The Saint and His Finger: Dominican Legends and Exempla from Thirteenth-Century Hungary
University of Debrecen / MTA Lendület “Hungary in Medieval Europe” Research Group
The implantation of the Black Friars in Hungary (1221) was followed by the emergence of Dominican written culture in Hungary. The major evidence of this activity was undoubtedly the Life of St Margaret (before 1274), but there were other attempts to collect legends or written accounts of miraculous acts from among members of the Order in Hungary.
Numerous Vitae Dominici or exempla collections relate stories from the missionary work of the Friars in the Balkans and present the political influence of the Order of the Preachers in the kingdom of Hungary. But most of these legends concern a largely forgotten relic of St Dominic, which, indisputably, was one of his fingers.
In this essay, I examine how a Dominican cult emerged around this complex activity of the Preachers in the Eastern frontiers of Western Christendom. I also show how the Hungarian exempla influenced the memory of St Dominic in the thirteenth century. Interestingly, late medieval Hungarian copies of Dominican collections do not include this “Eastern tradition” at all, and they make no mention either of the relic or of the stories inspired in the Hungarian milieu.
A tradition is disappearing. In this essay, I make efforts to reestablish some of its elements through an analysis of the corpus of available documents.