Hagiography

Hagiography

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Hagiography is the study of saint
Saint
A saint is a holy person. In various religions, saints are people who are believed to have exceptional holiness.In Christian usage, "saint" refers to any believer who is "in Christ", and in whom Christ dwells, whether in heaven or in earth...

s.

From the Greek (, "holy" or "saint") and (, "to write"), it refers literally to writings on the subject of such holy people, and specifically to the biographies of saints and ecclesiastical leaders. The term hagiology, the study of hagiography, is also current in English, though less common. This, in fact, follows original Greek practice, where ἁγιογραφία refers to visual images of the saints, while their written lives ( or ) or the study thereof are known as .

Christian hagiographies focus on the lives, and notably the miracle
Miracle
A miracle often denotes an event attributed to divine intervention. Alternatively, it may be an event attributed to a miracle worker, saint, or religious leader. A miracle is sometimes thought of as a perceptible interruption of the laws of nature. Others suggest that a god may work with the laws...

s of men and women canonized by the Roman Catholic church
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

, the Anglican Communion
Anglican Communion
The Anglican Communion is an international association of national and regional Anglican churches in full communion with the Church of England and specifically with its principal primate, the Archbishop of Canterbury...

, the Eastern Orthodox Church
Eastern Orthodox Church
The Orthodox Church, officially called the Orthodox Catholic Church and commonly referred to as the Eastern Orthodox Church, is the second largest Christian denomination in the world, with an estimated 300 million adherents mainly in the countries of Belarus, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece,...

, the Oriental Orthodox Church, and the Church of the East
Church of the East
The Church of the East tāʾ d-Maḏnḥāʾ), also known as the Nestorian Church, is a Christian church, part of the Syriac tradition of Eastern Christianity. Originally the church of the Persian Sassanid Empire, it quickly spread widely through Asia...

. Other religions such as Buddhism
Buddhism
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha . The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent some time between the 6th and 4th...

 and Islam
Islam
Islam . The most common are and .   : Arabic pronunciation varies regionally. The first vowel ranges from ~~. The second vowel ranges from ~~~...

 also create and maintain hagiographical texts concerning saints and other individuals believed to be imbued with the sacred.

The term "hagiographic" has also been used as a pejorative
Pejorative
Pejoratives , including name slurs, are words or grammatical forms that connote negativity and express contempt or distaste. A term can be regarded as pejorative in some social groups but not in others, e.g., hacker is a term used for computer criminals as well as quick and clever computer experts...

 reference to the works of biographers
Biography
A biography is a detailed description or account of someone's life. More than a list of basic facts , biography also portrays the subject's experience of those events...

 and historian
Historian
A historian is a person who studies and writes about the past and is regarded as an authority on it. Historians are concerned with the continuous, methodical narrative and research of past events as relating to the human race; as well as the study of all history in time. If the individual is...

s perceived to be uncritical or "reverential" to their subject. Nonetheless, hagiographic works, particularly those of the Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

, can often incorporate a valuable record of institutional and local history
Local history
Local history is the study of history in a geographically local context and it often concentrates on the local community. It incorporates cultural and social aspects of history...

, and evidence of popular cults
Cults
Cults is a suburb on the western edge of Aberdeen, Scotland. It lies on the banks of the River Dee and marks the eastern boundary of Royal Deeside.Cults, known for its historic granite housing, sits approximately six miles from the coast of the North Sea...

, customs and traditions.

Development


Hagiography constituted an important literary
Literature
Literature is the art of written works, and is not bound to published sources...

 genre
Genre
Genre , Greek: genos, γένος) is the term for any category of literature or other forms of art or culture, e.g. music, and in general, any type of discourse, whether written or spoken, audial or visual, based on some set of stylistic criteria. Genres are formed by conventions that change over time...

 in the early Christian church, providing some informational history along with the more inspirational stories and legend
Legend
A legend is a narrative of human actions that are perceived both by teller and listeners to take place within human history and to possess certain qualities that give the tale verisimilitude...

. A hagiographic account of an individual saint can constitute a vita or biography, a description of the saint's deeds and/or miracles, or an account of the saint's martyrdom (a passio) - or be a combination of these.

