The Cult of Saints project at the 17th International Conference of Patristic Studies, Oxford 10-14 August 2015

The Cult of Saints project was well represented at the Patristics conference, with four team members giving papers.  One of the plenary sessions was addressed by Robert Wiśniewski, who discussed whether there really was a difference in the treatment of relics (in particular the dismemberment  of bodies) between East and West in the late antique period, as traditionally supposed (with ‘the East’ supposedly much more ready to distribute corporeal relics than ‘the West’).  His conclusion was that, while there were regional differences in how relics were treated and distributed, these cannot remotely be simplified to a simple binary distinction between western and eastern practice, but were much more complex and nuanced. Efthymios Rizos presented the thinking behind our database, and explained how it would be useable by scholars and a wider public, at an ‘Instrumenta Studiorum’ session of the conference, dedicated precisely to new tools of study.  The session was attended by members of other projects involved in producing electronic resources, and led to some fruitful exchanges of ideas and possibilities of collaboration. One of the workshops of the conference was dedicated to ‘Marginal saints, and disputed saints, in the late antique East and West’.   Bryan Ward-Perkins explained, using examples from the evidence of Gregory of Tours, how working on the project we have come to a highly inclusive definition of a ‘saint’ (in other words, of the men and women we are considering) – as anyone for whom there is reasonable evidence of cult, however temporary and however misguided in the view of the source that records this.  Marta Tycner introduced our most extensive, but also most difficult, text, the Martyrologium Hieronymianum (a massive compilation of saints’ feast-days, that survives in variant versions of a 7th-century redaction produced in Gaul).  By examining part of one day’s entry, she showed how scribal error has produced a mass of ill-understood names of saints, the understanding of which has often been complicated, rather than simplified, by scholarly attempts to make the evidence fit what ‘ought’ to be there.

Robert Wiśniewski’s talk on Latin monastic hagiography at the Medieval Congress in Leeds

Robert Wiśniewski presented a paper entitled `Eastern Stories Retold by Westerners: The Beginnings of Latin Hagiography’ at  the International Medieval Congress in Leeds (6-9 July 2015). He argued that though texts, heroes and literary motifs that can be found in early western hagiography very often came from the East, Latin authors frequently used them to express their own views on sanctity, theological ideas, and vision of monastic life.

Gesa Schenke, Coptic specialist, presents her research

Gesa Schenke, our Coptic specialist, presented her research on The Healing Shrines of St Phoibammon and the Evidence of Cult Activity in Coptic Legal Documents, at a recent workshop in Oxford entitled `After Rome’. She argued that the child donation and self-donation documents addressed to the monastery of Apa Phoibammon on the mountain of Djeme were in fact not dedications to the monastery itself, but to the healing shrine of St Phoibammon which was run by it. Such donations are a common feature especially to shrines of healing saints as demonstrated by their frequent descriptions in miracle stories circulating widely in the early Arab period. Her paper juxtaposed phrases used in these Coptic legal texts with those from miracle stories of famous Egyptian healing saints, such as Coluthus, Menas, and Phoibammon himself, demonstrating the impact hagiography had on the experience of daily life, and vice versa.

Culte des saints et littérature hagiographique: accords et désaccords

The Cult of Saints project in association with the Centre d’Histoire et Civilisation de Byzance in Paris is co-organising a workshop entitled:

Culte des saints et littérature hagiographique : accords et désaccords

Studies on hagiographical dossiers usually emphasise the interdependence between cultic practice and literary production, seeing them as mutually reinforcing each other. However some cults and some hagiographies – not numerous but highly interesting – do not follow this general rule, and display a disjunction between cultic practices and literary production. This workshop aims at studying such cases. On the one hand, we will consider texts, such as the Lives of Mary of Egypt and Simeon the Holy Fool, which initially did not give rise to cult. Under this category we will also discuss ‘strange sanctity’ or sonderbare Heilige (as H. Usener termed it), the paradoxical sanctity which seems to defy not only theology, but even common sense, and yet was extremely successful in creating literary heroes. On the other hand, we will examine well-established cults in which hagiography appeared relatively late, and even then was often borrowed from the dossier of other saints of a similar kind (as in the case of warrior saints). We hope that examining the links, and disjunctions, between the dynamics of cult and the dynamics of hagiographical production will help to identify the mechanism which drove both the former and the latter.


Nikolos Aleksidze (Cult of Saints, Oxford University)

Anne-Catherine Baudoin (Paris, École Normale Supérieure)

Phil Booth (Oxford University)

Pascal Boulhol (University of Aix-Marseille)

Ildiko Csepregi (Central European University)

Koen De Temmerman (University of Gent)

Vincent Déroche (Centre d’Histoire et Civilisation de Byzance)

Marina Detoraki (University of Crete)

Bernard Flusin (École Pratique des Hautes Études /Paris IV-Sorbonne)

Damien Labadie (École Pratique des Hautes Études)

Flavia Ruani (University of Gent)

Arietta Papaconstantinou (Cult of Saints, University of Reading)

Bryan Ward-Perkins (Cult of Saints, University of Oxford)

Michael Williams (University of Maynooth)

Robert Wiśniewski (Cult of Saints, University of Warsaw)

Venue: Centre d’Histoire et Civilisation de Byzance, rue Cardinal Lemoine 52, Paris.

25 – 26 September 2015.

After Rome Seminar

One of our Coptic specialists, Gesa Schenke, will give a lecture at the After Rome Seminar, with the title:

‘The healing shrines of St Phoibammon: Evidence of cult activity in Coptic legal documents’

Time: 11 June 2015, 5 pm

Venue: Trinity College Oxford, Danson Room

Colloquium: The Saints Envisioned

On Friday 12 June, the Cult of Saints Project, in association with the Empires of Faith Project, is co-organisinga colloquium dedicated to the iconography of saints in late antique art:

The Saints Envisioned: Visual Representations of Saints in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries

Six talks will be given by members of the two project teams (Jaś Elsner, Bryan Ward-Perkins, Maria Lidova, and Efthymios Rizos) and guest speakers (John Mitchell and Ine Jacobs), discussing aspects of the emergent iconography of saints in Christian art.


Time: 12 June 2015, 9.00 – 17.00

Venue: Ertegun House, 37a St. Giles’, Oxford.

Attendance is free, but space is limited, so registration is essential. To book a place, please, write to: