Cultic Graffiti across the Mediterranean and Beyond

The Cult of Saints project has close ties with the University of Bari ‘Aldo Moro’, through the Epigraphic Database Bari, with its unique expertise in early Christian epigraphy and in digital epigraphic scholarship.

From September 27th – September 29th, the Cult of Saints project and the University of Bari ‘Aldo Moro’ will be hosting a joint conference exploring an aspect of cultic epigraphy. The theme is cultic graffiti, the informal scratchings or writings of individual devotees, almost always travellers or pilgrims, which are known from all over the late antique world. These constitute a unique first-hand testimony to devotion, which we can normally only access through much more formal documents.

In order to explore these graffiti in their fullest possible context, the conference, while
focused primarily on the Christian graffiti of Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages, will also examine earlier ‘pagan’ practice, and the very active cultic graffiti of early Islam.

The full conference programme can be read here.

Call for Papers: Remembering and forgetting saints in Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages (IMC, Leeds, July 2018)

The Cult of Saints is a major ERC-funded research project, which is investigating the origins and early development of the cult of saints in all the cultural zones of ancient Christianity. The forthcoming International Medieval Congress in Leeds (2-5 July 2018) has ‘Memory’ as its special thematic strand. The Project will therefore be running a series of sessions on how saints were remembered in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. As specific topics for these sessions, we have chosen: ‘Adapting Memory’, on how the hagiography of some saints evolved in response to changing circumstances and needs; ‘Annual Remembrance’, focused on the regular annual cycle of remembering the saints, as documented in texts such as Martyrologies; and, finally, ‘Forgetting’, on saints who once attracted cult, but then slipped quietly into oblivion. Those interested in presenting papers at these sessions, particularly if focused on the period before c. AD 1000, are requested to send a short abstract (100 words) to Robert Wiśniewski ( and Bryan Ward-Perkins ( by 15 September. Please note that the project, sadly, cannot cover conference fee and travel expenses.

Call for candidates for a post-doctoral researcher (Latin evidence)

The Institute of History, University of Warsaw, is seeking to recruit a post-doctoral researcher  for a position in the project The Cult of Saints: a Christendom-wide study of its origins, spread and development. The Project is supported by an Advanced Grant from the European Research Council under Grant Agreement Number 340540 and is based at the University of Oxford with a partnership at the University of Warsaw. The successful candidate will work as part of a team of seven post-doctoral researchers reporting to the Principal Investigator, Prof. Bryan Ward-Perkins (University of Oxford), but under direct supervision of Dr. hab. Robert Wiśniewski  (University of Warsaw). The postholder will have responsibility for collecting Latin evidence consisting mostly of literary texts, within an electronic searchable database. The postholder is also expected to produce sole-authored articles on aspects of the cult of saints in the West.

This is a full-time time position for 12 months, starting on 1 November 2017 or soon thereafter. The postholder will be offered the salary of about 2 700 Euros per month.

The full call for candidates can be seen here. The closing date for applications is September 30th 2017.

If you have any questions about the project or the recruitment procedure, please address them to Robert Wiśniewski (


The Cult of Martyrs in the Fourth Century

In mid July, Research Associate Gesa Schenke was invited to participate in a conference on Innovations in the Veneration of Martyrs in the Fourth Century CE, a conference of the cluster of excellence “Religion and Politics”, taking place at the University of Münster in Germany, 14–15 July 2017. In her paper entitled From Veneration to Expectation: The Use of Martyrs in Personal Conflict Management, she discussed some of the fourth century evidence available from Egypt in the form of papyri, which clearly testify to a cult of martyrs in the second half of the fourth century, an institution complete with critics, such as Athanasius of Alexandria, and enthusiasts.

The conference programme can be read here: Innovations in the Veneration of Martyrs in the Fourth Century CE.

