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. Gobnait is the Irish version of Deborah, meaning bee (or queen bee, perhaps?--not to be confused with Beyonce). I'm voting for her, not just because we share a name, but because I admire her faithfulness in protecting her community.

  2. Playing Lent Madness is not for those whose theology is faint
    Today it’s Match number 11 nd I’m still grappling with what makes a saint
    Fortunately for me
    Lent Madness is helping me see
    Wondrous deeds yes, but Even saints did not live a life without taint.

  3. I’ll take this opportunity to thank Nell who walked Gobnait’s pattern for healing for me and for Helen and sent us ribbons, intended to untangle our tangles. I carry mine on my backpack and have never since lost the trail.

    1. On Mays eve I'll be paying the pattern at The City at Shrine which alongside with Saint Gobnait's shrine at Ballyvourney & An Tober near Millstreet, form a Triad of pilgrimage sites dedicated to powerful female saints & in their earlier history female deities.

  4. I’d love to vote for an Irish Saint so close to St Patty’s day. But I was intrigued and read a little more about Hrotsvitha. I learned that one of her ongoing dramatic themes was the perpetual struggle between good and evil, both personally and collectively. If I were a writer, it would be one of mine, too. Decision made.

  5. Two strong women...I like them both! Never thought I’d read the expression “medieval slut shaming” on Lent Madness, but it made me laugh! However, my gut reaction is to vote for Gobnait. Because she’s Irish? The bees? That she protected people? Or, perhaps, it was the beautiful color portrait of her in honeycomb-inspired garb that swayed me (it’s a stunning work of art). Can’t provide a rational reason for my vote, but Gobnait resonated with me. So, Gobnait it is!

  6. This one is especially hard to choose as I am a theatre person and my name is Deborah – honey bee – and Gobnait is also known as Deborah
    Had to flip a coin and it came up with Hrotsvitha.
    I really want both!

  7. I loved Hrotsvitha‘s story! I’m going to have to check out her plays: I’m guessing the dominant theme is not chastity per se (a word that gets out onto a surprising number of women and women’s works despite the equal or greater presence of other themes, thanks patriarchy), and more the experiences many women in her community likely had in common: being pressured to marry, not only by importunate suitors, but by families who wanted the benefits of status, power, or money that a daughter’s “good marriage” could bring them, with little regard for the woman’s own wishes.

    Besides, the Celtic church has *plenty* of well known saints - let’s lift up a German abbess for a change!

  8. What a tough choice! I love them both! I really enjoy the thought of a nun frustrating developers' plans (especially living in a city where certain areas are rapidly being gentrified - perhaps we need a Gobnait or two). But I went with Hrotsvitha for her (seemingly subversive) plays. I'm a big fan of comedies that speak truth to power.

  9. like Both, Very special people...
    Please don't program any more color backgrounds, makes reading very difficult.

  10. The bees have it at our house! Voting for Gobnait today, with her everydayness. Just got a package of the environmentally friendly Bees Wraps, to use in place of plastic wraps.

  11. Another tough choice, but I had to vote for Gobnait on behalf of the struggling bees. Still, I am extremely grateful that Hrotsvitha's wonderful story of being the first known woman playwright has been told, along with those of many other obscure saints.
    Whether all the details of their lives are true or not matters less to me than the fact that ordinary people lived lives of such exemplary faith they continue to inspire us today. Thank you, SEC. Thank you, celebrity bloggers. And thank you, Lent Madness community for making this time more meaningful and fun.

  12. Gobnait - because she worked for her community and protected bees, as we all should today as good stewards of God's creation.

  13. Gobnait is the Gaelic version of Abigail. I have this from an Irish nun who bestowed Gobnait's blessing on my then infant daughter, Abigail. Let's rally the Abigails to Gobnait's cause.

  14. Hrotsvitha had me at "first known female playwright." Then I read about Gobnait's badass rep and her beekeeping and changed my mind. So, yeah, a toughie as always. But on further reflection, my vote went for the candidate whose story exemplifies a woman leading a life of the mind at a time when that was exceedingly rare. And although not a lot is known of Hrotsvitha's life, the few details suggest a narrative that I find appealing, namely, that of a person who has lived fully in the secular world before making the decision to embrace the spiritual. Thanks, Supreme Executive Councillors, for another fine matchup!

  15. “The most remarkable woman of her time.” And if that weren’t enough, a writer of comedies! Nothing against Gobnait; but her story, unlike Hrotsvitha’s, resembles many others and is largely fabulous. In ‘Vitha we have a real historical figure with a tangible legacy, though there seem to be doubts about the authenticity of the works attributed to her.

    1. Apparently today people need a fabulous saint:
      It's out with the old and in with the new
      Goodbye clouds of gray, hello skies of blue
      A dip in the pool, a trip to the spa
      Endless days in my chaise
      The whole world according to moi
      Iced tea imported from England
      Lifeguards imported from Spain
      Towels imported from Turkey
      And turkey imported from Maine
      We're gonna relax and renew
      You go do
      She want fabulous, that is my simple request
      All things fabulous, bigger and better and best
      She need something inspiring to help me get along
      She need a little fabulous, is that so wrong?
      Fabulous pool, fabulous splash
      Fabulous parties even fabulous trash
      Fabulous fashion, fabulous bling
      She's got to have fabulous everything
      Nothing to discuss
      I need, I need, I need, I need, I need, I need
      I need fabulous.

        1. Aw, I thought you wrote this, St. C! I love me some Sharpay on a beautiful day! My daughter was Sharpay in HSM (#1) in 2007; I made her costumes--her "Bop to the Top" dress required yards and yards and yards of aqua chiffon ribbon gathered and sewn on in rows.

          1. Nothing says "vernal equinox" like aqua chiffon! While the spa/moi rhyme is worthy of me (tee hee), I alas did not write this fizzy wonder. But your Sharpay/day rhyme is excellent as well.

  16. Gobnait and her superhero bees! Also voting for her because of the bees that have become an endangered species, and the way in which she protected the village from plague. Also for the many uses of honey, especially in honey cake!

  17. I just really like the name Gobnait and her actions to protect her village were straight out of the 60s!

  18. I noticed that Gobnait has a personalized Collect while the Collect for Hrotsvitha appears to be generic and references the spirits of just men made perfect. What about the spurts of just women and people who identify as non-binary made perfect?

    Gobnait got my vote, but if I had the time I'd try to craft a better and less patriarchical Collect for the medieval nun who wrote about women leveraging chasity to avoid forced marriage and unwanted groping.

    1. Thanks for pointing out the collect. Hoping that it can be ammended. Why not just refer to 'the just'?

  19. Hrotsvitha (no, auto-correct, _not_ Hrothgar!) , partly because she's trailing at this point, partly because she wrote plays (nothing wrong with protecting bees), and partly because her name is so unusual.

  20. I voted for Hrotsvitha. One line stood out for me - that chastity was one of very few ways women could yield power in the Middle Ages. Also I felt sorry for her because her collect refers to "just men made perfect" and doesn't even acknowledge her as a woman, nor does it name her!
    Gobnait has a better collect. I enjoyed reading about both saints.

  21. Loving bees, and knowing how imperiled they are currently, how can I do anything other than vote for Gobnait

  22. Legends vs first female German playwright? Must vote on behalf of theater! Though I do love and appreciate bees!

  23. Hrotswitha gets my vote -- a nun who was a writer and got the message that humour is godly.
    But the collect - really?? Just men made perfect? No women made perfect?