versions resemble eleventh-century Norman society much more than they do fifth-century Rome.15 The specificity of Rome in the opening gambit seems more a placeholder to evoke worldly power and values than a way of connecting Alexis’s life with a particular place and time. According to Perugi, the references are intended to suggest the centrality of Rome after the East–West Schism (1054) for a learned twelfth-century audience, rather than to create an accurate picture of the saint’s life and times.16 Indeed, this type of slippage (addressed by Certeau) permits the story to attain new relevance in different social and historical contexts. Within the broader context of the Life, it also means that even politically and spiritually important places such as Rome are not fixed and may be open to interpretation or even replacement with new versions of the Life, as is the case with Edessa becoming Sis in the Pater Deus ingenite and the Old French Vie. In the case of the LAPV redactions, the fixity ascribed to Rome through the stasis of Alexis’s family corresponds to Perugi’s argument that these texts bolster the image of Rome as the Holy See of the Catholic Church. In the M2 redaction, Eufemien is said to be a good Christian of Rome (l. 29), thus signalling an acceptance of the primacy of Rome that the LAPV redactions are seemingly struggling to promote. In this way, the significance of Rome is mutable within the larger tradition of the Life, but a symbol of stasis and papal power in the oldest versions of La Vie de Saint Alexis. In terms of time, as well, the family is immobile in the LAPV witnesses; their collective reaction to Alexis’s disappearance seems fixed. Their sadness when they discover he has fled continues unabated for the next thirty-four years (seventeen while he is abroad and another seventeen while he lives under their stairs).17 Their sorrow does not evolve, although perhaps it deepens after his death upon the revelation that the man under the stairs was their own Alexis. In this way, the family members do not seem to change over time. It is as if time, like the place the family occupies, becomes fixed for them in the story. Indeed, the long monologues delivered by both Alexis and his family in the later, seemingly more popular Old French redactions (S, M1, M2), suggest a certain atemporality, making these emotional scenes more immediate to an audience, but also more focused on what Elliott refers to as the ‘psychology’ of specific moments rather than on the progression of time.18 This is not to suggest that the family does not mark the passage of time in the LAPV redactions — they seem acutely aware of the thirty-four years — but rather that the passage of time brings more of the same to them; there is no development while Alexis is gone. His return will allow time to move forward for the family in a meaningful way. Thus, among the laymen in the text, it is the absence of change, of movement, and of evolution that characterizes terrestrial life. The saint, however, lives in between the earthly reality of the present, with its focus on the past, and the longed-for future of the other world with the divine. Even though the saint is on Earth, his attention and devotion are to what lies beyond the limits of the time and place of his contemporaries. Alexis is shown in the text as not belonging to this world precisely because his holiness means he already belongs, in a spiritual sense, to the next world. Reminding the audience of Alexis’s transcendence is one way the text may transcend itself and point to its Christian utility. The mere fact that Alexis flees Rome reinforces its connection to his family and to secular values, but the indeterminacy of his flight suggests that place is not of importance to the holy man: Puis en eissit de la cambre sum pedre, Ensure nuit s’en fuit de la contrethe. Dunc vint errant dreitement a la mer: La nef ert prest ou il dut enz entrer, Dunet sum pris ed enz est aloët, Drecent lur sigle, laisent curre par mer, La pristrent terre o Deus lur volt duner. Dreit a Lalice, ço fut citét mult bele, Iloec arivet sainement la nacele. Dunc an eisit danz Alexis a certes. Ço ne sai je cum longes i converset: Ou que il seit, de Deu servir ne cesset. D’iloc alat en Alsis la ciptét Pur une imagine dunt il oït parler, Qued angeles firent par cumandement Deu El num la virgine ki porte salvatét, Sainta Marie ki portat Damnedeu. (ll. 74–90; my emphasis) [Then he leaves his father’s room; under cover of night he flees the land. He comes straight to the sea: the ship which he must enter is ready, he pays his fare and