Hrotsvitha vs. Gobnait

Yesterday, in a surprising rout, Phillips Brooks was relegated to the O Little Town of Lent Madness Infamy, as Marguerite d'Youville trounced him 70% to 30% to advance to the Saintly Sixteen. She'll face the winner of Damien of Molokai vs. Pandita Ramabai in the next round.

But life, like Lent, moves on. And today we offer: Five syllables. Eleven consonants. Two saints. That's what you get when the Supreme Executive Committee concocts the Clash of the Consonants. Will the winning saint need to buy a vowel? We're not sure. But either Hrotsvitha or Gobnait will emerge victorious over the next 24 hours to secure her place in the Saintly Sixteen.


Though she’s not well known today, the tenth-century German canoness Hrotsvitha has been called “the most remarkable woman of her time.”

A Benedictine nun at Gandersheim Abbey in Lower Saxony, Germany, Hrotsvitha is regarded as the first female German poet and the first known female playwright. Popular YouTube channel Crash Course also has credited her with “sneaking” theater back into the Christian world.

Hrotsvitha’s plays, known as “sacred comedies,” are more dialogue than drama—likely meant to be read rather than performed, to be a Christian alternative to bawdy classical works, lest readers be “corrupted by the wickedness of the matter.” They include comedies based on the works of Roman playwright Terence, many on the theme of chastity. Crash Course host Mike Rugnetta jokingly called this “medieval slut shaming,” but he also said the emphasis on chastity suggests to modern readers it was “one of a very few ways women could wield power in the Middle Ages.”

Perhaps best known among the sacred comedies is “Gallicanus” in which the clever Constance tricks a suitor into converting and taking a vow of chastity so that she does not have to marry him. Or there’s “Dulcitius,” which tells the story of three sisters whose prayers confuse the play’s titular character so that he ends up kissing and groping pots and pans rather than the women. It ends with the women being martyred rather than renounce Christianity. Hilarious.

There’s debate over whether any of Hrotsvitha’s plays were performed during her lifetime. The earliest known performance of her work wasn’t until 1888 in Paris. As recently as 2006, a feminist theater company offered the First Annual Hrosvitha Award to any professional company that scrapped plans to produce “yet another production of a Greek tragedy” for one of hers.

Hrotsvitha also wrote narrative poems based on Christian legends, the life of Otto the Great and the history of the convent she called home. She wrote about life as a woman in the early Middle Ages. And she reinterpreted her own name, which meant “strong honor” to mean “loud cry” or “clarion call.”

Collect for Hrotsvitha
O God, you have brought us near to an innumerable company of angels, and to the spirits of just men made perfect: Grant us during our earthly pilgrimage to abide in their fellowship, and in our heavenly country to become partakers of their joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

-Emily McFarlan Miller


Gobnait is an example of those numerous individuals who could slip through the cracks of history, but the memory of their faithfulness causes them to be remembered for generations. Gobnait’s memory is preserved by the local practices and memory of the Christian communities of Ireland and passed on to us today.

With her brother, Saint Abban, she founded a convent and served as its abbess in the sixth century. They came to that location while fleeing from violence in their home community of County Clare.

Most of the stories of Gobnait center around her protection of the community in which she lived and served.

In one account, raiders were approaching to attack the village. Gobnait sent out bees from her hives, and the bees drove off the attackers. In another tale, Gobnait walked around the village, using her staff to successfully mark a line of protection around the village from an impending plague. In still another story, a foreign invader sought to build a fortress across the valley from the convent. Every night when the workers were done, Gobnait threw a metal ball at the construction site, destroying their work each day until they left in frustration.

In her youth, Gobnait was directed to the site of the convent (Ballyvourney, County Cork) by a vision that told her that the location would be the place of her resurrection. She is buried in Ballyvourney, and every year on her feast day of February 11, pilgrims come to drink from the healing waters of her well. The cemetery in which Gobnait is buried is littered with crutches, a sign of the enduring faith in her gifts of healing.

In art, Gobnait is usually depicted along with bees. They were her companions and her charge at the convent, and their honey was likely used in medicines and cures for those who came to her for care.

Gobnait’s memory serves to remind us of how faithful service leaves a lasting impression on the communities we serve and on the world.

