January news round-up

On 17 December Efthymios Rizos participated in the 8th Meeting of Greek Byzantinists in Athens, where he presented the activities and objectives of the Cult of Saints project. We are grateful to our colleagues from Greece and Cyprus for their encouraging feedback and constructive suggestions on the Cult of Saints Database.

On 13 and 14 January, Efthymios Rizos was invited to give lectures at seminars held by the History Institutes of the Universities of Krakow and Warsaw, where he presented his recent research on the iconography of martyrs in the late antique mosaics of Thessalonike. Efthymis discussed the mosaics of the Rotunda and Saint Demetrius, two of the most important iconographic ensembles to survive from the Early Christian World. We are grateful to our Polish colleagues for their warm hospitality and participation in these lectures!

On 19 January, the ‘Cult of Saints in the First Millennium’ seminar held its first lecture for Hilary Term 2016, which was given by our epigraphy specialist, Paweł Nowakowski. Paweł discussed the problems of recognising epitaphs of martyrs in the Greek Christian epigraphy of Anatolia, which is part of his broader research on saint-related inscriptions from that part of the late antique world.

Conference on late antique Demons in Berlin (5-6 November 2015)

Robert Wiśniewski took part in the conference ‘The perception of demons in different literary genres in Late Antiquity’ at Humboldt University in Berlin. In his paper, which obviously dealt with evil spirits rather than with saints, Robert argued that in early Latin hagiography demons played an unexpectedly minor role. They had a narrative function, but their presence and activity was not considered essential for understanding the diverse misfortunes which befall mankind.

Colloquium on ‘Christian and Muslim Saints: Roles and Functions Compared’, held in Oxford, 12 November 2015

This colloquium was a joint initiative of Oxford’s ‘Centre for Global History‘ and the Cult of Saints project.  The aim of the meeting was to examine and discuss differences as well as similarities between the Christian and Muslim traditions of ‘sainthood’ (though the word ‘saint’ is difficult, because of its powerful Christian associations), and also to explore variant attitudes within each of the two religions.  Though extremists within both Islam and Christianity (whether Wahhabi Muslims or austere Protestants) have sought to banish saints to the realm of superstition, the belief that some people have privileged access to divine power, which can even extend beyond their mortal deaths, remains widespread.  There are, however, also significant differences within religious traditions: for instance, the heritability of sanctity has been, and remains, much more a feature of sanctity within Islam than within Christianity; while Christianity, through the experience of early persecution, evolved a strong belief that suffering could grant spiritual power, which is largely absent from Islam.

A copy of the programme is available Christian and Muslim Saints programme 12 Nov 2015.

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.

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