goes inside. They hoist the sail and let the ship run across the sea; they land where God wants to take them. The ship arrives safely and directly at Laodicea (Lalice), which is a very nice city. Then Lord Alexis exits, in truth. I do not know how long he stayed there, or what he learned, but he never ceased to serve God. From there he went to the city of Sis to see a statue that he had heard about, which angels made by God’s command in the name of the Virgin who brings salvation, St Mary who bore the Lord God.]Although this is Alexis’s flight, he is certainly not alone on board the ship, as the plural verbs in the passage suggest: ‘drecent’, ‘laisent’, ‘pristrent’. While Alexis’s renunciation of place as tied to secular values justifies the indeterminacy of his voyage, why should the sailors and presumably the other passengers on this ship not have a more concrete connection to place and a set destination? It is because of Alexis’s presence in a moving vessel. The ship, which is guided by God’s will, has become a transcendent non-lieu, a type of holy space in which all is given over to God, even the destination of the others on board. With Alexis they, too, are moved and guided by God, at least for the duration of the journey. While the sailors are active in the first verb (‘drecent’ [they hoist the sail]), and neutrally available in the second one (‘laisent curre’ [they let the ship run]), there is a passive sense in the third verb (‘o Deus lur volt duner’ [they landed or ‘took land’ where God willed to give it to them]). One variant of this line is that they took land where God wanted to lead them (‘mener’), but in either case the people on board ship have no agency. More to the point, it is this movement that evidences an experience or intervention of the divine for Alexis. The verb ‘porte’/‘portat’ at the end of this passage, derived from the Latin portare meaning to carry or bring, reinforces this connection between the divine and the idea of movement, in this case as related to the Virgin Mary, since both the image of the Virgin is brought forth by angels and Christ himself was carried by Mary. Just as the introduction to the Vie mentions the advent of Christianity as a movement, a coming to the world, so Christ’s birth and the holy image that inspires Alexis are made evident through movement. While Alexis initially flees in the LAPV redactions without a set destination, his journey in the S redaction is more directed, since he makes a pilgrimage to Jerusalem (beginning in laisse 24) before travelling to ‘Lalice’ (Laodicea). In fact Jerusalem is mentioned in the S version as early as line 28, in the middle of the second laisse and between two laisses that discuss Rome, linking these holy cities as equally important to a Christian pilgrim. Although this redaction emphasizes voyage, it also shows that place is more important to the holy man than in the LAPV versions. Moreover, in making Alexis a pilgrim to Jerusalem, he becomes a more accessible model of holiness than the alienated saint fleeing the world of the LAPV manuscripts. After disembarking in Laodicea in the LAPV versions, Alexis is still in transit, going from the port city of Laodicea to Sis, in order to see a statue made by angels. Although there is a specific geographical location of the statue, its origin is a non-locatable beyond: it was made and brought forth by divine means. Through the statue, terrestrial life and eternal life blend together. At this point in the narrative, Alexis has effectively separated himself from the secular world as a result of his travel: he possesses none of the trappings and signs of his former life. It is for this reason that the servants his father sends to find Alexis are unable to recognize him: ‘Iloc truverent danz Alexis sedant, | Mais n’an conurent sum vis ne sum semblant’ [There they found Lord Alexis seated, but they did not recognize his face nor his appearance] (ll. 114–15). While Alexis, as a phenomenon, appears before the men, his appearance or his seeming to be a beggar masks both his earthly identity as the son of a Roman nobleman and his saintly identity.19 The physical transformation Alexis has undergone since leaving Rome is a reflection of his liminal status, a disguise that makes him socially invisible to those of his former society, as well as to those in the church at Sis. Even the sacristan of the church in Sis, who is called by the statue to find the holy man, overlooks Alexis the first time he goes in search of him (ll. 174–81). Alexis rejoices at his social invisibility in this version, whereas the S, M1, and