Volume 5 Issue 3 CONTENTS


Strangers to Patrons: Bishop Damasus and the Foreign Martyrs of Rome

Marianne Sághy

Central European University, Department of Medieval Studies


According to Christian theology, Christians are foreigners on earth. This paper focuses on the theme of foreigners and foreignness in the epigrams of Bishop Damasus of Rome. What motivated the bishop to highlight this theme at a time when Christianity was growing “respectable” in Roman society? How did the Church integrate foreign Christians into the social fabric of the Roman town? In late fourth-century Rome, not only foreign martyrs were identified as such, but entire groups of foreigners for whom “national” enclaves were created in the catacombs. I examine the Damasian epigrams in the context of their religious substrate of “alienation” and in light of the cosmopolitan heritage of Rome. As bishop of the Nicene Catholic fraction in the Vrbs, whose enterprise aimed at making Rome a new Jerusalem in part through the “importation” of holy martyrs, Damasus sought to represent his Church at its most “universal” in the teeth of his local schismatic and/or heretical opponents. Roman tradition buttressed the universalist aspirations of Catholicism. As the largest metropolis of the ancient world, Rome was a “cosmopolis,” a melting pot of peoples, and Damasus did not remain a stranger to the Catholicity of Rome’s cosmopolitan history at a time when conflicting loyalties to ciuitas, Romanitas and Christianitas were hotly debated political, religious and cultural issues.

Keywords: foreign martyrs, bishop Damasus, epigrams, Late Antique Rome


The notion that Christians are foreigners on earth was a prevalent idea in the ancient world, as it is today.1 “God’s people” sojourn temporarily in this world, on their way to the heavenly homeland. To be a “stranger” (peregrinus), however, was more than a religious metaphor for Christians in Antiquity: it was existential evidence. If they felt alienated, this was in large part a consequence of the fact that the world had cast them out for their allegedly outlandish beliefs. “Foreignness,” therefore, was not just a matter of Christian self-perception or identity, it was also the way in which Christians were perceived by their contemporaries, Jews and Romans alike. From metaphor to social reality, “foreignness” covered a range of experience, expressing the deepest religious core of the new faith and also exposing the socio-historical context in which Christianity grew. Christians formed a diaspora of “legal aliens” in the cities of the Roman Empire, in which the new religion spread thanks to its itinerant apostles, wandering teachers, exiled leaders, and migrant martyrs.

It comes as all the more of a surprise that, following the turn which took place under the rule of Constantine, the very “strangers” who had been thrown to the lions became the patron saints of the cities in which they had suffered martyrdom. The cult of martyrs rose parallel with Christianity’s integration into Roman society. If the sudden reversal of the urban representations of the martyrs can be explained by the fact that they had already been venerated heroes in persecuted Christianity, the question still remains as to how a stranger could stand for, and represent in heaven, the ciuitas in which s/he had not enjoyed the status of citizenship and had been tortured and executed as a dangerous criminal. How would s/he guarantee the safety, prosperity, and salvation of a city in which s/he had been treated as a suspicious outsider?

This paradox was bravely addressed by the foremost episcopal impresario of the cult of the martyrs, Damasus of Rome (366–84 A.D).2 While many Late Antique bishops made a point of excavating “local” martyrs to promote them to the status of patron saints, Damasus frankly acknowledged that the martyrs of Rome, the “new stars” of the Vrbs, were almost all foreigners. Martyrs from abroad became a major success story in Late Antique Christianity.3 I focus on Damasus’ presentation of the “alienness” of the martyrs in his epigraphical poetry.4 What did “foreigner” mean for Damasus? What motivated the bishop to highlight this theme at a time when Christianity was becoming “respectable” in Roman society?

