Seminar VII: Hagiography

Hagiography, the historical genre which is the subject of this week’s seminar, comprises narratives concerned with the saints and their achievements, especially the miracles which God has performed through them and on their behalf. Six basic types of hagiographical ‘story’ or ‘scenario’ may be distinguished: first, the vita, the story of the achievements that a saint performed in his or her lifetime; second, the passio, similar to the former, but about a martyr who has died a violent death for the faith or for some other God-arranged reason; third, the inventio or revelatio, the story of how a new saint or more often a saint’s bodily remains was discovered; fourth, the translatio, the story of how a saint’s relics were brought to a church or moved to a new shrine; fifth, the visio, the story of how a saint appeared to someone in a vision; and sixth, the miraculum, the story of how a miracle was performed on the saint’s behalf by God. Miracula are typically concerned with the wonders that were performed after the saint has died and become a resident of the heavenly kingdom. A hagiographical text might well combine many of these stories or ‘scenarios’. Many vitae continue on, for example, well-beyond the scene of the saint’s death to describe how his or her corpse was lost, re-discovered and then brought and enshrined in the church where it now rests. In these texts the true climax comprises the saint’s translatio and enshrinement. Miracula, furthermore, were often combined to form libri miraculorum, ‘books of miracles’, which sometimes (but not usually) extended beyond the usual few dozen items to encompass hundreds of episodes.

firebeastIn its various manifestations hagiography was the mode of historical discourse most frequently deployed in the Middle Ages, generating many thousands of vitae and miracula and contributing substantial passages to many chronicles and rhetorical histories. The similarities (and sometimes, the lengthy verbal affinities) between these narratives naturally lead to the suspicion that most, if not all, instances contain much that has been borrowed from earlier examples or which has been re-fashioned so as to resemble the scenes found in key archetypes—such as the late fourth-century Life of St Martin of Tours by Sulpicius Severus—which exerted great influence over the development of the genre. This conclusion seems inescapable; but the process might sometimes involve an oral phase, prior to the writing up of the legend, in which the hero’s story assimilated many standard elements or was gradually re-fashioned with each act of re-telling, bringing it ever closer to the recognised archetypes. The few texts which admit importing episodes from the lives of other saints invariably claim that the story was true of some saint, or that there is so little doubt about the subject’s sanctity that the mis-attribution of a few stories will scarcely make any difference to his cult. As such admissions show, hagiography’s claim to authority rested, as in the case of ecclesiastical history, on its claim to record actual events—actual moments of divine intervention in the world.

Topics for Discussion

  1. The purposes and typical content of hagiographical texts.
  2. Hagiographical discourse and historical reality.
  3. The various types of hagiographical manuscript.
  4. Hagiographical manuscripts as evidence for reception and the uses of hagiography.
  5. The ways in which historians might exploit hagiographical texts to the greatest effect.

Text and Manuscripts for Discusssion

This seminar will focus on a single manuscript, Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 161, and its copy of the Vita S. Erkenwaldi Lundonie episcopi (BHL 2600), ed. E. G. Whatley, The Saint of London: The Life and Miracles of St Erkenwald, Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies 58 (Binghamton, 1989), pp. 87–96. For the purposes of the present seminar the Vita Erkenwaldi, a relatively brief example of the genre, may serve as an illustration of how a saint’s life might be composed in the absence of much reliable information and of the way in which the compilers of legendaries edited their contents. St Erkenwald had lived in the second half of the seventh century, becoming bishop of London in about 675 and dying in 693, but the present text was composed some four centuries later, the end of the eleventh or beginning of the twelfth century. The author’s only source of any reliability was the brief account of Erkenwald that Bede had provided in his Historia Ecclesiastica (iv.6). Having downloaded the text from the Moodle website, consider carefully the various conventions and commonplaces with which the text is fleshed out. How many can you identify?

Other examples of hagiographical manuscript listed for consideration include:

  1. Copenhagen, Kongelige Bibliothek, GKS 1588
  2. St Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. Sang. 567
  3. Oxford, Corpus Christi College, MS 209
  4. Cambridge, University Library, MS. Ee.3.59

