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A Companion to Middle English Hagiography

A Companion to Middle English Hagiography

Edited by Sarah Salih
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    A Companion to Middle English Hagiography
    Book Description:

    The saints were the superheroes and the celebrities of medieval England, bridging the gap between heaven and earth, the living and the dead. A vast body of literature evolved during the middle ages to ensure that everyone, from kings to peasants, knew the stories of the lives, deaths and afterlives of the saints. However, despite its popularity and ubiquity, the genre of the Saint's Life has until recently been little studied. This collection introduces the canon of Middle English hagiography; places it in the context of the cults of saints; analyses key themes within hagiographic narrative, including gender, power, violence and history; and, finally, shows how hagiographic themes survived the Reformation. Overall it offers both information for those coming to the genre for the first time, and points forward to new trends in research. Dr SARAH SALIH is a Lecturer in English at the University of East Anglia. Contributors: SAMANTHA RICHES, MARY BETH LONG, CLAIRE M. WATERS, ROBERT MILLS, ANKE BERNAU, KATHERINE J. LEWIS, MATTHEW WOODCOCK

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-545-8
    Subjects: Religion, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-vii)
  5. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. viii-ix)
  6. Abbreviations
    (pp. x-x)
  7. Introduction: Saints, Cults and Lives in Late Medieval England
    (pp. 1-24)

    The saints were at once the superheroes and the celebrities of medieval England. They pervaded the landscape: their names, images and narratives were attached to buildings, geographical features, parishes, guilds and towns. Saint-cult was multimedia and interactive. Every church displayed paintings and sculptures of the saints; their feast days were celebrated with liturgies, readings, plays, processions and feasts. They were represented in images ranging from great public objects, such as the 350cm-high stone carving of St Christopher from Norton Priory, Cheshire, to personal clothing and jewellery such as ‘þe reyng wyth þe emage of Seynt Margrete’ which the pregnant Margaret...

  8. 1 Hagiography in Context: Images, Miracles, Shrines and Festivals
    (pp. 25-46)

    All historical evidence – written, visual, archaeological or folkloric – comes into being within a specific context. As historians, whether professional academics or amateur enthusiasts, it is vital that we try to reconstruct as much of the context of production and usage as we can so that we are able to engage with this evidence appropriately. Middle English hagiography is now almost exclusively experienced as printed, bound volumes, often read silently and alone, but this is very different from its original form and purpose. Fundamentally, we must appreciate that these saints’ lives were not composed in order that future students of religious...

  9. 2 Corpora and Manuscripts, Authors and Audiences
    (pp. 47-69)

    The inscription in the back of the British Library’s mid-fifteenth-century manuscript Harley 4012 reads, ‘Thys ys the boke of dame anne wyngefeld of harlyng’, a statement that both suggests its writer’s pride in ownership of so beautiful a book and reminds any borrower of the book that it must be returned, and to whom. The manuscript is certainly visually impressive. For a book that belonged in a woman’s private collection, it is a sizeable volume, approximately 25 by 16cm, despite having been cropped on all sides. The manuscript’s enlarged initials are often elaborate: gilt letters shimmer with quill work, and...

  10. 3 Power and Authority
    (pp. 70-86)

    At first glance, medieval saints’ lives seem to have a fairly clear attitude toward power and authority: they value the latter over the former, frequently pitting a saint who has only faith and the ultimateauctoritasof God on his or her side against a representative of coercive, worldly power and showing the saint’s decisive triumph. Seemingly unprotected against the full onslaught of governmental, parental or purely aggressive power, the saint manages, with God’s help in the form of spiritual support, miracles, angelic aid and other unexpected resources, ultimately to beat those powers at their own game. As such victories...

  11. 4 Violence, Community and the Materialisation of Belief
    (pp. 87-103)

    Saints’ lives afford ample opportunities for the representation of violence. Legends of martyrs who are stripped, beaten, burned and beheaded find their place alongside tales of saints who beat their demonic adversaries to a pulp, saints who self-harm, even saints who commit murder. The deaths of the wicked in hagiography are sometimes comparable in ghastliness to the sufferings of their saintly counterparts, while collectively writings about saints may be couched in the language of a militant, aggressively didactic Church. This chapter focuses on a particular configuration of violence in Middle English hagiography: its coupling with ideology. While it is clear...

  12. 5 Gender and Sexuality
    (pp. 104-121)

    As holy examples of Christian perfection, saints were frequently treated or promoted as patterns for ideal behaviour – either for male or female religious, but also for lay audiences in late medieval England. It is not surprising that this ‘ideal’ was also gendered, as it was believed that men and women should occupy different positions and perform different roles within society, no matter how much or little this view accorded with the complexities of lived reality.¹ They were constructed as different (anddifferently) by a range of discourses, from medical to romance texts, as well as by hagiography.² While many of...

  13. 6 History, Historiography and Re-writing the Past
    (pp. 122-140)

    This chapter has two distinct but related aims: to explore some of the ways in which Middle English hagiography can be employed as a source by historians, and also to demonstrate that hagiography itself functioned as a form of historiography in late medieval England. For some time now, historians have been well aware of the value of saints’ cults as a tool to further our understanding of medieval society and its inhabitants. The materials of saints’ cults and the dynamics of rituals associated with them can illuminate many characteristics of the settings in which they operated; not just religious and...

  14. 7 Crossovers and Afterlife
    (pp. 141-156)

    Commentators on hagiography have long identified a vocabulary of common narrative themes and motifs deployed in the writing of saints’ lives together with an episodic formula or compositional ‘grammar’ for establishing what has been termed a ‘paradigm for the attainment of glory’.¹ Gregory of Tours’s observation that ‘it is asked by many whether we should say the Life of the saints, or the Lives’ testifies to the fact that by the late sixth century models for composing hagiography had become firmly established, be it in thepassiotradition centring on the martyrdom of early saints in defence of their faith,...

  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 157-176)
  16. Index
    (pp. 177-182)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 183-183)