Scholars explain Damasus’ emphasis on the foreign origins of the martyrs of Rome as part of the competition among the Churches for primacy5 and his attempts to “Romanize” the martyrs as part of the upsurge of Roman patriotism at the end of the fourth century.6 Rivalries with Jerusalem, Alexandria, Antioch, and Constantinople must have been a factor in the emphasis Damasus placed on the foreign origins of the Apostles Peter and Paul. But how does this account for Damasus’ emphasis on “strangers” like Saturninus of Carthage or Hermes of Greece? “Competition-theories” fail to do justice to the rich spectrum of Damasus’ allusions to the state of being a foreigner and to the subversive hierarchies in his poetry.

In late fourth-century Rome, not only foreign martyrs were identified as such, but so were entire groups of foreigners, for whom “national” enclaves were created in the catacombs. I examine Damasian epigrams in the context of their religious substrate of “alienation,” as well as in light of the cosmopolitan heritage of Rome. As the bishop of the Nicene Catholic fraction in the Vrbs, who aimed to make Rome a new Jerusalem in part through the “importation” of holy martyrs, Damasus sought to represent his Church at its most “universal,” thus going against his local schismatic and/or heretical opponents. Roman tradition buttressed the universalist aspirations of Catholicism. The largest metropolis of the ancient world, Rome was a “cosmopolis,” a melting pot of peoples, and Damasus did not remain a stranger to the Catholicity of Rome’s cosmopolitan history at a time when conflicting loyalties to ciuitas, Romanitas and Christianitas were hotly debated political, religious, and cultural issues.7

“God’s People” as Strangers

“Hear my prayer, Lord, listen to my cry for help;

do not be deaf to my weeping.

I dwell with you as a foreigner, a stranger,

as all my ancestors were.”8


The idea that “God’s elect” are strangers did not originate with the Christians. In the Old Testament, the “chosen people” are strangers.9 The authors of the New Testament, particularly the Apostle Peter, expound on this theme. Peter opens his first letter by addressing his readers as “God’s elect, strangers in the world,”10 and he emphasizes the “strangeness” of the Christians.11 Does Peter refer to the social alienation of the Christians following their conversion or to the social status of Christians before their conversion? Probably both. By using the term παρεπίδημος, Peter evokes Psalm 39:12, whereas πάροικος is equal to the Latin inquilinus, meaning a free person who is not a Roman citizen. Such populations could be deported anytime from any Roman town. One such expulsion occurred during the reign of Claudius, when the Jews, including Priscilla and Aquila, were expelled from Rome.12 Peter, who may have escaped the expulsion of Jews or, like Priscilla and Aquila,13 may have returned after the death of Claudius, might have known these deported Christians. “Strangers” in 1 Peter is less a metaphor for the Christian pilgrimage on earth than a description of Christian life in pagan society. If the Jews are “strangers on earth,”14 Christians are “strangers of the Diaspora,” “foreigners in exile.” The “marvellous paradox” of Christianity in the Roman Empire is the invention and perfection of “alien citizenship,”15 being at once involved in and disengaged from society: in the words of the second-century author of the Epistle to Diognetus:


[Christians] dwell in their own countries, but only as sojourners; they bear their share in all things as citizens, and they endure all hardships as strangers. Every foreign country is a fatherland to them, and every fatherland is foreign.16

The Constantinian turn in 313 A.D which brought an end to ancient Christianity, might have reinforced rather than subdued Christian feelings of existential alienation.17 The assimilation and acculturation of Christians in Graeco-Roman society had been on its way well before the fourth century,18 and Constantine’s privileging of the Christian Church ultimately seems to have created more problems than it solved.19 The Arian-Nicene theological debates ended in exile and persecution,20 but this time Christians persecuted Christians;21 and the soaring of the numbers of lukewarm, opportunist Christians provoked a sharp debate on Christian perfection.22 Traditional Christians felt alienated in the new Christian Empire,23 where new heresies mushroomed,24 controversies raged,25 and continuity with the past was broken26 or had to be reinvented.27 Pollutae caerimoniae, magna adulteria; plenum exiliis mare, infecti caedibus scopuli: “holy things were desecrated, adultery widespread; the sea was swarming with exiles and its rocks stained with blood.” The words of Tacitus, with which he characterized the period of upheaval that followed the death of Nero, aptly summarize the turmoil of the fourth century. Political transformation, economic interests, religious violence, and the pressures of the barbarian incursions uprooted individuals and whole populations: the late Empire was a commonwealth of displaced persons, with Italy as a “transit zone” in its center.28

