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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Note to Anon Heil 1VII

[All]: Sts 1-4 recount, with some graphic detail, the martyrdom of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury (1120?-70, canonised 1173) in Canterbury cathedral on 29 December 1170; for details of his life and murder, see Barlow 2004. This charismatic medieval saint, who came to symbolise the independence of the Church in the face of secular powers, was the subject of several Lat. and ON lives. The two most complete ON texts are Thómas saga 1 (second half of C13th) and Thómas saga 2 (first half of C14th); Thómas saga 2, written by Abbot Arngrímr Brandsson, also author of a saga about Guðmundr Arason, together with two C14th fragments, appears to draw on an Icel. translation of the now lost Lat. life of Thomas by Robert of Cricklade (Duggan 2004), probably by the priest Bergr Gunnsteinsson, active late C12th-early C13th (Widding, Bekker-Nielsen and Shook 1963, 334; Stefán Karlsson 1973; Jakobsen 1993). Thomas Becket was very popular in Iceland, especially among churchmen seeking independence from secular chieftains, and his shrine at Canterbury was early the goal of pilgrimage by pious Icelanders, such as Hrafn Sveinbjarnarson (Cormack 1994, 156-7). Four ll. survive of a poem (Ólhv ThómdrIII) about the saint by Óláfr Þórðarson hvítaskáld (d. 1259) and there is a late Thómas diktur erkibyskups in the C16th ms. AM 713 4° (ÍM II, 459-62).


  1. Bibliography
  2. Barlow, Frank. 2004. ‘Becket, Thomas [St Thomas of Canterbury, Thomas of London] (1120?-1170), archbishop of Canterbury’. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. <> [accessed 6 October 2005]
  3. Cormack, Margaret. 1994. The Saints in Iceland: Their Veneration from the Conversion to 1400. Studia Hagiographica 78. Brussels: Société des Bollandistes.
  4. Duggan, A. J. 2004. ‘Cricklade, Robert of (d. in or after 1174), prior of St Frideswides, theologian, and hagiographer’. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. <> [accessed 6 October 2005]
  5. Stefán Karlsson. 1973. ‘Icelandic Lives of Thomas à Becket: Questions of Authorship’. In Foote et al. 1973, 212-43.
  6. ÍM = Jón Helgason, ed. 1936-8. Íslenzk miðaldarkvæði: Islandske digte fra senmiddelalderen. 2 vols. Copenhagen: Munksgaard.
  7. Jakobsen, Alfred. 1993. ‘Thómas saga erkibiskups’. In MedS, 643-4.
  8. Internal references
  9. Margaret Clunies Ross 2017, ‘(Introduction to) Óláfr hvítaskáld Þórðarson, Thómasdrápa’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 301.


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