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Neot

(c. 803—878) monk and hermit


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(d. c.877),

monk and hermit, who gave his name to St Neot (Cornwall) and St Neots (Cambridgeshire). He joined the community of Glastonbury in early life; from there he settled as a hermit near Bodmin Moor at the place later called Neotstoke (St Neot), where he founded a small monastery. He was buried in this church, where his relics were enshrined after translation on the north side of the sanctuary.

In 972–7 Earl Alfric (or Leofric) founded a monastery at Eynesbury (Cambridgeshire) with monks from Thorney. From the warden of Neot's Cornish shrine they obtained by gift or theft the greater part of his relics. The town of Eynesbury was then called St Neots. This priory was refounded from Bec c.1086. Its relics were inspected by Anselm, who declared them authentic and also complete except for one arm left in Cornwall. Anselm himself gave to Bec a relic of Neot's cheekbone, presumably from the Eynesbury shrine, described in the relic-list of 1134. This shrine was sufficiently important to be mentioned in the saints' lists of both the 11th and the 13th centuries (R.P.S. and C.S.P.).

There are three Latin Lives and one Old English Life, which preserve some details of interest. Royal blood was claimed for Neot either from the East Anglian dynasty or that of Wessex. Alfred visited him and sought his counsel; Neot is said to have suggested to him the revival of the ‘English School’ at Rome. Neot, like Cuthbert, is said to have appeared to Alfred on the eve of the battle of Ethandun against the Danes. He was so small in stature that he needed to stand on a stool in order to say Mass. The Life, written at Bec in the 12th century, relates incidents borrowed from Lives of Irish saints, such as that of stags being yoked to a plough to take the place of oxen stolen by robbers and that of a fish which was repeatedly eaten but never diminished. This Life was the source of the fine stained-glass window at St Neot, donated by the young men of the parish in 1528.

John Leland, travelling through England in the 1540s, saw the tunic of the saint at St Neots and his comb ‘made of a little bone of two fingers' width, into which were inserted small fishes' teeth, the whole having the appearance of a pike's jaw’.

Some recent scholars claim unconvincingly that Neot was a Celtic, not an Anglo-Saxon, saint. Feast: 31 July.

AA.SS. Iul. VII (1731), 314—29; N.L.A., ii. 213–18; W. H. Stevenson, Asser's Life of Alfred (1959), pp. 256–61. E. C. Axford, Some Notes on St Neot, Cornwall (1976); M. P. Richards, ‘The Medieval Hagiography of St Neot’, Anal. Boll., lxxxxix (1981), 259–78; M. Chibnall, ‘History of the Priory of St Neots’, Cambridge Antiq. Soc. Proceedings, lix (1966), 60 ff.

Subjects: Christianity.


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