Further Reading

Hagiography and the Cult of Saints

  • Abou-El-Haj, B., The Medieval Cult of Saints: Formations and Transformations (Cambridge, 1994). MBLE.K.
  • Aigrain, R., L’hagiographie. Ses sources, ses méthodes, son histoire, Subsidia Hagiographica 80 (Paris, 1953; 2nd edn, with a supplement by R. Godding, Brussels, 2000). One of the best short introductions.
  • Angenendt, A., Heilige und Reliquien: Die Geschichte ihres Kultes vom frühen Christentum bis zur Gegenwart (Munich, 1994).
  • Christensen, K., ‘Walter Daniel’s Life of Aelred of Rievaulx: The Heroism of Intelligence and the Miracle of Love’, in J. Glenn (ed.), The Middle Ages in Texts and Texture: Reflections on Medieval Sources (Toronto, 2011), pp. 217–29. MB.
  • Cooper, K., The Virgin and the Bride: Idealized Womanhood in Late Antiquity (Cambridge, MA, 1996). LIC.
  • de Gaiffier, B., ‘L’hagiographie dans le marquisat de Flandre et le duché de Basse-Lotharingie au XIe siècle’, in idem, Etudes critiques d’hagiographie et d’iconologie, Subsidia Hagiographica 43 (Brussels, 1967), pp. 415–507.
  • Delehaye, H., The Legends of the Saints, trs. D. Attwater with a memoir of the author by P. Peeters (London, 1962). PRC. A classic which sets out the approach of the ‘Bollandists’ in their early 20th-century phase.
  • Dinzelbacher, P., Revelationes, Typologie des sources du Moyen Âge occidental 57 (Turnhout, 1991).
  • Dinzelbacher, P., Vision und Visionsliteratur im Mittelalter, Monographien zur Geschichte des Mittelalters 23 (Stuttgart, 1981).
  • Earl, J. W., ‘Typology and Iconographic Style in Early Medieval Hagiography’, Studies in the Literary Imagination, 8 (1975), 15–46. Available online through Academic Search Premier.
  • Elliott, A. G., Roads to Paradise: Reading the Lives of the Early Saints (Hanover, NH, and London, 1988). Not held and unfinished, but full of useful insights.
  • Farmer, S., Communities of Saint Martin: Legend and Ritual in Medieval Tours (Ithaca, NY, 1991). MTV.K.
  • Fontaine, J., ‘King Sisebut’s Vita Desiderii and the Political Function of Visigothic Hagiography’, in E. James (ed.), Visigothic Spain: New Approaches (Oxford, 1980), pp. 93–129. MQBA7.
  • Franklin, C. V., The Latin Dossier of Anastasius the Persian: Hagiographic Translations and Transformations (Toronto, 2004). PN.DL.A5. An exemplary case study.
  • Fung, K. S., ‘Divine Lessons in an Imperfect World: Bernard of Angers and The Book of Sainte Foy’s Miracles’, in J. Glenn (ed.), The Middle Ages in Texts and Texture: Reflections on Medieval Sources (Toronto, 2011), pp. 119–28. MB.
  • Glenn, J., ‘Two Lives of Saint Radegund’, in idem (ed.), The Middle Ages in Texts and Texture: Reflections on Medieval Sources (Toronto, 2011), pp. 57–69. MB.
  • Goodich, M. E., ‘Biography, 1000–1350’, in D. M. Deliyannis (ed.), Historiography in the Middle Ages (Leiden, 2002), pp. 353–85. L43.B.
  • Goodich, M. E., Vita Perfecta: The Ideal of Sainthood in the Thirteenth Century, Monographien zur Geschichte des Mittelalters 25 (Stuttgart, 1982).
  • Grégoire, R., Manuale di Agiologia: Introduzione alla letteratura agiografica, Bibliotheca Montisfani 12 (Fabriano, 1987).
  • Heffernan, T. J., ‘The Liturgy and the Literature of Saints’ Lives’, in T. J. Heffernan and E. Ann Matter (eds), The Liturgy of the Medieval Church (Kalamazoo, MI, 2001), pp. 73–105. PO.B.
  • Heffernan, T. J., Sacred Biography: Saints and their Biographers in the Middle Ages (Oxford, 1988). PN.C.
  • Heinzelmann, M., Translationsberichte und andere Quellen des Reliquienkultes, Typologie des sources du Moyen Âge occidental 33 (Turnhout, 1979).
  • Howard-Johnston, J., and P. A. Hayward (eds), The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages: Essays on the Contribution of Peter Brown (Oxford, 2000). PN.C7.
  • Kitchen, J., Saints’ Lives and the Rhetoric of Gender: Male and Female in Merovingian Hagiography (Oxford, 1998). MSC.K.
  • Lapidge, M., and R. Love, ‘The Latin Hagiography of England and Wales’, in G. Philippart (ed.), Hagiographies: Histoire internationale de la littérature hagiographique latine et vernaculaire en Occident des origines à 1550, vol. 3 (Turnhout, 2001), pp. 203–325. PN.C.
  • Lappin, A., The Medieval Cult of Saint Dominic of Silos, MHRA Texts and Dissertations 56 (Leeds, 2002). PN.DO.D7.
  • Lifshitz, F., ‘Beyond Positivism and Genre: “Hagiographical” Texts as Historical Narrative’, Viator, 25 (1994), 95–113.
  • McCready, W. D., Signs of Sanctity: Miracles in the Thought of Gregory the Great, Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, Studies and Texts 91 (Toronto, 1989). MVC.
  • McCulloh, J. M., ‘Confessor Saints and the Origins of Monasticism: The Lives of Saint Antony and Martin’, in J. Glenn (ed.), The Middle Ages in Texts and Texture: Reflections on Medieval Sources (Toronto, 2011), pp. 21–32. MB.
  • Mulder-Bakker, Anneke B. (ed.), The Invention of Saintliness, Routledge Studies in Medieval Religion and Culture (London, 2002).
  • Petersen, J. M., The Dialogues of Gregory the Great and their Late Antique Cultural Background, Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, Studies and Texts 69 (Toronto, 1984).
  • Philippart, G. (ed.), Corpus Christianorum Hagiographies: Histoire internationale de la littérature hagiographique latine et vernaculaire en Occident des origines à 1550, 5 vols. (Turnhout, 1994–2010).
  • Rennard, É., M. Trigalet, X. Hermand, and P. Bertrand (eds), Scribere sanctorum gesta: Recueil d’études d’hagiographie médiévale offert à Guy Philippart, Hagiologia: Études sur la Sainteté en Occident—Studies on Western Sainthood 3 (Turnhout, 2005). PN.C.
  • Smith, J. M. H., ‘The Problem of Female Sanctity in Carolingian Europe, c.780–920’, Past and Present, 146 (1995), 3–37. Journals L6. Also available online at JSTOR.
  • Stancliffe, C., St Martin and his Hagiographer: History and Miracle in Sulpicius Severus (Oxford, 1983). An important study of an influential hagiographer. PN.DK.M3.
  • Straw, C., ‘The Avenging Abbot: Gregory the Great and his Life of Saint Benedict’, in J. Glenn (ed.), The Middle Ages in Texts and Texture: Reflections on Medieval Sources (Toronto, 2011), pp. 71–83. MB.
  • Van Egmond, W. S., ‘The Audience of Early Medieval Hagiographical Texts: Some Questions Revisited’, in M. Mostert (ed.), New Approaches to Medieval Communication, Utrecht Studies in Medieval Literacy (Turnhout, 1999), pp. 41–67. LEA.
  • Van ‘T Spijker, I., Fictions of the Inner Life: Religious Literature and the Formation of the Self in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries, Disputatio 4 (Turnhout, 2004).
  • Von der Nahmer, D., Die lateinische Heiligenvita: Eine Einführung die lateinische Hagiographie (Darmstadt, 1994).
  • Ward, B., Miracles and the Medieval Mind: Theory, Record and Event, 1000–1215 (1st edn, Philadelphia, PA, 1982; 2nd edn, Aldershot, 1987). MBO – 2 copies of the first edition. Useful for general context.
  • Wilson, S. E., The Life and After-Life of St John of Beverley: The Evolution of the Cult of an Anglo-Saxon Saint, Church, Faith and Culture in the Medieval West (Aldershot, 2006). PN.DL.J7.

