A hagiography (/ˌhæɡiˈɒɡrəfi/; from Greek ἅγιος, hagios,
meaning 'holy', and -γραφία, -graphia, meaning 'writing') is
a biography of a saint or an ecclesiastical leader. The term
hagiography may be used to refer to the biography of a saint or highly
developed spiritual being in any of the world's spiritual traditions.
Christian hagiographies focus on the lives, and notably the miracles,
ascribed to men and women canonized by the Roman Catholic church, the
Eastern Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodox churches, and the
Church of the East. Other religious traditions such as Buddhism,
Jainism also create and maintain
hagiographical texts (such as the Sikh Janamsakhis) concerning saints,
gurus and other individuals believed to be imbued with sacred power.
Hagiographic works, especially those of the Middle Ages, can
incorporate a record of institutional and local history, and evidence
of popular cults, customs, and traditions. However, when referring
to modern, non-ecclesiastical works, the term hagiography is often
used as a pejorative reference to biographies and histories whose
authors are perceived to be uncritical of or reverential to their
2 Medieval England
3 Medieval Ireland
4 Eastern Orthodoxy
5 Oriental Orthodoxy
6 See also
8 Further reading
9 External links
Hagiography constituted an important literary genre in the early
Christian church, providing some informational history along with the
more inspirational stories and legends. A hagiographic account of an
individual saint can consist of a biography (vita), a description of
the saint's deeds and/or miracles, an account of the saint's martyrdom
(passio), or be a combination of these.
The genre of lives of the saints first came into being in the Roman
Empire as legends about
Christian martyrs were recorded. The dates of
their deaths formed the basis of martyrologies. In the 4th century,
there were three main types of catalogs of lives of the saints:
annual calendar catalogue, or menaion (in Greek, μηναῖον,
menaion means "monthly" (adj, neut), lit. "lunar"), biographies of the
saints to be read at sermons ;
synaxarion ("something that collects"; Greek συναξάριον,
from σύναξις, synaxis i.e. "gathering", "collection",
"compilation"), or a short version of lives of the saints, arranged by
paterikon ("that of the Fathers"; Greek πατερικόν; in Greek
and Latin, pater means "father"), or biography of the specific saints,
chosen by the catalog compiler.
Western Europe hagiography was one of the more important vehicles
for the study of inspirational history during the Middle Ages. The
Jacob de Voragine
Jacob de Voragine compiled a great deal of medieval
hagiographic material, with a strong emphasis on miracle tales. Lives
were often written to promote the cult of local or national states,
and in particular to develop pilgrimages to visit relics. The bronze
Gniezno Doors of
Gniezno Cathedral in Poland are the only Romanesque
doors in Europe to feature the life of a saint. The life of Saint
Adalbert of Prague, who is buried in the cathedral, is shown in 18
scenes, probably based on a lost illuminated copy of one of his Lives.
The Bollandist Society continues the study, academic assembly,
appraisal and publication of materials relating to the lives of
Christian saints. (See Acta Sanctorum.)
Many of the important hagiographical texts composed in medieval
England were written in the vernacular dialect Anglo-Norman. With the
Latin literature into England in the 7th and 8th
centuries the genre of the life of the saint grew increasingly
popular. When one contrasts it to the popular heroic poem, such as
Beowulf, one finds that they share certain common features. In
Beowulf, the titular character battles against
Grendel and his mother,
while the saint, such as Athanasius' Anthony (one of the original
sources for the hagiographic motif) or the character of Guthlac,
battles against figures no less substantial in a spiritual sense. Both
genres then focus on the hero-warrior figure, but with the distinction
that the saint is of a spiritual sort.
Imitation of the life of
Christ was then the benchmark against which
saints were measured, and imitation of the lives of saints was the
benchmark against which the general population measured itself. In
Anglo-Saxon and medieval England, hagiography became a literary genre
par excellence for the teaching of a largely illiterate audience.
Hagiography provided priests and theologians with classical handbooks
in a form that allowed them the rhetorical tools necessary to present
their faith through the example of the saints' lives.
Of all the English hagiographers no one was more prolific nor so aware
of the importance of the genre as Abbot Ælfric of Eynsham. His work
The Lives of the Saints
The Lives of the Saints (MS Cotton Julius E.7) comprises a set of
sermons on saints' days, formerly observed by the English Church. The
text comprises two prefaces, one in
Latin and one in Old English, and
39 lives beginning on December 25 with the nativity of
ending with three texts to which no saints' days are attached. The
text spans the entire year and describes the lives of many saints,
both English and continental, and hearkens back to some of the
earliest saints of the early church.
There are two known instances where saint's lives were adapted into
vernacular plays in Britain. These are the Cornish-language works
Beunans Meriasek and Beunans Ke, about the lives of Saints Meriasek
and Kea, respectively.
Other examples of hagiographies from England include:
the Chronicle by Hugh Candidus
the list of John Leyland
possibly the book Life by
Calendar entries for January 1st and 2nd of the
Martyrology of Oengus.
Ireland is notable in its rich hagiographical tradition, and for the
large amount of material which was produced during the Middle Ages.
