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'I wish to remain single, for I have made a vow of virginity.'
This is the remarkable story of the twelfth-century recluse Christina, who became prioress of Markyate, near St Albans in Hertfordshire. Determined to devote her life to God and to remain a virgin, Christina repulses the sexual advances of the bishop of Durham. In revenge he arranges her betrothal to a young nobleman but Christina steadfastly refuses to consummate the marriage and defies her parents' cruel coercion. Sustained by visions, she finds refuge with the hermit Roger, and lives concealed at Markyate for four years, enduring terrible physical and emotional torment. Although Christina is supported by the abbot of St Albans, she never achieves the recognition that he intended for her.
Written with striking candour by Christina's anonymous biographer, the vividness and compelling detail of this account make it a social document as much as a religious one. Christina's trials of the flesh and spirit exist against a backdrop of scheming and corruption and all-too-human greed.