As in other stories you will read in this unit, this young woman is compelled by her family to get married, but she has no desire for the conjugal life. On her wedding night, she cuts off her hair and disguises herself as a man so that she can join a monastery. When a woman living near the monastery becomes pregnant, Pelagien is accused of being the father! It is quite a dramatic story, and you will see variations on this same theme in the lives of other women saints in the Golden Legend.
[Notes by LKG]
This story is part of the Women Saints unit. Story source: The Golden Legend edited by F. S. Ellis (1900).
Here followeth of S. Margaret, said Pelagien
And when the day of wedding came, that the younglings and maidens were assembled in right great noblesse tofore the chamber, and the fathers and the mothers made great feast for the marriage with great joy, the virgin was inspired of God that the damage of her virginity was brought by so great harmful enjoying, and stretched her to the earth sore weeping, and began to think in her heart the recompense of her virginity, and the sorrows that follow of marriage, and reputed all the joys of the world as ordure and filth.
And that night she kept her from the company of her husband, and at midnight she commended her to God, and cut off her hair, and clad her in the habit of a man, and fled from thence to a monastery of monks, and did do call her brother Pelagien. And there was received of the abbot, and diligently instructed and taught, and she held herself there holily and religiously.
And when the prior, which was thereby, of nuns was dead, by consent of the abbot and of the ancient men, she was set to be master of the abbey of nuns, howbeit that she refused it strongly. And as she administered not only their necessaries but also food to the soul continually without blame, the devil had envy of her, and thought he might occupy her good time by some objection of sin.
And a virgin which was dwelling without the gates had sinned in lechery by the intimation of the devil, and when her belly arose so that she might not hide it, all the virgins were so afraid and so shamefaced, and also the monks of either monastery, that they wist not what to do, and supposed verily that Pelagien, which was provost, and also familiar with the woman, had done this deed, and so condemned him without judgment. And then he was put out and wist not why, and was closed in a pit within a rock.
And then he that was most cruel of all the monks, was ordained for to minister him, which served him with barley bread and water, and that in right little quantity. And when the monks had enclosed him they departed and left Pelagien there alone. And she was not troubled in any manner, but ever thanked God, and comforted herself in her continence by the ensample of holy saints.
At the last when she knew that her end approached, she wrote letters unto the abbot and to the monks in this wise. I, of noble lineage, was called Margaret in the world, but for I would eschew the temptations of the world, I called myself Pelagien. I am a man. I have not lived for to deceive, but I have showed that I have the virtue of a man, and have virtue of the sin which was put on me, and I innocent thereof have done the penance, therefore I require you, forasmuch as I am not known for a woman, that the holy sisters may bury me, so that the demonstrance of me dying may be the cleansing of my living, and that the women may know that I am a virgin whom they judged for adulterer.
And when they heard hereof the monks and the nuns ran unto the pit in which she was enclosed, and the women then had knowledge that she was a woman, and virgin without touching of man. And then they were penitent, and had great repentance of that which they had done, and buried her in the church among the virgins honourably.
Next: Saint Juliet
(Icon of Saint Marina;