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The Cult of Saints in the Medieval West, 1050-1350

Tutor: John Jenkins

Module type: MA Option

Module code: HIS00095M

Credits: 20

Saints’ cults were central to much of medieval social, religious, and political life. The memories and physical remains of holy men and women were venerated throughout Europe, and their ranks were ever-growing as each successive generation made or ‘found’ role models and miracle makers. The vast number of hagiographies and other sources for the practice and management of the cult of saints attest to the importance of holy bodies in creating social and corporate identity, exercising power, and serving the spiritual needs of medieval Europe. The twelfth and thirteenth centuries in particular saw, on the one hand, an emerging ‘papal monarchy’ seeking to regulate and rule Western Christianity, and on the other a great flowering of religious energy revitalising old cults and producing a wealth of new recognised and ‘popular’ saints.

This module explores how, at a time of great economic and social change, saint’s cults were brought into being, written, approved, promoted, and used, and how they were responsive to the shifting concerns of the age. Why did some saints flourish and others disappear without trace? With a strong focus on primary material including individual hagiographies, ecclesiastical records, and the physical remains of cults, a series of case studies will be set in the context of papal, political, and social reforms, encouraging a broader understanding of the central place of the saints in this formative period of European history.

The provisional outline for the module is as follows:

    • Introduction: Saints and Sanctity in the Latin West
    • Writing Saints’ Lives
    • Official and Unofficial Saints: the canonisation process
    • Promoting the Saint: Relics and Shrines
    • Pilgrimage to the Saints
    • Saints and Secular Power
    • Holy Feast, Holy Fast: a new sanctity?
    • Saints: A Twelfth Century Renaissance?


Preliminary Reading

    • Bartlett, Robert, Why Can the Dead Do Such Great Things?: Saints and Worshippers from the Martyrs to the Reformation, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015 (available from the library as an e-book)
    • Bynum, Caroline Walker, Holy Feast and Holy Fast: the religious significance of food to medieval women, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983 (available from the library as an e-book)
    • Vauchez, André, Sainthood in the Later Middle Ages, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997
    • Stouck, Mary-Anne (ed.), Medieval Saints: A Reader, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998


For more information, please visit the module catalogue.