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Medieval and Renaissance Studies: Hagiography (The Saints)

A Guide to Research in Medieval and Renaissance Studies


Hagiography is the study of the saints and particularly the study of the genre of medieval writing that recounted the saints' lives - the deeds and miracles associated with them, and often, particularly in for saints of antiquity and the early Middle Ages, the conditions of their death (passion) and martyrdom.  But, for contemporary medievalists, hagiography is far from limited to the study of the church and its history. The hagriographical literature, which often describes a saint's life in graphic detail, is a vital source for medieval social, cultural and intellectual history - for the character of everyday life in the Middle Ages, the values and the tools, both intellectual and physical, with which medievals confronted life's challenges. Hagiographical texts have, for instance, been a vital tool for examining the lives of medieval women, of the peasantry, the urban proletariat and a host of topics that are generally invisible or opaque in the documentary and traditional literary sources.

The essential tool for medieval hagiography is the Acta Sanctorum [see below], the monumental, 68-volume aggregation of saints lives that has been amassed by group of scholars and philologists known as the Société des Bollandistes, names for Jean Bolland (1596-1665), the early modern Jesuit who took up the collection of saints lives first undertaken by Herbert Rosweyde (1569-1629). The journal of the Société is: Analecta Bollandiana: Revue critique d'hagiographie. It has been published since 1882 and is a vital resource for the field. The Société also publishes an important monographic series, Subsidia Hagiographica. The Société has also recently begun to publish editions of the correspondence of the Bollandists and the various scholars with whom they collaborated in the series, Tabularium Hagiographicum.

The resources below, including the Acta, provide the basic tools for hagiographical research.

Primary Sources

Acta sanctorum quotquot toto orbe coluntur, vel à catholicis scriptoribus celebrantur quae ex Latin & Graecis, aliarumque gentium antiquis monumentis... 68 vols. Bruxelles: Culture et Civilisation, 1965-. - This is the printed edition of the Acta, available in Columbia's Ancient & Medieval Studies Reading Room.

Acta Sanctorum: the Database. - An electronic version of the complete texts of the sixty-eight printed volumes, from two January volumes published in 1643 to the Propylaeum to December published in 1940.

D'Achéry, Luc& Jean Mabillon. Acta Sanctorum ordinis Sancti Benedicti. 9 vols. Venice: Colet, 1733. - This is an extremely rare set, organized by the century of the saint's life, covering only the 6th through the 11th. Mabillon's 1740 preface volume, Praefationes in Acta sanctorum Ordinis Sancti Benedicti conjunctim editae, is available at the Burke Library, Union Theological Seminary.

 Mombrizio, Bonino. Sanctuarium seu Vitae sanctorum. Novam hanc editionem curaverunt duo monachi Solesmenses. Paris: Albertum Fontemoing, 1910. - Available at the Institute of Fine Arts at: BX4654 .M6.

Surius, Laurentius. De probatis sanctorum historiis, partim ex tomis Aloysii Lipomani ... partim etiam ex manuscriptis codicibus ... 7 vols. Cologne: Geruinum Calenium et haeredes, 1570-75, 1581. - Available at the Burke Library, Union Theological Seminary. 

Reference Sources

The three essential reference resources are:

Bibliotheca hagiographica graeca. 3 vols.  Brussels : Société des Bollandistes, 1986. - This is available at Columbia in the Butler Library Reference Department.

Bibliotheca hagiographica latina antiquae et mediae aetatis. 2 vols. Brussels: Société des Bollandistes, 1949. - Available in Bobst Reference at: Z7844 .B55 1949.

Peeters, Paulus. Bibliotheca hagiographica orientalis. Brussels: Société des Bollandistes, 1910. Reprint 1954. - Available in Bobst Reference at: Z7844 .B57 1954.

Some additional, useful reference works:

Baudot, Jules with Paul Antin & Jacques Dubois. Vies des saints et des bienheureux selon l'ordre du calendrier: avec l'histoire des fêtes. 13 vols. Paris: Librarie Letouzey, 1935-59. - This is only available locally at Rutgers and Yale.    

Bibliotheca Sanctorum. 13 vols. Rome: Città nuova, 1961-1970. - A useful work, organized alphabetically by saint. Available at the Institute of Fine Arts Library at: BX4655 .B5.

Dubois, Jacques, O.S.B. Les Martyrologes du Moyen A ge Latin. Typologie des sources du moyen âge occidental fasc. 26. Turnhout: Brepols, 1978.  - Available in Bobst at: Z6203 .T95 fasc.26.

Philippart, Guy. Les Legendiers Latins et Autres Manuscrits Hagiographiques. Typologie des sources du Moyen Age occidental, fasc. 24-25. Turnhout: Brepols, 1977. - Available in Bobst at: Z6203 .T95 fasc.23-29.

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