M2 witnesses in this moment instead exploit his sympathy and guilt for the suffering his family has endured for love of him through dialogues in S and descriptions in M2. In this way, the LAPV redactions underscore Alexis’s separation from the everyday and his divergent way of thinking as they highlight his social liminality. If the popular versions represented by the S, M1, and M2 manuscripts are intended to help their audiences identify with the human emotions of the saint, the LAPV redactions maintain a sense of the holy man’s alienation throughout. When Alexis flees a second time in this version of the life, it is once again to escape the honours of this world, now accorded to him by those in and near Sis who hear that the statue has spoken of a holy man who had been praying outside the church. The people flock to pay their respects to Alexis, an honour that he finds a burden (‘D’icest honur nem revoil ancumbrer’ [With this honour I do not want to be burdened again], l. 188), and that upsets his social invisibility and anonymity in Sis. This second flight is necessary in this version of the Life not only to prolong Alexis’s liminal state, but also because Alexis, in his fixed life of prayer spent near the statue, is still somewhat tied to place and to his own volition: Danz Alexis en Alsis la citét Sert sun seinur par bone volentét: Ses enemis nel poët anganer. […] Quant tut sun quor en ad si afermét Que ja sum voil n’istrat de la citied, Deus fist l’imagine pur sue amur parler Al servitor ki serveit al alter, Ço li cumandet: ‘Apele l’ume Deu’. (ll. 158–60; 166–70; my emphasis) [Lord Alexis in the city of Sis serves his Lord with good will: the devil cannot trick him. […] When his whole heart is so fixed on the Lord that he never wants to leave the city, God makes the image speak for love of him to the servant who served at the altar, he commands him thus: ‘Call the man of God’.]It is not merely that Alexis’s will to stay in Sis ties him too closely to place, it is also the fixity of his life there suggested by the verb afermir that compels a further movement in order to progress in his perfection. The sacristan’s movements in and out of the church echo, or rather announce, Alexis’s own back-and-forth movements to Laodicea and eventually Rome. When Alexis flees, he returns to Laodicea and once again boards a ship, this time with the intention of going to Tarsus. Within the tradition of the Life, the Byzantine and Syriac versions make no mention of a voyage beyond Alexis’s initial flight to Edessa. In fact, in some versions he is known as St Alexis of Edessa. This second flight is an amplificatio of the Western tradition. Furthermore, a trip to Tarsus from Sis most likely could have been achieved without a sea voyage. The Old French version made it a necessary voyage, not just to affirm Alexis’s renunciation of the profane and his complete devotion to God’s will, but also to reinforce the connection between holiness and non-lieu that his first flight established. A sea voyage is decidedly unlocatable, a continuous movement through the expanse of the sea, of unnamed and unidentifiable space that is a non-lieu par excellence. Moreover, that he crosses water in each journey is symbolic of a purification, a type of baptism into sainthood that unites the Eastern and Western Mediterranean. The determinacy of his second voyage is thwarted when he is brought directly to Rome. In this case, there is no specific mention of divine intervention, only of the winds that carried the ship off course, but Alexis addresses God directly before disembarking, saying he would rather not be in Rome. His fear is of being recognized, of being connected to place and family. Nevertheless, his new life has sufficiently altered his appearance that he is, once again, not identified by anyone, this time while ensconced under the stairs of his father’s house: Sovent le virent e le pedre e le medra E la pulcele quet li ert espusede: Par nule guise unces ne l’aviserent. (ll. 236–38; my emphasis) [Often the father and the mother saw him and the maiden whom he had married: In no way did they ever notice him.]At this moment in the text, Alexis himself is not tied to geographical place, but rather fears losing his proximity to God by renouncing his ascetic life for his family. As María Pilar Suarez claims, Alexis is still attached to liminal space when he returns to Rome.20 That he is once again not recognized affirms his liminality, his transcendence of place. The ascetic Alexis, the man of God, is not affiliated with Rome. He is as alienated there as in any other