By the mid-fourth century, “foreigners” constituted the majority of Rome’s population.29 To be sure, many of these foreigners had Roman citizenship and were Roman in their culture, but they had come from faraway provinces to the ancient capital of the Empire. The emperors themselves came from the Eastern provinces of Illyricum and Pannonia,30 and the imperial administration constantly shifted personnel within the boundaries of the Empire. Thus, for example, a large group of Pannonian officials worked in Rome.31 The army that patrolled the Roman world recruited soldiers from all over the provinces and increasingly from among the so-called barbarians.32 The slave trade brought various ethnic groups to Rome,33 but alongside this, intellectuals in Egypt and Syria also felt the irresistible pull of Rome,34 while Christian teachers, bishops, and ascetics, zipping through the Empire as conciliar delegates or imperial exiles, made obligatory stopovers in Rome.35 As the third-century jurist Modestinus wrote, “Roma communis nostra patria est,” yet the foreigners did not forget their homelands.36 On the contrary: they kept together and sought to memorialize the places from which they had come, thereby expressing that they were “displaced persons,” that they had come to Rome from other provinces.

One of the most interesting and moving cases involved the establishment of a “national” Pannonian cemetery within the San Sebastiano catacomb complex on the Via Appia,37 the spot where Rome’s most famous strangers, the princes of the apostles, were also celebrated. Beginning with the urban prefecture of Viventius (365–67), a Pannonian bureaucrat from Siscia (now Sisak/Sziszek in Croatia), a large number of Pannonians chose to be buried ad sanctos. Viventius’ daughter Lucceia continued to sponsor the cemetery, and she arranged the burial of a mother from Pannonia by the name of Nunita and her daughter Maximilla, a consecrated virgin (virgo ancilla Dei), in 389. Around this time, Quirinus, the martyr bishop of Siscia was buried in the Platonia mausoleum behind the apse of the Basilica of San Sebastiano, long believed to have been the temporary common (or shared) tomb of the two apostles. Quirinus’ relics in grave nr. 13 of the mausoleum were identified at the end of the nineteenth century and provoked heated scholarly debate.38

Quirinus was martyred in Savaria (now Szombathely, Hungary) during the persecutions of Diocletian after having been arrested in 309. He had attempted to flee, but was thrown to prison, where he converted his jailer, Marcellus, to Christianity. The governor of Pannonia Prima, Amantius, ordered him taken to Savaria, where, after having attempted to make Quirinus abjure his faith, he threw the bishop into the local Sibaris (Gyöngyös) Creek with a millstone around his neck. The Passio Sancti Quirini, strongly imitating the Acts of the Apostles, was probably written around 386–95.39 Quirinus’ first two miracles in Siscia and on the way to Savaria replicate the miracles of St Peter and Paul: the exemplary life and death of the bishop, successor to the apostles, is an actualization of the biblical story in the theater of Savaria and on the bridge of the Sibaris Creek. The third miracle, when Quirinus floats on the water with a millstone around his neck, spread all over the Roman Empire by the end of the fourth century and the beginning of the fifth thanks to the Chronicle of St Jerome—himself from Pannonia—and the beautiful hymn by Prudentius, who attributed a symbolic meaning to the story. Quirinus is the only martyr in Jerome’s Chronicle from the time of the Great Persecution whose death is recounted in any detail. Another peculiarity of this text is the brief mention of Quirinus’ cult in Savaria, the first Pannonian example of a translation of relics into an intra muros basilica after 386, when a similar translation was organized by Bishop Ambrose in Milan. Archaeological research confirmed the hypothesis that Quirinus’ body was buried in the late Roman cemetery in the Eastern part of Savaria and that his relics were transferred into an intra muros basilica in the city. The translation of Quirinus’ relics provide evidence of the relationship between the cult of the saints and the pro-Nicaean bishops’ effort to eradicate Arianism in the Danubian provinces after the council of Aquileia in 381. The translation of Quirinus’ relics within Savaria and from Savaria to Rome are the first examples of relic transfer both within Pannonia and from Pannonia to Rome. Alessandro Bertolino argued that it was the presence of this Pannonian burial spot that attracted the translation and burial of St Quirinus of Siscia in the San Sebastiano catacomb sometime between 389–405, rather than the other way round.40 According to Levente Nagy, the Pannonian (or Siscian) “lobby” in Rome might not have been actively involved in the translation of Quirinus’ relics to Rome: the relics arrived in Rome due to a rescue operation after the Gothic King Radagaisus’ raid in Pannonia in 405. Be it as it may, the Pannonian martyr Quirinus of Siscia, possibly due to his assimilation both with the Roman god Quirinus as well as with the apostolic founders of Christian Rome, became one of the most venerated saints of Rome.

