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.