place to which he has travelled. And while Alexis remains beneath the stairs, neither his holiness nor his former secular identity is perceived by those around him. The later redactions refer to Alexis as a saint from the outset (in S, ‘un saintisme home qui Allessis ot non’ [a very holy man named Alexis], l. 2; and at his wedding in M2, ‘Sains Alesins l’espousa vraiment’ [St Alexis married her, truly], l. 85). In these later redactions, Alexis is always already a saint for the audience and consequently not absent or liminal for the audience the way he is in the LAPV redactions; his progression towards salvation is shown more through his struggles in renouncing his family and bride than through his flights and alienation from the world. Yet the idea that Alexis may be called a saint before his death contradicts the more orthodox view of sainthood, and certainly that presented in the LAPV redactions, where Alexis is not styled a saint until after his death. Though central to the narrative, the moments of travel take little space in the LAPV versions. The description of Alexis’s initial flight to Laodicea/Sis is expressed in a mere seventeen lines, and his return voyage takes hardly any more space in the narrative (ll. 186–211). Not only that, but the audience has no insight into what happens on board ship during these voyages. Furthermore, there is no mention of how long the journeys take. The time narrated, like the narrative time, is passed over quickly. The absence of discourse and even description during the voyages, and the speed with which they are recounted, constitute not so much a glossing-over of movement as they do the ineffable nature of the spiritual transcendence that these episodes represent. In the words of St Augustine: So in this mortal life we are like travellers away from our Lord: if we wish to return to the homeland where we can be happy we must use this world, not enjoy it, in order to discern ‘the invisible attributes of God, which are understood through what has been made’ or, in other words, to ascertain what is eternal and spiritual from corporeal and temporal things.21 In the LAPV redactions, God guides Alexis most in the moments of the text to which the audience does not have direct access, which the audience only understands as a passing moment in the work. Indeed, we as audience necessarily identify with the immobile, static family of Alexis, who never leaves Rome, precisely because we cannot have direct access to that which lies beyond our understanding, beyond our earthly experience of the holy. In this way, the text creates a sense of alienation between the audience and the saint. Alexis’s holiness is always an absence for us, and movement is one metaphor by which this absence is expressed in the text. The S, M1, and M2 redactions compensate for this absence by making Alexis and his family, particularly his bride, more accessible, with their thoughts and feelings laid bare in lengthy dialogues. Although this technique gives the impression of a more popular version, it also alters the view of saintliness presented to the audience, making it seem imitable and achievable by all. In this respect the later redactions undo the saintly asceticism underscored in the LAPV witnesses, instead emphasizing the human and worldly nature of the saint. Moreover, the narrative structure of the LAPV redactions embodies this metaphor of movement as holy presence because it continuously moves back and forth between Alexis and his family, from Sis to Rome while he is away, and then from under the stairs and back to the house where Alexis’s family continues to grieve after his return. These alternations are significantly reduced in number in the traditions of S, M1, and M2, in favour of monologues and dialogic exposition. The following thematic and geographic analysis of the stanzas (numbered) in Perugi’s critical edition of the LAPV tradition covers the first half of the work, that is, Alexis’s terrestrial life. It begins after the first two and a half stanzas, which constitute the introduction, and highlights the textual movement: Table 1. Division of stanzas in La Vie de Saint Alexis by place and character Rome 3–15 Voyage/Edessa 15–20 Rome 21–23 Edessa 23–25 Rome 26–32 Edessa/Voyage 32–40 (Next part) Alexis in Rome 41–47 His parents/bride 48–49 Alexis 50–58 Midpoint of poem 63, revelation of Alexis’s identity; a voice tells the people of Rome to look in Eufemien’s house for the holy man of God Rome 3–15 Voyage/Edessa 15–20 Rome 21–23 Edessa 23–25 Rome 26–32 Edessa/Voyage 32–40 (Next part) Alexis in Rome 41–47 His