Did the foreigners in Rome live lives characterized by patterns of cohabitation, integration, or tension? While there must have been a great deal of assimilation,41 tension also had a long history, and it grew in intensity towards the end of the fourth century.42 Foreigners formed a heterogeneous mass of people, separated by outlook as much as by accent from one another and from the “Romans of Rome.”43 The real divide, however, ran between Roman citizens and inquilini. “Legal aliens” formed a separate legal caste subjected to exclusion.44 In 383, when famine broke out, Ammianus Marcellinus was expelled from Rome, together with thousands of people who did not have Roman citizenship. Panis was reserved for citizens only:


At last we have reached such a state of harshness that whereas not so very long ago, when there was fear of scarcity of food, foreigners were driven neck and crop from the city, and those who practiced their liberal arts (very few in number) were thrust out without a breathing space...45

Strangers among the Roman Martyrs

In defiance of Roman law, Christians who readily identified themselves as aliens valorized the status of the foreigner and made a policy of showing hospitality to strangers. Under the late fourth-century conditions of social and religious tension in Rome, it might have come as a relief to find a group that did not stigmatize strangers. The Church of Rome venerated the founders of the faith, none of whom were Romans, even less Latins. Moreover, a large percentage of Rome’s many martyrs also had been foreigners. Some of them had had Roman citizenship, others had not.

Remarkably, the earliest Roman martyr list (depositio martyrum)46 preserved by the Chronograph of 354 included the feasts of three non-Roman (Carthaginian) martyrs: St Perpetua, St Felicitas and St Cyprian. The depositio martyrum, compiled before 336, is the oldest extant document about the cult of the Christian martyrs venerated in the Church of Rome. The list records the burial date (day, month, year) of forty-seven martyrs. In the cases of people who were martyred in Rome, it also mentions their burial places in the cemeteries and catacombs situated along the great roads leading out from Rome. The presence of the three great saints of Carthage in the liturgical calendar of the Church of Rome was taken as a sign by scholars that the cult of the saints spread from Africa to Italy.47

The martyrs were the stars of early Christianity. They followed Christ and conquered death. Their deaths were their birthdays (natales martyrum) in heaven: this explains the joyous commemoration and cheerful celebration of their heroic passing away among Christians to the present day. The annual celebration of the martyr’s heavenly birthday included the reading of the story of the martyrdom from the acts or from the passio, and the Eucharistic ritual. By including the Carthaginian martyrs, whose tombs and relics were in Africa, in the liturgical cycle of the martyrs venerated in Rome, the depositio martyrum indicates that the passions of these martyrs were regularly read in the churches of the Vrbs and that a local Roman veneration evolved if not around their relics, then around their memory. Thus, St Cyprian of Carthage had his own Roman cult center in the Cemetery of Callixtus on the Via Appia. This is important because it shows that in fourth-century Rome a “spiritualized” commemoration of the martyr ran parallel to the increasingly “material” veneration of the holy martyrs at the holy tombs. 48 That the tomb of the martyr was no longer a simple site of commemoration but a source of supernatural aid is attested by the note in the list according to which the martyr Silanus’ corpse was stolen by the schismatic Novatians (hunc Silvanum martyrem Novatiani furati sunt). Despite this development, foreign martyrs whose bodily presence could not be secured in Rome still enjoyed spiritualized veneration in the liturgy.