Saints at the Margins at the Leeds International Medieval Conference, 12-13 July 2017

Bryan Ward-Perkins and Robert Wiśniewski

With over two thousand delegates attending, the IMC at Leeds is the largest and most international conference of medievalists in the world.  We were therefore delighted to hold four sessions there, which both explored a central issue of our project with some young and some not-so-young experts in the subject, and showcased the diversity and range of the ‘Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity’.  The issue we chose to focus on was ‘Marginal Saints’, the men and women of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages who either just failed to be accepted as saints, or only just succeeded.  Since there was no formal process of canonisation before the twelfth century, there were a substantial number of these ‘grey saints’, promoted with enthusiasm by their backers, but not necessarily with success.  Examining them is interesting in itself, and also helps clarify the broad issues of what was expected of a saint, and the processes that were needed to manoeuvre him or her into a position of broad acceptance.

Our first session was entitled ‘The struggle to launch and maintain a cult’ and was opened by Bertrand Lançon, professor emeritus of the Université de Limoges.  Professor Lançon introduced us to the ninth-century Actus of the bishops of Le Mans, with their remarkable attempt to establish the first (supposed) nine bishops of the see as saints, able to perform miracles – a claim that failed to take off, except in the case of the founder of the see, Julian.  Pia Bockius, a doctoral student at the Freie Universität of Berlin, then gave us a full and accomplished overview of how Gregory of Tours (who wrote more about saints than any other writer of the early Middles Ages) approached sainthood and the establishment of cult – she rightly reminded us that not everything that Gregory wrote about saints was intended to encourage cult.

The second session was on ‘Unconventional sainthood’, with three speakers.  Alan Thacker, of London’s Institute of Historical Research, introduced us to the many unnamed (but numbered) martyrs of Rome, men and women whose blood shed in quantity gave the city its uniquely high Christian status in the West.  Estelle Cronnier, a researcher attached to the ‘Monde Byzantine’ centre in Paris, talked about Christian veneration of Old Testament patriarchs and prophets, which was a powerful feature of cult in the Holy Land and, more surprisingly, also in Constantinople.  Finally, Abigail Steed, a doctoral student at Durham (who stepped in to fill a gap at the last minute), gave us an accomplished explanation of how the early-eleventh-century archbishop of Canterbury, Ælfheah, who was killed by his Danish captors in a moment of drunkenness rather than religious hatred, became a martyr in late Anglo-Saxon times and, thanks to some ingenious argumentation by Anselm of Bec, even remained a martyr into Norman times.

Our third session on ‘Failed saints’, again with three speakers, looked at people who nearly, but not quite, made it to be accepted as saints.  The first presentation, by one of us (Bryan Ward-Perkins), was centred on the fascinating figure of Winnoc the Breton, an unfortunate whom Gregory of Tours seems initially to have believed to be a saint, but who then came spectacularly off the rails, descending into drunkenness and insanity. This was followed by a talk from David Defries, of Kansas State University, on the case of William Longsword, a tenth-century count of Normandy, who suffered political assassination, but for whom implausible efforts were made to present his death as that of a good Christian, struck down for his faith.  Just as implausible, but in the long run much more successful, were the efforts of Eusebius, and of Constantine himself, to present this emperor as a saint, an equal indeed of the Apostles, which James Corke-Webster, of the University of Durham, presented as the final paper of the session.  In the eastern church, Constantine crossed the barrier into sainthood; but he was never accepted in the same way in the West.

The fourth and final session of this ‘strand’, with two speakers, was under the playful title ‘Saints, but by a whisker’.  Matthieu Pignot, of the Cult of Saints project, introduced us to Torpes of Pisa, a saint of exceptional obscurity in Late Antiquity, whose Martyrdom attributed his burial to an unknown place in Spain, but who somehow became popular in Carolingian times and later, even giving his name (if he is he is same saint!) to Saint Tropez on the French Riviera.  Finally, Michel Kaplan, emeritus professor at the Sorbonne, spoke about Antony, archbishop of Thessaloniki, a staunch defender of icons who died in 843.  Antony was acknowledged as a saint but only within the Life of another, much more successful figure, the nun Theodora, who attracted considerably more cult than Antony.