Irish hagiographers wrote primarily in
Latin while some of the later
saint's lives were written in the hagiographer's native vernacular
Irish. Of particular note are the lives of St. Patrick, St. Columba
(Latin)/Colm (Irish) and St. Brigit/Brigid—Ireland's three patron
saints. Additionally, several Irish calendars relating to the
Christian saints (sometimes called martyrologies or
feastologies) contained abbreviated synopses of saint's lives, which
were compiled from many different sources. Notable examples include
Martyrology of Tallaght and the Félire Óengusso. Such
hagiographical calendars were important in establishing lists of
native Irish saints, in imitation of continental calendars.
Example of Greek Orthodox visual hagiography. This is one of the best
known surviving Byzantine mosaics in
Hagia Sophia – Christ
Pantocrator flanked by the
Virgin Mary and
John the Baptist
John the Baptist made in
the 12th century.
In the 10th century, a Byzantine monk
Simeon Metaphrastes was the
first one to change the genre of lives of the saints into something
different, giving it a moralizing and panegyrical character. His
catalog of lives of the saints became the standard for all of the
Western and Eastern hagiographers, who would create relative
biographies and images of the ideal saints by gradually departing from
the real facts of their lives. Over the years, the genre of lives of
the saints had absorbed a number of narrative plots and poetic images
(often, of pre-
Christian origin, such as dragon fighting etc.),
mediaeval parables, short stories and anecdotes.
The genre of lives of the saints was introduced in the Slavic world in
the Bulgarian Empire in the late 9th and early 10th century, where the
first original hagiographies were produced on Cyril and Methodius,
Clement of Ohrid
Clement of Ohrid and Naum of Preslav. Eventually the Bulgarians
brought this genre to
Kievan Rus' together with writing and also in
translations from the Greek language. In the 11th century, the Rus'
began to compile the original life stories of the first Rus'ian
saints, e.g. Boris and Gleb, Theodosius Pechersky etc. In the 16th
century, Metropolitan Macarius expanded the list of the Rus'ian saints
and supervised the compiling process of their life stories. They would
all be compiled in the so-called Velikiye chet'yi-minei catalog
(Великие Четьи-Минеи, or Great
consisting of 12 volumes in accordance with each month of the year.
They were revised and expanded by St.
Dimitry of Rostov
Dimitry of Rostov in
Today, the works in the genre of lives of the saints represent a
valuable historical source and reflection of different social ideas,
world outlook and aesthetic concepts of the past.
Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church
Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church hagiography in Ge'ez
language is known as the Gadl (Saint's Life). They are, in addition of
the Axumite inscriptions and the Ethiopian Royal Chronicles, among the
most important Medieval Ethiopian written sources. However, their
historical accuracy is in question. They were created by the disciples
of the saints. Some were written a long time after the death of a
saint, but others were written not long after the saint's demise.
Reginald of Durham
Legendary material in
Life of Alexander Nevsky
Oxford English Dictionary
Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford
University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK
public library membership required.)
^ Jonathan Augustine (2012), Buddhist
Hagiography in Early Japan,
Routledge, ISBN 978-0415646291
David Lorenzen (2006), Who Invented Hinduism?, Yoda Press,
ISBN 978-8190227261, pp. 120–121
^ Davies, S. (2008). Archive and manuscripts: contents and use: using
the sources (3rd ed.). Aberystwyth, UK: Department of Information
Studies, Aberystwyth University. p. 5.20. ISBN 978-1-906214-15-9
^ Koch, John T. (2006). Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia.
ABC-CLIO. pp. 203–205. ISBN 1-85109-440-7. Retrieved
November 23, 2009.
^ Barbara Yorke, Nunneries and the
Anglo-Saxon Royal Houses
(Continuum, 2003) p. 22
^ Stowe MS 944, British Library
^ G. Hickes, Dissertatio Epistolaris in Linguarum veterum
septentrionalium thesaurus grammatico-criticus et archeologicus
(Oxford 1703–05), p. 115.
^ John Leland, The Collectanea of British affairs,
^ Liuzza, R. M. (2006). "The Year's Work in Old English Studies"
(PDF). Old English News Letter. Medieval Institute, Western Michigan
University. 39 (2): 8.
^ Tatlock, J. S. P. (1939). "The Dates of the Arthurian Saints'
Legends". Speculum. 14 (3): 345–365. doi:10.2307/2848601.
JSTOR 2848601. p. 345
^ "Lives of Ethiopian Saints". Link Ethiopia. Archived from the
original on 5 March 2017. Retrieved 4 March 2017.
Heffernan, Thomas J. Sacred Biography: Saints and Their Biographers in
the Middle Ages. Oxford, 1992.
Mariković, Ana and Vedriš, Trpimir eds. Identity and alterity in
Hagiography and the Cult of Saints (Bibliotheca Hagiotheca, Series
Colloquia 1). Zagreb: Hagiotheca, 2010.
Vauchez, André, La sainteté en Occident aux derniers siècles du
Moyen Âge (1198–1431) (BEFAR, 241). Rome, 1981. [Engl. transl.:
Sainthood in the Later Middle Ages. Cambridge, 1987; Ital. transl.: La
santità nel Medioevo. Bologna, 1989].
Look up hagiography in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Hagiography.
Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Hagiography". Catholic
Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
Hippolyte Delehaye, The Legends of the Saints: An Introduction to
James Kiefer's Hagiographies
Societé des Bollandistes