The genre of lives of the saints first came into being in the Roman Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

 as legends about Christian
Christian
A Christian is a person who adheres to Christianity, an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament...

 martyr
Martyr
A martyr is somebody who suffers persecution and death for refusing to renounce, or accept, a belief or cause, usually religious.-Meaning:...

s were recorded. The dates of their deaths formed the basis of martyrologies
Martyrology
A martyrology is a catalogue or list of martyrs , arranged in the calendar order of their anniversaries or feasts. Local martyrologies record exclusively the custom of a particular Church. Local lists were enriched by names borrowed from neighbouring churches...

. In the 4th century, there were three main types of catalogs of lives of the saints:
  • annual calendar catalogue, or menaion
    Menaion
    The Menaion refers to the annual fixed cycle of services in the Eastern Orthodox and Greek-Catholic Churches. Commemorations in the Menaion are tied to the day of the calendar year.-Service books:...

    (in Greek
    Greek language
    Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

    , menaios means "month") (biographies of the saints to be read at sermon
    Sermon
    A sermon is an oration by a prophet or member of the clergy. Sermons address a Biblical, theological, religious, or moral topic, usually expounding on a type of belief, law or behavior within both past and present contexts...

    s);
  • synaxarion, or a short version of lives of the saints, arranged by dates;
  • paterikon (in Latin, pater means "father"), or biography of the specific saints, chosen by the catalog compiler.


In Western Europe
Western Europe
Western Europe is a loose term for the collection of countries in the western most region of the European continents, though this definition is context-dependent and carries cultural and political connotations. One definition describes Western Europe as a geographic entity—the region lying in the...

 hagiography was one of the more important vehicles for the study of inspirational history during the Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

. The Golden Legend
Golden Legend
The Golden Legend is a collection of hagiographies by Jacobus de Voragine that became a late medieval bestseller. More than a thousand manuscripts of the text have survived, compared to twenty or so of its nearest rivals...

of Jacob de Voragine compiled a great deal of mediæval hagiographic material, with a strong emphasis on miracle tales. Lives were often written to promote the cult of local or national states, and in particular to develop pilgrimages to visit relic
Relic
In religion, a relic is a part of the body of a saint or a venerated person, or else another type of ancient religious object, carefully preserved for purposes of veneration or as a tangible memorial...

s. The bronze Gniezno Doors
Gniezno Doors
The Gniezno Doors are a pair of bronze doors at the entrance to Gniezno Cathedral in Gniezno, Poland, a Gothic building which the doors pre-date, having been carried over from an earlier building. They are decorated with eighteen scenes in bas-relief from the life of St...

 of Gniezno Cathedral
Gniezno Cathedral
Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Adalbert is a Gothic cathedral in Gniezno, Poland. The Cathedral is known for its twelfth-century , two-winged bronze doors decorated with scenes of martyrdom of St. Wojciech and a silver relic coffin of that saint...

 in Poland are the only Romanesque
Romanesque art
Romanesque art refers to the art of Western Europe from approximately 1000 AD to the rise of the Gothic style in the 13th century, or later, depending on region. The preceding period is increasingly known as the Pre-Romanesque...

 doors in Europe to feature the life of a saint. The life of Saint Adalbert
Saint Adalbert
Saint Adalbert may refer to:*Adalbert of Prague , bishop of Prague, was martyred in his efforts, to convert the Baltic Prussians*Adalbert of Magdeburg , sometimes known as the Apostle of the Slavs, first Archbishop of Magdeburg...

, who is buried in the cathedral, is shown in 18 scenes, probably based on a lost illuminated copy of one of his Lives.

The Bollandist Society continues the study, academic assembly, appraisal and publication of materials relating to the lives of Christian saints. (See Acta Sanctorum
Acta Sanctorum
Acta Sanctorum is an encyclopedic text in 68 folio volumes of documents examining the lives of Christian saints, in essence a critical hagiography, which is organised according to each saint's feast day. It begins with two January volumes, published in 1643, and ended with the Propylaeum to...

.)

The mediæval period in England


With the introduction of Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 literature into England in the 7th and 8th centuries the genre of the life of the saint grew increasingly popular. It is not surprising that such a genre would become popular in England. When one contrasts it to the popular heroic poem, such as Beowulf
Beowulf
Beowulf , but modern scholars agree in naming it after the hero whose life is its subject." of an Old English heroic epic poem consisting of 3182 alliterative long lines, set in Scandinavia, commonly cited as one of the most important works of Anglo-Saxon literature.It survives in a single...

