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The Cult of Saints in the Medieval West, 1050-1350 - HIS00095M

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. John Jenkins
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2020-21

Module summary

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, saints' 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.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Spring Term 2020-21

Module aims

The module aims to:

  • Develop skills of source analysis and interpretation
  • Assess a range of source material and relevant secondary works; and
  • Develop students’ powers of evidence-based historical argument, both orally and in writing.

Module learning outcomes

  • An understanding and critical assessment of the role of saints within Medieval Western European society.
  • Familiarity with the range of primary sources (documentary and physical) for the cult of saints.
  • An understanding of the wider key cultural and religious changes of the High Middle Ages as reflected in the dynamics of sanctity.

Module content

Teaching Programme:

Students will attend eight weekly two-hour seminars in weeks 2-9.

1. Introduction: Saints and Sanctity in the Latin West

2. Writing Saints’ Lives

3. Official and Unofficial Saints: the canonisation process

4. Promoting the Saint: Relics and Shrines

5. Pilgrimage to the Saints

6. Saints and Secular Power

7. Holy Feast, Holy Fast: a new sanctity?

8. Saints: A Twelfth Century Renaissance?


Task Length % of module mark
4,000 word essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Students will complete a 2,000-word procedural essay for formative assessment, due in week 6 of the spring term, for which they will receive an individual tutorial. They will then submit a 4,000-word assessed essay for summative assessment in week 1 of the summer term.

For further details about assessed work, students should refer to the Taught Masters Degrees Statement of Assessment.


Task Length % of module mark
4,000 word essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Following their formative assessment task, students will receive written feedback consisting of comments and a mark within 10 working days of submission. All students are encouraged, if they wish, to discuss the feedback on their procedural work during their tutor’s student hours. For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For the summative assessment task, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 20 working days of the submission deadline. The tutor will then be available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement of Assessment.

Indicative reading

For term time reading, please refer to the module VLE site. Before the course starts, we encourage you to look at the following items of 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


The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.