Star Strangers: St Peter and St Paul

Bishop Damasus of Rome drew on this martyr list when establishing the monumental commemoration of the saints in Rome.49 Some scholars claim that Damasus wrote the depositio martyrum in stone.50 Remarkably, Damasus chose to stress that the apostles Peter and Paul were not Romans:

You should know that holy men once dwelt here,

Whoever you are who seek at the same time the names of Peter and Paul.

The East sent its apostles, a fact we freely acknowledge.

By virtue of their martyrdom – having followed Christ through the stars

they reached the heavenly asylum and the realms of the righteous –

Rome has earned the right to claim them as her own citizens.

These things Damasus wishes to relate in your praise, O new stars.51


The message of this highly subversive epigram seems rather straightforward: the apostles were Easterners (discipulos Oriens misit), but earned Roman citizenship by shedding their blood for Christ in Rome. The idea that martyrs acquire Roman citizenship through blood is a literal presentation of the Roman law of ius sanguinis (right of blood): the abstract concept of the law is fulfilled by the martyrs word-by-word. Damasus, however, subverts the Roman concepts, merges ius sanguinis with another Roman legal term, the ius soli (right of soil), as well as with the Christian understanding of death as a new birth. The martyrs earn citizenship by dying in the Vrbs. Ius sanguinis and ius soli alike, however, define rights acquired at birth (rather than at death) in Roman law.52 Death, however, is a (re)birth in Christianity and life expands beyond death. The apostles, now Roman citizens, continue to live on in the “realms of the righteous.”53

It is worth mentioning that the “foreignness” of the apostles is an abstract “uprootedness” in this epigram. They come from the distant Orient: in this statement, there is nothing about the lack of Roman citizenship. The apostles, people who came from an unspecified East (nothing is said about Jerusalem or the Holy Land), became naturalized Roman citizens. This is a religious message: one is at “home” nowhere but with Christ. Damasus evokes Christian and Jewish religious traditions of “being foreign” to and in the world, and the artistry of this evocation lies in the fact that any allusion to “foreignness” is liable to echo, for Christians, the teaching of the Apostle Peter quoted above. It also recalls Rome’s failure to show hospitality to strangers, behavior squarely opposed to the teachings of Jesus: “I was a stranger and you invited me in.”54 An existential foreignness pervades the epigram. Christians are strangers on earth longing for their true home: “For you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in Thee.”55

The Eastern martyrs were Romanized thanks to their heroism. Yet again, Damasus draws on and subverts a Roman concept: the idea that Romanitas equals heroism.56 Pious Aeneas was another Oriental stranger whose heroism led him to find a new country for his gods.57 Damasus’ cruelly executed martyrs are the founding heroes of Christianity in Rome.58 Damasus’ Romanization of the Christian martyrs negotiates identity and difference on various levels, from the aristocratic, Virgilian language of the epigrams to the emphasis on the martyrs’ “otherness” and the attribution of Roman citizenship. Romanitas for Damasus is a spiritual virtue: it is the strength of the soul that makes man Roman. The notion of Roman victory is internalized: it refers no longer to military might, but to inner endurance. Romanitas is not a legal identity, but a spiritual disposition. The Romanness of the apostles becomes an obverse “martyrdom in exile.” The bishop integrates foreign martyrs into the history of Rome—no small achievement in a city so self-consciously proud of its past!59 It might have been Damasus’ tongue-in-cheek answer to the promotion of the prestige of the “Romans of Rome” by the pagan prefect Symmachus.60 More importantly, it reveals shifting notions of Romanitas in the late fourth century.61 Damasus gave to Christian “Romans of Rome” their own heroes, foreigners praised in elegant Latin elogia in the language of the most Roman of all Roman poets, Virgil.62 In the catacombs’ meandering “halls of fame,” the martyrs became Roman patriots who mark themselves out with their heroic behavior. It is essential to note in this context that the virtue Damasus extols most in the martyrs of Rome is peacefulness and peacemaking, not bravery. As opposed to martyrial poetry that indulges in graphic descriptions of the martyrs’ defiance of death and endurance of torture and suffering,63 Damasus has little to say about physical pain: for him, the martyrs are the quintessential peacemakers. Peace, incidentally, happens to be the most Roman of Roman virtues. Damasus’ message of peace thus conveys a political message of unity.

