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The Making and Unmaking of a Saint

The Making and Unmaking of a Saint: Hagiography and Memory in the Cult of Gerald of Aurillac

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    The Making and Unmaking of a Saint
    Book Description:

    A crusader, a hermit, a bishop, a plague victim, and even a repentant murderer by turns: the stories attached to Saint Gerald of Aurillac offer a strange and fragmented legacy. His two earliest biographies, written in the early tenth and early eleventh centuries, depicted the saint as a warrior who devoted his life to pious service. Soon Gerald was a venerated figure, and the monastery he founded was itself a popular pilgrimage site. Like many other cults, his faded into obscurity over time, although a small group of loyal worshippers periodically revived interest, creating sculpted or stained glass images and the alternate biographies that complicated an ever more obscure history.The Making and Unmaking of a Sainttraces the rise and fall of devotion to Gerald of Aurillac through a millennium, from his death in the tenth century to the attempt to reinvigorate his cult in the nineteenth century. Mathew Kuefler makes a strong case for the sophistication of hagiography as a literary genre that can be used to articulate religious doubts and anxieties even as it exalts the saints; and he overturns the received attribution of Gerald's detailedVitato Odo of Cluny, identifying it instead as the work of the infamous eleventh-century forger Ademar of Chabannes. Through his careful examination, the biographies and iconographies that mark the waxing and waning of Saint Gerald's cult tell an illuminating tale not only of how saints are remembered but also of how they are forgotten.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0889-4
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Maps 1 and 2
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. INTRODUCTION: Hagiography, Memory, History
    (pp. 1-8)

    High up in the French Alps, near the end of a twisting mountain road that snakes farther and farther up a steep mountainside from the village of Aurisen-Oisans, sits the medieval chapel of Saint-Giraud. No record survives of its origins: its first mention dates from 1454, when the bishop of Grenoble stopped there on his visitation through the district.¹ It was never a parish church, and perhaps not a priory, although a sizable pile of stones next to the chapel hints that another structure, perhaps a residence, of which there is no historical recollection, once stood nearby. The chapel may...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Prolegomenon on the Dating and Authorship of the Writings about Gerald of Aurillac
    (pp. 9-43)

    Gerald of Aurillac is a familiar figure to scholars of the central Middle Ages, and his life has provided rare and intriguing glimpses into this era: its forms of individual piety, the relations between peasants and landowners, the methods of justice, and even the banality of violence. The traditional dating and attribution of the texts about Gerald of Aurillac are erroneous, however, and this error has had serious consequences for the conclusions that scholars have drawn from Gerald’s biography. Most have accepted the opinion, established in the late nineteenth century, that Odo of Cluny wrote a detailedvitafor Gerald...

  7. CHAPTER 2 The First Saint Gerald
    (pp. 44-67)

    The earliest remembrances of Gerald come from one of the most prominent monastic reformers of the central Middle Ages, Odo of Cluny. This is, once again, theVita brevior(an English translation of which appears in Appendix 1 from my own critical edition) and not the better-knownVita prolixior. Why a man so devoted to the monastic ideal should have been willing to praise the saintliness of a layman is a difficult question. If we read with a modern (or, perhaps, a postmodern) sense of skepticism, however, we see revealed a hagiographer who did not so much craft a new...

  8. CHAPTER 3 The Second Saint Gerald
    (pp. 68-99)

    Almost a century after Odo composed hisVita brevior, Ademar of Chabannes, writing from Limoges in the 1020s, extended the textual tradition on Gerald in a number of ways. He began by adding a brief account of Gerald’s death and a half-dozen stories of Gerald’s posthumous miracles to the existingvita. Perhaps he hoped to dispel the doubts that Odo had raised about Gerald’s sanctity. Later, he added further miracle stories, showcasing a series of miraculous events that happened at the time of the dedication of the new church in Aurillac in 972. Possibly at the same time, he composed...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Saint Gerald and the Swell of History
    (pp. 100-116)

    Odo and Ademar both struggled to define Saint Gerald’s memory in crucial if fundamentally contrary ways. Even if hagiographers initiated a saint’s reputation, though, only the response of the devout could sustain it over time. What can be pieced together of the history of devotion to Saint Gerald demonstrates the varied means by which his saintly standing was enhanced. These efforts, almost lost to time, were neither random nor mechanical, but served real and practical goals and provide a unique glimpse into how a saint was kept alive. Within the first centuries that followed his death, that is, from the...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Saint Gerald and the Ebb of History
    (pp. 117-150)

    Despite the manifold efforts to advance the cult of Saint Gerald, he was slowly sinking into obscurity by the end of the Middle Ages. Insofar as we know, in the fifteenth century only one new manuscript included hisvitaand only one church was built in his name.¹ Nonetheless, even the disappearance of the cult of a saint such as Gerald—near disappearance, to be fair, since devotion to Saint Gerald still survives in a limited sense—can provide an opportunity for thinking about the historical memory of a saint. What has been forgotten in history is often as meaningful...

  11. CHAPTER 6 The Modern Cult of Saint Gerald
    (pp. 151-186)

    The French Revolution seemed to signal the end of the cult of Saint Gerald. Yet the churches dedicated to Saint Gerald were closed for less than a decade, and when the Catholic religion was restored in France in 1801 Saint Gerald returned to Aurillac and to thirty or so of his other churches across southern France. With the dispersion of the last canons of Aurillac, however, the official keepers of the memory of Saint Gerald were gone, and even where devotion was renewed, knowledge of Gerald faded. A proposal sent to the bishop of Saint-Flour in 1803 even requested that...

  12. CONCLUSION: Memory, Sanctity, Violence
    (pp. 187-192)

    Saint Gerald is virtually unknown today except to scholars of the Middle Ages. He no longer functions convincingly as a saint. Vestiges of Gerald’s saintly memory still linger at Aurillac and also in the towns and villages where his churches still stand, although many of the residents with whom I spoke during my travels were hard pressed to come up with any details of his life. It is also true that in a few locations Gerald’s holy reputation has been revived: the modern hostel for pilgrims in O Cebreiro, Galicia, is now named after Saint Gerald, thanks to a historically...

  13. APPENDIX 1: Translation of the Vita sancti Geraldi brevior
    (pp. 193-204)
  14. APPENDIX 2: The Manuscripts of the Vita Geraldi
    (pp. 205-218)
  15. NOTES
    (pp. 219-268)
    (pp. 269-298)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 299-304)
    (pp. 305-306)