parents/bride 48–49 Alexis 50–58 Midpoint of poem 63, revelation of Alexis’s identity; a voice tells the people of Rome to look in Eufemien’s house for the holy man of God From the middle of stanza 3 the narrative is focused on Rome, only to begin alternating in stanza 15 between Alexis’s voyage and Rome, where his family dwells. Alexis is almost always moving, whereas his family is described in Eufemien’s house in Rome, and often in the bedroom from which he fled.22 In effect, the alternating structure emphasizes narrative movement as intimately tied to the experience of sainthood being presented, suggesting that the text is a moving non-place not only because it contains movement but also because it is mutable in its adaptations, through the translatio that spreads the tradition of the Life. The structure therefore undermines the importance accorded to place through Eufemien at the beginning of this Life. This undermining of place is confirmed when Alexis dies. Upon his death, Alexis asks for parchment to write down his life, which is reduced to his movements: ‘De sei medisme dedenz ad tut escrit | Cum s’en alat e cum il s’en rafuï’ [He wrote everything in the letter himself, how he left and how he took flight] (ll. 284–85).23 These migrations are repeated later in the text when the letter is read aloud to the people of Rome (ll. 376–85). Just as his life is summarized by movement, so too is the public response to it. The letter he leaves to identify himself, by naming his parents and telling of his flights, may only be taken from his hand by the pope: Li apostolie tent sa main a la cartre, Sainz Alexis la süe li alascet, Lui le consent ki de Rome ert pape: Il ne la list ne dedenz ne esguardet, Avant la tent ad un boen clerc e savie. (ll. 371–75) [The pope (apostle) holds out his hand for the letter, St Alexis releases his grasp, he gives it to him who was pope of Rome: the latter does not read or look at what is in it, but hands it to a good and learned cleric.]The movement of the letter from the pope to his clerk is a commentary on the transmission of Alexis’s life. As Campbell states: The passage of the divine word from saint, to Pope, to cleric, thus culminates in the reading of the Life in a manner that incorporates the clerical author and Christian audience outside the text into a ﬁction of textual transmission and reception.24To this I would add that the inscribed fiction of transmission is precisely one of passage, or movement from high to low, which mirrors the physical motion of the community of Christians in the text. Additionally, as Perugi argues, this movement reinforces the elevation and separation of the clergy from the laity that Peter Damian promoted in the eleventh century.25 Transmitting the text is therefore a form of holy movement. As Karl D. Uitti put it, ‘participation in the telling of a saint’s life was itself an act of faith, an act of witness’.26 In the S redaction, on the other hand, the letter flies from the pope to Alexis’s bride, a gesture that for Elliott signals a new message from the LAPV versions, namely that Alexis is a model for married men; moreover, this gesture ‘reflects the twelfth century’s growing concern with love and women’.27 In this way, the S redaction subtly undermines papal authority in this episode as it also suggests that the rightful recipient of Alexis’s holy example is his bride — perhaps a representative of the laity but nonetheless an individual, not a community. The LAPV witnesses rely instead on the mediation of the clergy in the transfer of the Life to the people who form a community. Whereas the statue in Sis proclaimed Alexis’s holiness in the LAPV redactions, in Rome it is a disembodied voice — one without any physical connection to place — that announces to the faithful the presence of a holy man, reinforcing the relationship between non-place and the divine. The first pronouncement of the disembodied voice results in the faithful being called to Rome; the second warns the people to seek out the man of God in Rome and beg him that the city not be destroyed. Upon the second pronouncement, rich and poor seek advice from the pope, and all are united, including the emperors and the pope, in praying in one voice, ‘E tut le pople par commune oraisun’ [And all the people with a common prayer] (l. 308; my emphasis), to ask for guidance about the holy man and how he may bring salvation. This unity is followed by a final pronouncement from the voice telling the people of Rome to go to Eufemien’s house to find the holy man. It is not only the people of Rome who are united in voice