Peter and Paul did not come to Rome for Roman citizenship (one of them had it already). They came for something higher. The bishop subversively turns established hierarchies upside down, first by stating that it is not the martyrs that are honored by the bestowal Roman citizenship, but rather the Vrbs is honored by the presence of the martyrs, citizens of heaven; secondly, by asserting that there is something higher than Roman citizenship: citizenship in the heavenly Kingdom.

Rome saw the apostles die and thus earned the right to call them its citizens (Roma suos potius meruit defendere cives). The competition, particularly with Antioch, is transparent: the two apostles resided in Antioch before coming to Rome, and Antioch developed a special Petrine tradition celebrating the apostle’s presence in the city.64 Remarkably, there is no mention of the foundation of the Church of Rome by Peter in Damasus’ epigrams. As opposed to the Liberian catalogue of 354, Damasus does not present Peter as the first bishop of Rome, but echoes the traditional view of the apostle’s Roman activity as recorded by Irenaeus of Lyons and Eusebius of Caesarea.65 The topography of this epigraphy is symbolic: it is placed neither in the Vatican nor on the Via Ostiensis, but rather in the ancient Roman cult place of the basilica Apostolorum in the San Sebastiano catacomb on the Via Appia (that would soon become, as we have seen, the national cemetery of other “Easterners,” this time from Pannonia). Damasus’ return to the concelebration of the apostles is triggered less by traditionalism than by the need for unity in a time of division: the synergy of the two apostles offers an actual, ever valid model of collaboration between churchmen of very different temperaments. The concordia apostolorum, as presented by Damasus, is promoted as a political model in the Church of Rome and also as a useful model of Christian civic behavior.66

The new citizens of Rome, however, do not reside in the Vrbs: after their martyrdom, they soar to the palace of Heaven. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.”67 Damasus exalts the “new stars” (nova sidera) of Rome in the ancient language of stellar afterlife. Becoming a star after one’s death, however, was a privilege reserved for emperors in Rome.68 The subversive twist makes the Oriental strangers equal and even superior to the emperors: St Peter and Paul do not idly light the night sky, as imperial constellations do, but rather actively care for Rome’s inhabitants.

From Citizens to Brothers in Christ

The idea that martyrdom leads to the acquisition of Roman citizenship emerges in two other Damasian epigrams dedicated to foreign martyrs who similarly assure intercession between the faithful and God. Saturninus of Carthage died in Rome and thus became Roman. In the epigram placed above Saturninus’ tomb in the catacomb of Thraso on the Via Salaria Nova, Damasus contrasts the religious conception of the heavenly abode (incola Christi) and Roman citizenship (Romanum civem) with the Carthaginian origins of the martyr:


Dwelling now with Christ, he was an inhabitant of Carthage before.

At the time when the persecution’s sword cut at our mother’s holy innards,

he changed his homeland and his name and race by means of his blood.

His martyrdom made him a Roman citizen.

Wonder of wonders: his remarkable end was afterwards a lesson.

While he tears at your holy limbs, Gratianus howls like the Enemy;

As he spewed out his poisons saturated with bile,

He was unable to compel you, saint, to deny Christ:

He himself merited to depart converted by your prayers.