The individual talks hung together well, both speaking to each other and provoking a lively discussion of what made a saint and what made a successful cult.  Next year’s IMC conference will be centred on the theme of ‘Memory’, which is of course a central feature of the cult of saints – we will be there, and are already planning the themes of the individual sessions!

‘Saints at the Margins’: International Medieval Congress 2017

The full programme of the Cult of Saints’ sessions at the 2017 IMC has now been published.

The four sessions of ‘Saints at the Margins’ explore the lower reaches of sainthood: men and women who nearly, but didn’t quite make it into sainthood; and those who just succeeded in being accepted as saints, sometimes only to sink slowly back into oblivion.  This first session is focused on the difficulties of establishing a successful cult in a world already crowded with saints.


Bryan Ward-Perkins, Faculty of History, University of Oxford

Robert Wiśniewski, Instytut Historyczny, Uniwersytet Warszawski

Session 1224, Wednesday, 5 July, 14.15-15.45, Emmanuel Centre: Room 11


Bertrand Lançon, Université de Limoges

No worship for old saints: the Carolingian construction of the Actus of the bishops of Le Mans

 Pia Bockius, Freie Universität, Berlin

Texts and tangibility: Fighting oblivion in Gregory of Tours’ hagiography

Vincent Déroche, Centre d’Histoire et Civilisation de Byzance

Successes and failures in the launching of an eleventh-century cult: the contrasting cases of Symeon the Studite and Luke of Anazarbos

 Session 1324, Wednesday, 5 July, 16.30-18.00, Emmanuel Centre, Room 11


Alan Thacker, Institute of Historical Research, London

Converting and sanctifying the marginal: Baptism in blood

Estelle Cronnier, Independent scholar

Figures from the Old Testament, and the cult of saints in Late Antiquity

Abigail Steed, Department of History, Durham University

Creating a Martyr: The Case of St Ælfheah

Session 1530, Thursday, 6 July, 9.00-10.30, Emmanuel Centre: Room 11


Bryan Ward-Perkins, The Cult of Saint Project, Oxford University

Uncertainty and anxiety in the mind of Gregory of Tours

Dave Defries, Kansas State University

Pagan, apostate or saint? The unconvincing martyrdom of William Longsword, second count of Normandy

 James Cork-Webster, Durham University

Imperial peg, saintly hole: Eusebius of Caesarea on Constantine

Session 1630, Thursday, 6 July, 11.15-12.45, Emmanuel Centre, Room 11


Matthieu Pignot, The Cult of Saints Project, Uniwersytet Warszawski

The mysterious origins of the cult of Torpes of Pisa

Michel Kaplan, Université Paris 1 (Panthéon-Sorbonne)

A saint with hagiography but no cult: Antony, archbishop of Thessaloniki († 843)

Dr Nowakowski presents at Humboldt University, Berlin

On 15 May Paweł Nowakowski gave a talk at the Faculty of Theology of the Humboldt University in Berlin, at a seminar meeting of the project ‘Inscriptiones Christianae Graecae’ supervised by Cilliers Breytenbach and Klaus Hallof, and sponsored by the Excellence Cluster 264 TOPOI. Paweł presented a collection of epitaphs from three villages (modern Beyözü, Elmapınar, and Kozören) in the immediate area of ancient Euchaita in Pontus, the principal sanctuary of Saint Theodore, which he is now publishing with permission of the Euchaita/Avkat Project directed by John Haldon (Princeton University, NJ) and Hugh Elton (Trent University, Canada). The collection throws new light on the clergy, monks, and pilgrims active in the area of provincial sanctuaries of saints, and supplements a collection of inscriptions from Beyözü published  by Mustafa Adak and Christian Marek in 2016.

For the project ‘Inscriptiones Christianae Graecae’, see

For the Euchaita/Avkat Project, see

Description of the image: Epitaph for the deaconess Theodora, who ‘sought refuge at the receiver of strangers (xenodochos), the great martyr of Christ’, Saint Theodore. Found at Çorum near Euchaita and first published by Adak and Marek in 2016 (no. 99) = our database no. CoSe02652.