and movement in search of the man of God. News of Alexis’s death inspires his mother to come running to his body, ‘La vint curante cum femme forsenede’ [She came running there like a woman out of her mind] (l. 423; my emphasis), linking her to the people, ‘all’ of whom are incited to rush up and sing as they carry his body and pray for mercy: Trestuz li prenent ki pourent avenir, Cantant enportent le cors saint Alexis E ço li preient que d’els ait mercit; N’estot somondre icels ki l’unt oït, Tuit i acorent, [li grant et li] petit. Si s’en commourent tota la gent de Rome, Plus tost i vint ki plus tost i pout curre, Par mi les rues an venent si granz turbes, Ni reis ni quons n’i poet faire entrarote Ne le saint cors ne pourent passer ultra. (ll. 506–15; my emphasis)28 [All those who are able to come, take him, singing as they carry the body of St Alexis and they pray that he have mercy on them. It is not necessary to summon those who hear it, all run there, the great and the small. All the people of Rome get up; those who can run fastest arrive first. Great crowds come into the streets; neither king nor count can enter, nor can they get past the holy body.]As the repetition of ‘tuit’, ‘tota’, and ‘trestuz’ in this passage and in the previous mention of prayer shows, the entire city is united in the procession to carry Alexis’s body, the vehicle of his holy life — impeded only by the multitude of people. The movement of the masses towards his body recalls the same gesture in Sis: ‘Trestuit l’onourent, li grant e li petit’ [Everyone honours him, the great and the small] (l. 184). In the second instance, however, the verb ‘acorent’ replaces ‘onourent’, showing that the immobile honouring of the living man of God has been transformed into the active running towards the body of the saint. Moreover, the procession has the effect of turning men away from avarice, for the emperor decides to have gold and silver thrown into the streets to distract the poor people and keep them from blocking the procession, but their will is turned to Alexis’s now-immobile body: ‘A cel saint hume trestut est lur talent’ [Towards this holy man is all of their desire] (l. 530). Accordingly, the movement has been transferred from the body of the holy man to the would-be pilgrims of Rome. The multitude now acts and speaks as one voice, united as citizens of Rome (and by extension the Catholic Church) in the procession of their holy man whose soul is in paradise (‘E l’anema en est enz el paradis Deu’ [And his soul is in God’s paradise], l. 544).29 Hence the movement that revealed the connection between Alexis and God has now been spread to the people, inciting them to process in honour of St Alexis. And the movement continues well beyond the procession following his death, for those pilgrims who make their way to Alexis’s body are cured of ailments and sorrows, and their weeping turns to singing (‘Ki vint plurant, cantant l’en fait raler’ [Those who came crying leave singing], l. 560). The repeated use of the present participle in this section combines the idea of movement and action with repetition and stasis, suggesting that the people, though still worldly, are truly inspired by Alexis. The example of Alexis’s life has helped to unite and move an earthly community after his death. In the S and M2 redactions, the sense of unity among the people is absent. Although there is a procession witnessed by angels (l. 1048) in S, and led by angels in M2 (ll. 914–15), the frequent references to the unity of the city are replaced by the laments of Alexis’s family, who come to represent the community affected by the saint’s life but are still very much portrayed as individuals. Just as the Romans are inspired to process in the text, so the external audience is moved by this affective displacement to remember St Alexis, to pray, and consequently to move towards paradise: Aiuns, seignors, cel saint home en memorie, Si li preiuns que de toz mals nos tolget, En icest siecle nus acat pais e goie, Et en cel altra la plus durable glorie. En ipse verbe sin dimes Pater nostre. (ll. 621–25) [Let us, lords, keep this saint in our memory and pray to him to keep us from all evil; may he give us peace and joy in this world and in the other world the most lasting glory. In this very word let us say the Our Father.]Thus, the movement, or rather the instability, that Alexis’s physical exile generates in the text reveals his transitory position between two worlds: life and death, man and saint. It is in this capacity as transitional being that Alexis may ultimately serve as a mediator. Alexis’s