A woman’s name found etched in a medieval copy of the Acts of the Apostles has importance beyond the thrill of discovery
“She was so bent on reading,” writes the anonymous biographer of the Abbess of Bischofsheim, “that she never laid aside her book except to pray or to strengthen her slight frame with food and sleep.” This eighth-century abbess, an Englishwoman named Leoba, is thought to have been taught Latin by another woman, Eadburg, Abbess of Minster-in-Thanet, Kent; the poetry that resulted is some of the earliest literary work by a named Englishwoman in existence.
Was this the Eadburg whose name has just been found etched 15 times into an eighth-century manuscript? Possibly – though there are at least eight other Eadburgs known to have lived in the area then. Unearthed by researchers at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, and ratified using photographic technology previously unavailable, the faint scrawls on the Latin copy of a 1,300-year-old Acts of the Apostles are exciting evidence of women’s presence in the literature of the period.