The Latin West

San Lorenzo mosaicThe Latin West

The best-known saints of the Latin West are Peter and Paul, the apostles from the East whom Rome made its own; but there were also a host of native martyrs, in Rome itself and in the other cities of the West – from Alban in British Verulamium, to Perpetua and Felicitas in Carthage.  In the 5th century the cult of these martyrs was joined by that of local saints who died more peaceful deaths, particularly ascetics, of whom the most famous was Martin, monk and bishop of Tours.  In the 5th and 6th centuries there was also a steady influx of cults from the East, such as those of the soldier-saints Sergius and Theodore, and of the doctors Cosmas and Damian.  The spread of Christianity into Ireland, and back into Anglo-Saxon Britain, spawned its own distinctive ideas of sainthood and of cult, exemplified by the Lives and cults of saints like Columba and Cuthbert.

Saints in the Latin-speaking West have been extensively, and very effectively, studied; indeed the texts written to record the lives and miracles of the saints have been the subject of intelligent scrutiny since the 17th century, when a group of erudite Jesuits, known as Bollandists, initiated modern research on this specifically hagiographical literature.  But there is also a mass of other evidence for cult in the Latin world: in particular, scattered references in contemporary histories, sermons, letters, liturgical texts, theological treatises, and the decrees of church councils, as well as an extensive quantity of evidence in inscriptions, mosaic and fresco representations (such as those in Ravenna and Rome), and exceptional survivals like the labels used to identify relics.  The western church also produced an extraordinary ‘super-calendar’, a gigantic compendium of local calendars, of the feast-days of the saints, known as the Martyrologium Hieronymianum.  Inevitably, the surviving evidence is not distributed evenly across the Latin world, nor through time – for instance, thanks to the testimony of Augustine, we know a great deal about the veneration of saints in early 5th-century Africa, and, thanks to Gregory of Tours, even more about cult in late 6th-century Gaul.

Examining all this evidence together, and being able readily to integrate it with evidence from further East, will enable the project to chart the spread of particular cults, from the East and from major ‘hubs’ (like Rome and Milan), and the spread of particular cult practices.  As in other regions of Christendom, a particular emphasis within the project will be on lesser, minor, saints (who have necessarily attracted less attention than major figures), and indeed on the men and women who claimed sainthood, but failed to establish cult.  The western evidence is very rich, including a great deal of material on eastern saints and their cult.  Furthermore, the wealth of excellent modern scholarship provides some solid foundations on which to build.

The Latin evidence is being collected by Marta Tycner, with supervision from Robert Wiśniewski (both of Warsaw University)