rejection of the secular world and period in exile are essential signs of his sainthood and this is shown through his flight. Throughout the LAPV redactions, Roman society, which is marked as stable and unchanging, keeps its focus on the mundane and the fixed, on the results of the saint’s movements after they have ended, as opposed to the movements themselves. Yet the people come to participate in this movement through their reception, preservation, and even transmission of the Life. Movement as liminal phase both reveals and masks the saint’s identity. The appearance of the saintly, through the phenomena that imply saintliness, is only available through mediation and after it is already an absence. In preserving this memory, it is important to note that the larger textual tradition of the Life of St Alexis also suggests a detachment of holy experience and place. The oldest surviving versions of the story of Alexis’s life do not necessarily suggest that the city of Rome was even his place of origin. These Greek and Syriac works of the late fifth century may very well have been referring to Constantinople — the new Rome — when they mentioned Rome.30 Similarly, Perugi notes that in at least one Latin redaction composed in Italy, the eastern cities are changed to Italian place-names (namely Pisa as Alexis’s place of exile) as a means of relocating the saint’s life to make him ‘native’ and therefore to appeal more to a local audience on the Italian peninsula.31 Within the Old French redactions of the Life, Rome universalizes the tradition.32 While Rome is a more meaningful location for a Western audience, the ramifications for the saint’s life are that place does not matter, at least in the LAPV redactions. Constantinople, Rome, Sis, Edessa, even Jerusalem and Pisa are all witnesses of Alexis’s holiness or rather instruments of his askesis, whether in person or in literary tradition. The transfer of the city within the text constitutes an appropriation of his story in service to the Universal Church; the literary voyage and its translatio underscore the spreading of the holy example of the saint’s life irrespective of place, or perhaps more accurately, in the words of Psalm 98, to all the ends of the Earth. This translatio is inscribed in the text, particularly the LAPV redactions, which, more than the later Old French redactions, underscore the notion of transfer to the people through clerical intervention. Ironically, the popular versions of this and other saints’ lives are ultimately discarded by the Church in favour of achieving historical accuracy and dogmatic consistency, particularly by the Bollandists beginning in the seventeenth century. If popular redactions such as S, M1, and M2 offer new insights into the reception of Alexis’s Life and the development of Old French literature more generally — assuming we can identify their intended audiences — they also show how far medieval writers strayed from what ultimately became hagiographic paradigms. Footnotes 1 Manuscript abbreviations and date information for the Old French Vie de Saint Alexis may be found in Maurizio Perugi’s edition, La Vie de Saint Alexis (Geneva: Droz, 2000), p. 9; in the corrections to this edition in Saint Alexis, genèse de sa légende et de la ‘Vie’ française (Geneva: Droz, 2014), p. 617; and in Alison G. Elliott, The ‘Vie de Saint Alexis’ in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1983), p. 14. All references to the LAPV versions of La Vie de Saint Alexis are to Perugi’s corrected edition from 2014, Saint Alexis, genèse, unless otherwise noted, with minor changes to punctuation of his diplomatic transcription. References to the S and M2 versions are to Elliott’s edition. 2 Alison G. Elliott, Introduction to The ‘Vie de Saint Alexis’, pp. 13–91, esp. pp. 13, 15–16, and 28. For the poems from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, see Charles E. Stebbins, A Critical Edition of the 13th and 14th Centuries Old French Poem Versions of the ‘Vie de Saint Alexis’ (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1974). 3 See Molly Robinson Kelly, The Hero’s Place: Medieval Literary Traditions of Space and Belonging (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2009); Cary Howie, Claustrophilia: The Erotics of Enclosure in Medieval Literature (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007); and Emma Campbell, whose work also integrates female saints, in ‘Separating the Saints from the Boys: Sainthood and Masculinity in the Old French Vie de Saint Alexis’, French Studies, 57 (2003), 447–62, Medieval Saints’ Lives: The Gift, Kinship and Community in Old French Hagiography (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2008), and ‘Epistemology of the Cloister: Knowledge, Identity, and Place in Old French Saints’ Lives’, Journal of Medieval Religious Cultures, 36 (2010), 205–32. 