Collect for Gobnait
O God, by whose grace your servant Gobnait, kindled with the flame of your love, became a burning and a shining light in your church: Grant that we also may be aflame with the spirit of your love and discipline, and walk before you as children of the light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

-David Hansen

Hrotsvitha vs. Gobnait

  • Gobnait (66%, 5,399 Votes)
  • Hrotsvitha (34%, 2,721 Votes)

Total Voters: 8,120

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Hrotsvitha: German Wikipedia, scanned by de:Benutzer:Phrood
Gobnait: Harry Clarke [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


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202 comments on “Hrotsvitha vs. Gobnait”

        1. Love this statement. Two strong, interesting, creative women
          This quote helps describe why I chose here.

    1. Thanks for the verse and the pronunciation guide!
      "God bless you!"

  1. Our musical tribute takes us to another life with Shirley MacLaine and the cast of "Sweet Charity" - sung to the tune of "Hey, Big Spender":

    The saint with the name we can’t spell
    Was the canoness of Gandersheim Abbey.
    First female playwright.
    In the 10th Century,
    Her plays often dealt with righteous living through chastity.

    This saint made a definite point:
    Christian living should be your priority.

    “Hey, Lent Madness!” (says Hrotsvitha)
    “Hit that button. Vote for me.”

    Do you wanna read plays?
    How about a few bees?
    Both these saints led a good life.

    Do you wanna read plays, plays, plays?
    How about a few bees, bees, bees?
    Both these saints led a good life.

    Hey, Lent Madness!
    Hey, Lent Madness!

    The minute they came to attack,
    Gobnait sent out bees to stop those villains.
    A real protectress!
    Drew a protection line.
    When they tried to build a fortress, she destroyed it each time.
    And she has the power to heal.
    Pilgrims leave their crutches there for all to see.
    “Hey, Lent Madness!” (Thus says Gobnait)
    “Hey, Lent Madness!”
    “Hit that button. Vote for me.”

    Plays, bees, good life.
    Plays, bees, good life.
    Plays, bees, good life.

    How ‘bout it, Scott and Tim?

  2. Hrotsvitha for me today. I love theater, and reading her story made me laugh out loud. Although I think Gobnait is a worthy competitor; I'll be happy if either of them win.

  3. Go Gobnait. As a beekeeper, we have a honey bee hive in our backyard, I vote for Queen Bee Gobnait.

  4. Both seem nice enough, but I am worried abut bees disappearing so Gobnait is probably important for my garden. Perhaps she can intercede for fewer pesticides, etc.

    1. Oooo, good thought! Plus what's not to love about a name like Gobnait? I would have voted for her on her name alone but her story sealed the deal.

    2. I voted for Gobnait because we need bees, because she (and they) protected the community, and because God healed people through her.

      1. I find nothing that says Hrotsvitha or Roswitha has been canonised...AND I can find nothing that states that the Guerrilla Girls on Tour have ever actually awarded the Hrotsvitha Award since making the offer.

  5. "As recently as 2006, a feminist theater company offered the First Annual Hrosvitha Award to any professional company that scrapped plans to produce “yet another production of a Greek tragedy” for one of hers." Yes! Please!!

      1. Moi aussi. I think he came close to the finals in an earlier season of Lent Madness. I was inspired by that round to visit his church in Boston and buy a book of his sermons, which are still eloquent today.

    1. I'm profoundly disappointed that he was defeated by a slaveholder, and reputed to be a cruel one at that. In Lent Madness as in other elections, it is is crucial to do your research (or at least read the comment threads) before pulling the lever.

      1. Me, too, Laurie and Lisa! So disappointing. Glad I am in good company. One good thing, I've been searching for more of his sermons.

    2. Me too. I’m awomanand s feminist but I think we can still recognize saintliness among dead white men.

  6. Tough one.I love bees and Gobnait seems wonderful. Hrotsvitha is fabulous in a different way; a powerful intellectual and artist and devout religious leader in a time and place where women didn't really have space to shine like that. A lot of Gobnait's story sounds like folklore to me, though; I went with Hrotsvitha, choosing the real woman over the legend.

    1. Another difficult choice - they certainly don't get any easier ( but isn't that half the fun?)
      I voted for Hrotsvitha for the same reason you did - Gobnait's bio sounds so very folklorish
      and although I think highly of folklore I went for the real person.

  7. Drama major here, but morality plays are not the most inspiring kind of theatre. Sorry, Hrotsvitha. The beekeeping Irish saint has my vote—and I love her honeycomb dress!

    1. Gloucester County VA. The beehive is our county seal. Must vote for the bee saint.

    2. "Plays, bees, good life"--who could ask for anything more. (I also recommend Shirley Bassey singing the original, if one needs to refresh one's memory!)

      Thanks, Michael!

