I first met Christina of Markyate (born approx 1097) in Who’s Who in the Middle Ages, by Dr. John Fines. Those of you who follow this blog know that this is one of my favorite browsing books about the Middle Ages. (The above link will take you to a book description, but please note that the giveaway is closed.) I read and reread this short biography of Christina for years before it occurred to me to see if I could find a copy of the longer biography cited by Dr. Fines, The Life of Christina of Markyate, a medieval bio by a contemporary of hers translated by C. H. Talbot. Christina, who’s given name was Theodora, became the founder of Markyate Priory in Bedfordshire, England. Her parents were very much set against her becoming a nun and betrothed her to a man named Burthred when she was young. When Christina stubbornly refused to marry Burthred, her parents let the young man into her room one night, hoping he would compromise her virtue and thus force her hand. Instead the next morning, her parents found the couple sitting together chastely having discoursed on religious subjects all night. Burthred and her parents tried several more times to convince Christina to agree to the marriage, but ultimately, Christina escaped and after suffering through many more challenges, became first a holy recluse, and ultimately the first prioress of Markyate.
Dr. Fines and Christina’s anonymous biographer both tell her story in lively, enjoyable styles. Copies of The Life of Christina of Markyate are available on Amazon and other online retailers.
Why am I discussing Christina on Medieval Research with Joyce? Because for years the story of her interlude with Burthred in her chamber intrigued me. In my imagination, I invented many variations of how that evening might have gone and dreamed of someday writing a story of some sort “inspired” by this incident. This summer I finally had an opportunity to do so when I was invited to write a short medieval Christmas story for a romance anthology. When I finished my “inspired by” version, I decided it wasn’t quite what the anthology was looking for and wrote a second story, called “Caroles on the Green”. (Available in A Timeless Romance Anthology: Winter Edition) But I had grown quite fond of my version of Christina and Burthred’s story, so after I finished my anthology contribution, I returned to Christina and Burthred, polished their story up, and published it as a short e-book called A Candlelight Courting: A Short Christmas Story. A Candlelight Courting is not the story of Christina of Markyate, but of a fictional young woman called Christina of Norgate, also betrothed to a man named Burthred. They, too, have a candlelight courting, but with a very different ending than the original Christina’s. Here is the back cover copy:
When Burthred comes courting on Christmas Eve, Meg rejects his advances. She has her heart set on becoming a nun and insists that he call her Christina, the spiritual name she has chosen for herself. She tries to make him swear on her box of holy relics that he will not pursue her, but he carefully words his oath to allow him to stay in her candlelit chamber and try to change her mind.
What Meg does not confess is that her reliquary box holds a secret.
Burthred needs a wife, and no one will satisfy him except Meg. He swore on his father’s deathbed that he would marry her. But Burthred has a secret, too. When they come together before the Yule fire, their shared revelations will either join their hearts together or tear them apart.