Hagiographical Manuscripts—A Few Examples

  • Brown, M. P., ‘Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Lat. 10861 and the Scriptorium of Christ Church, Canterbury’, Anglo-Saxon England, 15 (1986), 119–37. MVC. The earliest example of a legendary produced in England.
  • de Gaiffier, B., ‘A propos des legendiers latins’, Analecta Bollandiana, 97 (1979), 57–68.
  • Dolbeau, F., ‘Notes sur la gènese et sur la diffusion du Liber de Natalitiis’, Revue d’histoire des textes, 6 (1976), 143–95.
  • Franklin, C. V., ‘Roman Hagiography and Roman Legendaries,’, in Roma nell’alto Medioevo, Settimane di Studio del Centro Italiano di Studi sull’Alto Medioevo 48, 2 vols. (Spoleto, 2001), ii, 857–91.
  • Jackson, P., and M. Lapidge, ‘The Contents of the Cotton-Corpus Legendary’, in P. E. Szarmach (ed.), Holy Men and Holy Women: Old English Prose Saints’ Lives and Their Contexts (Albany, 1996), pp. 115–46. YBLH. A manuscript produced at Worcester, early in the pontificate of Wulfstan II (1062–95), which is the earliest witness to the dissemination of a major northern Frankish collection of saints’ in England. Further copies from survive from Salisbury and Hereford. One half of this legendary—Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 9—can now be examined online at Parker Library on the Web.
  • Lapidge, M. (ed.), The Cult of St Swithun, Winchester Studies 4.ii (Oxford, 2003). Oversize MWKM.K. Interspersed in the introduction to this edition of the collected hagiography of St Swithun are many useful and up to date comments on the uses of various types of hagiographical manuscripts.
  • Love, R, C. (ed.), Three Eleventh-Century Anglo-Latin Saints’ Lives, Oxford Medieval Texts (Oxford, 1996). Has much on the history of hagiographical manuscripts in England.
  • Philippart, G., Les Légendiers latins et autres manuscrits hagiographiques, Typologie des sources du Moyen Âge occidental 24–25 (Turnhout, 1977–85).
  • Rochais, H., Un légendier cistercien da la fin du XIIe siécle: la ‘Liber de Natalitiis’ et de quelques grands légendiers des XII et XIIIe s.‚ Documentation Cistercienne 15, 2 vols. (Rochefort, 1975).
  • Sharpe, R., Medieval Irish Saints’ Lives: An Introduction to Vitae Sanctorum Hiberniae (Oxford, 1991).

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