    3. THAT's it! When I first looked at the picture, I thought it was balls of yarn... (Yes, I see them everywhere. 🙂

    4. I was wondering what the dress symbolized. It didn't register with me since honeycomb is usually depicted as yellow, but duhhhh to me!. Any thoughts on what she is holding in her left hand (her left, as she is clearly holding her staff in her right one)?

      This is a fabulous work of stained glass!

      1. I think it is a little model of a church, actually looks like it is made of gingerbread but maybe not. (If you click on it the picture will get bigger so you can see it.)

        1. It's a representation of her foundation - well what Harry Clarke the stained glass artist imagined her church would look like-in Romanesque & Gothic sculptural programmes you often find saints & founders & benefactors depicted with the a mini version of the church associated with then

  8. Though I'm playwright myself, I can't resist voting for the Hermione Granger of obsure saints. Bee-youtiful.

  9. This one is tough! Both women were shit-disturbers, which I love -- finding ways of challenging power through their individual acts of civil disruption. Bravo. In the end, I went with Hrotsvitha because, as Tonya Eza says above, her story made me laugh.

    1. This was a tough choice! But I had to go with Hrotsvitha because I think it would have been fun to hang out with her. Besides, Gobniat sounds like a candy that might be sold on the Hogwarts train.

      1. Ah but when Gobnsit is said in the softest of Irish accents it's as sweet & subtle as the honey from Ballyvourney.

  10. Gloucester County VA. The beehive is our county seal. Must vote for the bee saint.

    1. Hi! I am originally from Richmond Co, VA and go visit my folks a couple times a year! Good to hear about the bees from that part of the country!

  11. Hrotsvitha gets my vote today. I do love the bees and the story but I have to give credit to the one that tried to save women when it went against the times.

  12. I love stories, all kinds of stories. . . and bees are beautiful. Though Hrotsvitha left some documentation behind that speaks to today's 'easy ways,' I'm voting for Gobniat based on the 'romance' in the stories. . . and the bees. . . and I love honey's many uses. The collect is a keeper!

  13. Had to go with the Benedictine! I owe a great deal to those wonderful ladies whose leadership and value of higher education for women was a role model for me in my formative years.

  14. Gobnait the bee keeper, doing feats of strength and holy magic- she fits right in to the early Irish epics, where many of the heroes were women. Her story was no doubt passed down by the story tellers, part of an oral tradition that carried stories over many generations. I bet she is based on a powerful and holy woman who deserved to be praised by the story tellers. Go Gobnait!

  15. Gobnabit, people! Vote for bees! If you like to eat, vote for bees! You can always go to the theater later.
    Nuff said.

  16. Glad I joined this, truly looking forward each morning to remembering a saint I had forgotten about and especially learning about the lives of new to me
    awesome saints. Appreciate all involved and offer my thanks.
    Today I admire both of course , love knowing the artist in Hrotsvitha , but I am drawn to vote for Gobnait and her life of faith, healing, and bravery also love the depiction of her in the Icon and she recognized it seems the importance of bees environmentally .


  17. Yesterday's blogs contained one eluding to a feminine slant in the voting. We actually have a pretty even set of winners based on sex. Having thought about this I see a different take on it.
    It seems many so far are voting for examples of living Christ's example in simpler ways, against all odds, without a church supporting them at the time. They are leaving an impact that everyone of us can generate in some manner. They are more examples that everyday humans can relate to.

  18. Gobnait's story is so charming--bees, Irish wells that bring healing, guerilla attacks on pushy developers (Where did she get those metal balls she hoisted every night??) So much to love there. But my lot is with Hrotsvitha, my fellow writer. She empowered the powerless, and through humor! And the shtick about the man groping pots and pans is a hoot. I can't help it--it reminds me of a certain current political figure.

  19. While I like bees, Gobnait sounds purely legendary. Without bees,we cannot eat. Without theater, we die. The golden fuzzballs will do fine; dust them with mite powder regularly. Gobnait sounds pretty dangerous and would probably lob an iron ball at their hive wiping it out. But a medieval woman poet and playwright? Priceless. Reinterpreting Roman theater for the middle ages sounds like a worthy enterprise. "Oh God you have brought us near to the spirits of just women made perfect." Fixed it for you.

  20. This was the toughest decision to date in Lent Madness 2019. I find both saints appealing and worthy, for very different reasons. However, I made my final decision by determining with which one of them I could sit down and talk to over a cup of tea. Hrotsvitha would probably intimidate the heck out of me, she was such an accomplished woman; there's an everydayness about Gobnait, though, and I'd lay odds she made great soda bread to go with the honey. Besides, in this day and age when honey bees have become an endangered species - which endangers us all - I'm going with the beekeeper.