4 See Michel de Certeau, L’Écriture de l’histoire (Paris: Gallimard, 1975), p. 279. Campbell also refers to this concept in ‘Epistemology of the Cloister’, p. 206. 5 Certeau, L’Écriture de l’histoire, pp. 257 and 278–79; original emphasis. 6 See Certeau, L’Écriture de l’histoire, esp. pp. 285–87. 7 Campbell summarizes this position eloquently in ‘Epistemology of the Cloister’, pp. 206–07. 8 Victor Turner develops this concept in The Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Ritual (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1967) and From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play (New York: Performing Arts Journal Publications, 1982). 9 Turner, The Forest of Symbols, esp. ‘Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period in Rites de passage’, pp. 93–111. 10 Karl D. Uitti points out that the miraculous birth is part of the saintly paradigm, in ‘The Old French Vie de Saint Alexis: Paradigm, Legend, Meaning’, Romance Philology, 20 (1967), 263–95 (p. 271). Kelly links his birth to the story of Isaac (The Hero’s Place, pp. 72–74). 11 For a discussion of the change from Edessa to Alsis, see Perugi, Saint Alexis, genèse, pp. 419–515. Although his research into the question is impressive, Perugi’s argument that Sis was not known in Western Europe until the twelfth century, and consequently that the date of the first Old French versions of the Vie must be pushed back several decades to the 1140s, relies heavily on extant historical evidence, but fails to consider other, possibly lost means by which Sis may have been known earlier and used to replace Edessa in the vernacular Alexis tradition. His position contradicts the traditional dates of composition based on philological evidence and instead posits a rather unconvincing use of deliberately ‘archaic’ words in the Old French LAPV tradition in order to justify his choice of a later date (pp. 10–11 and 543). 12 All translations are mine unless otherwise indicated. 13 The chronology of the Latin ‘Rythme’ and the Old French poems is a central question Perugi sets out to answer in his study Saint Alexis, genèse, ultimately concluding (p. 569) that the Latin poem served as a model for the Old French works. 14 Kelly, The Hero’s Place, p. 71. 15 Carl J. Odenkirchen, The Life of St. Alexius in the Old French Version of the Hildesheim Manuscript (Brookline, MA: Classical Folia Editions, 1978), p. 61. 16 Perugi, Saint Alexis, genèse, esp. pp. 15 and 457. 17 Manuscript A gives fifteen years for his time in exile and then eighteen years under the stairs; see Perugi, Saint Alexis, genèse, p. 600. 18 Elliott, The ‘Vie de Saint Alexis’, pp. 36–37, and p. 70 where she argues that the S redaction may have been part of a jongleur’s repertoire. 19 For this perspective, I am indebted to Timothy Kircher. 20 María Pilar Suarez, ‘Le Saint: héros et marginal’, Thélème. Revista Complutense de estudios franceses, 18 (2003), 99–112 (p. 109). 21 St Augustine, De doctrina christiana, ed. and trans. by R. P. H. Green (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), i, 4, 9, p. 17. 22 Kelly points out that this is particularly true of the mother (The Hero’s Place, pp. 75–80). 23 A variant at the end of this line gives ‘s’en revint’ instead of ‘s’en rafuï’, which suggests more of a sense of going back and forth in conjunction with ‘s’en aller’ (Perugi, Saint Alexis, genèse, p. 641). 24 Campbell, ‘Separating the Saints from the Boys’, p. 459. 25 Perugi, Saint Alexis, genèse, pp. 11, 15–17. 26 Uitti, ‘The Old French Vie de Saint Alexis’, p. 274. 27 Elliott, The ‘Vie de Saint Alexis’, pp. 42–43. 28 I slightly modified line 510 to reflect the variant in the Hildesheim manuscript, where this line echoes line 184. Perugi’s edition reads: ‘nes li enfant petit’. My translation reflects my change. 29 According to Perugi this line is missing in manuscript V; see Saint Alexis, genèse, p. 636. 30 See Odenkirchen, The Life of St. Alexius, pp. 31–32. 31 Perugi, Saint Alexis, genèse, p. 157. 32 See Uitti, ‘The Old French Vie de Saint Alexis’, p. 278. © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for French Studies. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: email@example.com
French Studies – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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