, one finds that they share certain common features. In Beowulf, the titular character battles against Grendel
Grendel
Grendel is one of three antagonists, along with Grendel's mother and the dragon, in the Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf . Grendel is usually depicted as a monster, though this is the subject of scholarly debate. In the poem, Grendel is feared by all but Beowulf.-Story:The poem Beowulf is contained in...

 and his mother, while the saint, such as Athanasius’ Anthony
Anthony the Great
Anthony the Great or Antony the Great , , also known as Saint Anthony, Anthony the Abbot, Anthony of Egypt, Anthony of the Desert, Anthony the Anchorite, Abba Antonius , and Father of All Monks, was a Christian saint from Egypt, a prominent leader among the Desert Fathers...

 (one of the original sources for the hagiographic motif) or the character of Guthlac, battles against figures no less substantial in a spiritual sense. Both genres then focus on the hero-warrior figure, but with the distinction that the saint is of a spiritual sort.

In Anglo-Saxon and mediæval England, Hagiography became a literary genre par excellence for the teaching of a largely illiterate audience. Hagiography provided priests and theologians with the classical handbooks in a form that allowed them the rhetorical tools necessary to defend the truth of their scriptures. Many of the important hagiographical texts composed in medieval England were written in the dialect of Anglo-Norman.

Of all the English hagiographers no one was more prolific nor so aware of the importance of the genre as Abbot Ælfric of Eynsham
Ælfric of Eynsham
Ælfric of Eynsham was an English abbot, as well as a consummate, prolific writer in Old English of hagiography, homilies, biblical commentaries, and other genres. He is also known variously as Ælfric the Grammarian , Ælfric of Cerne, and Ælfric the Homilist...

. His work The Lives of the Saints (MS Cotton Julius E.7) comprises a set of sermons on saints' days, formerly observed by the English Church. The text comprises two prefaces, one in Latin and one in Old English
Old English language
Old English or Anglo-Saxon is an early form of the English language that was spoken and written by the Anglo-Saxons and their descendants in parts of what are now England and southeastern Scotland between at least the mid-5th century and the mid-12th century...

, and 39 lives beginning on December 25 with the nativity of Christ
Christ
Christ is the English term for the Greek meaning "the anointed one". It is a translation of the Hebrew , usually transliterated into English as Messiah or Mashiach...

 and ending with three texts to which no saints' days are attached. The text spans the entire year and describes the lives of many saints, both English and continental, and hearkens back to some of the earliest saints of the early church.

Imitation of the life of Christ then was the benchmark against which saints were measured, and imitation of the lives of saints was the benchmark against which the general population measured itself.

There are two known instances where saint's lives were adapted into vernacular plays
Play (theatre)
A play is a form of literature written by a playwright, usually consisting of scripted dialogue between characters, intended for theatrical performance rather than just reading. There are rare dramatists, notably George Bernard Shaw, who have had little preference whether their plays were performed...

 in Britain. These are the Cornish-language
Cornish language
Cornish is a Brythonic Celtic language and a recognised minority language of the United Kingdom. Along with Welsh and Breton, it is directly descended from the ancient British language spoken throughout much of Britain before the English language came to dominate...

 works Beunans Meriasek
Beunans Meriasek
Beunans Meriasek is a Cornish play completed in 1504. Its subject is the legends of the life of Saint Meriasek or Meriadoc, patron saint of Camborne, whose veneration was popular in Cornwall, Brittany, and elsewhere...

and Beunans Ke, about the lives of Saints Meriasek and Kea
Saint Kea
Saint Kea was a late 5th-century saint from the Hen Ogledd, the Brythonic-speaking parts of what is now southern Scotland and northern England...

, respectively.

The mediæval period in Ireland


Ireland is notable in its rich hagiographical tradition, and for the large amount of material which was produced during the mediæval period. Irish hagiographers wrote primarily in Latin while some of the later saint's lives were written in the hagiographer's native vernacular Irish
Irish language
Irish , also known as Irish Gaelic, is a Goidelic language of the Indo-European language family, originating in Ireland and historically spoken by the Irish people. Irish is now spoken as a first language by a minority of Irish people, as well as being a second language of a larger proportion of...

. Of particular note are the lives of St. Patrick, St. Columba and St. Brigit—Ireland's three patron saints.

In Eastern Orthodoxy


In the 10th century, a Byzantine
Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire or Romania to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State...

 monk
Monk
A monk is a person who practices religious asceticism, living either alone or with any number of monks, while always maintaining some degree of physical separation from those not sharing the same purpose...

 Simeon Metaphrastes was the first one to change the genre of lives of the saints into something different, giving it a moralizing and panegyric
Panegyric
A panegyric is a formal public speech, or written verse, delivered in high praise of a person or thing, a generally highly studied and discriminating eulogy, not expected to be critical. It is derived from the Greek πανηγυρικός meaning "a speech fit for a general assembly"...

al character. His catalog of lives of the saints became the standard for all of the Western
Western world
The Western world, also known as the West and the Occident , is a term referring to the countries of Western Europe , the countries of the Americas, as well all countries of Northern and Central Europe, Australia and New Zealand...

 and Eastern
Eastern world
__FORCETOC__The term Eastern world refers very broadly to the various cultures or social structures and philosophical systems of Eastern Asia or geographically the Eastern Culture...

 hagiographers, who would create relative biographies and images of the ideal saints by gradually departing from the real facts of their lives. Over the years, the genre of lives of the saints had absorbed a number of narrative plots and poetic images (often, of pre-Christian origin, such as dragon
Dragon
A dragon is a legendary creature, typically with serpentine or reptilian traits, that feature in the myths of many cultures. There are two distinct cultural traditions of dragons: the European dragon, derived from European folk traditions and ultimately related to Greek and Middle Eastern...

 fighting etc.), mediaeval parable
Parable
A parable is a succinct story, in prose or verse, which illustrates one or more instructive principles, or lessons, or a normative principle. It differs from a fable in that fables use animals, plants, inanimate objects, and forces of nature as characters, while parables generally feature human...

s, short stories and anecdote
Anecdote
An anecdote is a short and amusing or interesting story about a real incident or person. It may be as brief as the setting and provocation of a bon mot. An anecdote is always presented as based on a real incident involving actual persons, whether famous or not, usually in an identifiable place...

s.

The genre of lives of the saints was brought to Kievan Rus'
Kievan Rus'
Kievan Rus was a medieval polity in Eastern Europe, from the late 9th to the mid 13th century, when it disintegrated under the pressure of the Mongol invasion of 1237–1240....

 by the South Slavs
South Slavs
The South Slavs are the southern branch of the Slavic peoples and speak South Slavic languages. Geographically, the South Slavs are native to the Balkan peninsula, the southern Pannonian Plain and the eastern Alps...

 together with writing
Writing
Writing is the representation of language in a textual medium through the use of a set of signs or symbols . It is distinguished from illustration, such as cave drawing and painting, and non-symbolic preservation of language via non-textual media, such as magnetic tape audio.Writing most likely...

 and also in translation
Translation
Translation is the communication of the meaning of a source-language text by means of an equivalent target-language text. Whereas interpreting undoubtedly antedates writing, translation began only after the appearance of written literature; there exist partial translations of the Sumerian Epic of...

s from the Greek language. In the 11th century, the Rus' began to compile the original life stories of the first Rus'ian saints, e.g. Boris and Gleb
Boris and Gleb
Boris and Gleb , Christian names Roman and David, respectively, were the first saints canonized in Kievan Rus' after the Christianization of the country....

, Theodosius Pechersky etc. In the 16th century, Metropolitan Macarius
Macarius, Metropolitan of Moscow
Macarius was a notable Russian cleric, writer, and iconographer who served as the Metropolitan of Moscow and all Russia from 1542 until 1563.-Early life and work on the Menaion:...

 expanded the list of the Rus'ian saints and supervised the compiling process of their life stories. They would all be compiled in the so called Velikiye chet’yi-minei catalog (Великие Четьи-Минеи, or Great Menaion Reader
Great Menaion Reader
The Great Menaion Reader is a collection of biblical books with interpretations of exordiums, patericons, translated or original hagiographies of Russian saints, works of church fathers, and Russian ecclesiastical writers. Also, the Great Menaion Reader includes the so called kormchiye knigi ,...

), consisting of 12 volume
Volume
Volume is the quantity of three-dimensional space enclosed by some closed boundary, for example, the space that a substance or shape occupies or contains....

s in accordance with each month of the year. They were revised and expanded by St. Dimitry of Rostov
Dimitry of Rostov
Saint Dimitry of Rostov was a leading opponent of the Caesaropapist reform of the Russian Orthodox church promoted by Feofan Prokopovich. He is representative of the strong Ukrainian influence upon the Russian Orthodox Church at the turn of the 17th and 18th centuries...

 in 1684-1705.

This literary genre was often used as ecclesiastic and political propaganda
Propaganda
Propaganda is a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position so as to benefit oneself or one's group....

. Today, the works in the genre of lives of the saints represent a valuable historical source and reflection of different social ideas, world outlook and aesthetic concept
Concept
The word concept is used in ordinary language as well as in almost all academic disciplines. Particularly in philosophy, psychology and cognitive sciences the term is much used and much discussed. WordNet defines concept: "conception, construct ". However, the meaning of the term concept is much...

s of the past.

Modern usage


The term "hagiography" has come to refer to the works of contemporary biographers and historians whom critics perceive to be uncritical and even "reverential." In addition, modern cult
Cult
The word cult in current popular usage usually refers to a group whose beliefs or practices are considered abnormal or bizarre. The word originally denoted a system of ritual practices...

 leaders such as Sun Myung Moon
Sun Myung Moon
Sun Myung Moon is the Korean founder and leader of the worldwide Unification Church. He is also the founder of many other organizations and projects...

, L. Ron Hubbard
L. Ron Hubbard
Lafayette Ronald Hubbard , better known as L. Ron Hubbard , was an American pulp fiction author and religious leader who founded the Church of Scientology...

 and Daisaku Ikeda
Daisaku Ikeda
is president of Sōka Gakkai International , a Nichiren Buddhist lay association which claims 12 million members in 192 countries and territories, and founder of several educational, cultural and peace research institutions.-Life and establishment of SGI:...

 have vast bodies of hagiographic literature that has been written by and about them.

See also

  • Pseudepigraph
  • Alban Butler
    Alban Butler
    Alban Butler , English Roman Catholic priest and hagiographer, was born at Appletree, Northamptonshire.He was educated at the English College, Douai, where on his ordination to the priesthood in 1735 he held successively the chairs of philosophy and divinity...

  • Hippolyte Delehaye
    Hippolyte Delehaye
    Hippolyte Delehaye was a Belgian Jesuit who was a hagiographic scholar and an outstanding member of the Bollandists, who established critical editions of texts relating to the Christian saints and martyrs that were based on applying the critical method of sound archaeological and documentary...

  • Jean Bolland
    Jean Bolland
    Jean Bolland was a Jesuit priest and prominent Southern Netherlandish hagiographer....

  • Legendary material in Christian hagiography
    Legendary material in Christian hagiography
    While from its early days Christian hagiography recognized some distinction between the mythical and the historical in the lives of saints and martyrs, the more precise conception of legendary material in hagiography belongs to the religious practice of the Middle Ages.From the early modern period...

  • Life of Alexander Nevsky
    Life of Alexander Nevsky
    "Life of Alexander Nevsky" , a Russian literary monument of the late 13th early 14th centuries....

  • Reginald of Durham
    Reginald of Durham
    Reginald of Durham was an English monk and hagiologist.Reginald, a monk at Durham, was a hagiologist who wrote about the lives of saints. His best known work is about the hermit Saint Godric of Finchale...

  • Secular saint
    Secular saint
    The term, secular saint, which has no strict definition, generally refers to someone venerated and respected for contributions to a noble cause, but not recognized as a canonical saint by a religion...


Further reading

  • André Vauchez
    André Vauchez
    André Vauchez is a French historian specialising in the medieval spirituality. He has studied at the École normale supérieure and the École française de Rome...

    , La sainteté en Occident aux derniers siècles du Moyen Âge (1198-1431) (BEFAR, 241). Rome, 1981. [Engl. transl.: Sainthood in the Later Middle Ages. Cambridge, 1987; Ital. transl.: La santità nel Medioevo. Bologna, 1989].
  • Ana Mariković and Trpimir Vedriš, eds. Identity and alterity in Hagiography and the Cult of Saints (Bibliotheca Hagiotheca, Series Colloquia 1). Zagreb: Hagiotheca, 2010.

External links