This is the admonition of Damasus the suppliant: venerate the tomb. 69

The confrontation of Carthage with Rome is interesting. Carthage was a prestigious Christian city with universally acclaimed martyrs, such as St Cyprian, and with a sophisticated martyr piety that hardly found anything in Rome to envy.70 The topic of changing homelands and acquiring Roman citizenship at the price of blood is enriched with the graphic representation of the martyr’s confrontation with his persecutor. Suffering for Christ optimizes the powers of the martyr. His virtue makes Saturninus Roman, while his Roman opponent loses his humanity.71 In his interaction with the Roman authorities, the alien Saturninus proves to be a true Roman, and Gratian, the prefect of Rome, a sub-human monster. He can be saved by the martyr alone: thanks to Saturninus’ powerful intercession, Gratian converts to Christianity.

A martyr of Greek origin, Hermes was buried on the Via Salaria Vetus in the catacomb of Basilla. He too changed his country through his act of self-sacrifice:


A long time ago, as rumor has it, Greece sent you;

You changed your fatherland by shedding your blood, love of the law

made you a citizen and brother; having suffered for the holy name,

resident now with the Lord, you serve the altars of Christ.

I ask, renowned martyr, that you favor the prayers of Damasus.72

Hermes’ suffering for the “holy name” makes him not only a citizen, but a “brother,” on whose intercession with God Damasus can count. The martyr is a well-known human face in the world to come. The epigram affirms the rise of the dead to the heavenly court, a fundamental component of the cult of the saints, and radiates the warmth and joy that the faithful experience in finding a “brother” in the other world who extends a helping hand over the believer, both in this world and in the afterlife.73

From praise for the peregrini Peter and Paul and the heroism of Saturninus of Carthage, Damasus comes to extol Hermes of Greece the patronus. These foreigners are not just examples of faithful perseverance and heroic love from ancient times, but also are unceasingly active patron saints of the Church of Rome. The Roman citizenship that they gained enables them to act as intercessors in heaven for the faithful, both before and after death. By making clear reference to the foreign origins of the martyrs, the epigrams of Bishop Damasus of Rome evoke an impressive range of religious, cultural, and political issues that preoccupied the society of fourth-century Rome. Some were new questions. How could tradition be preserved? How could changes be adopted? Others belonged to the oldest layer of the Christian faith. How could one live as a “stranger on earth”? The unique blend of these traditions makes Damasus’ poetry intriguing and powerful. The bishop’s chief enterprise consisted of identifying the martyrs of Rome, and this amounted essentially to the compilation of a collective history of the Church of Rome.74 Damasus not only integrated foreign martyrs into this story, he also chose to be vocal about the foreignness of the martyrs. To write the history of the “church of the martyrs” and to enlist alien martyrs into one’s own faction can be interpreted as an indication of the practical urgency of community building in Rome. Damasus brought home with extraordinary confidence and purposefulness the Nicene belief that the local church is the Body of Christ. By including all believers, past and present, foreign and homegrown, in his commemoration, Damasus made tangible the communio sanctorum, the Eucharistic fellowship of all believers and their participation in the Resurrection Body.

Damasus’ sophisticated combination of orthodoxy and Christian tradition, universalism and local aristocratic interests, and religious mystique and concrete politics inscribed a remarkably high-caliber Catholic Christianity into the history of Rome and fashioned a Roman Catholic self-perception that left the door wide open to strangers, now venerated as Rome’s own patron saints.75 The evocation of the foreign origins of the martyrs was a compliment to the history of the Church of Rome by a bishop who did so much to Romanize it.76 “Romanization” in Damasus, however, did not mean closeting oneself in the tradition of Roman patriotism, but rather opening up Roman traditions to a Christian future.



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1 Greer, “Alien Citizens.”

2 Reutter, Damasus, Bischof von Rom; Trout, Damasus of Rome.

3 The list of foreign martyrs venerated at the place of their martyrdom is endless. To name a few: Apostles Peter and Paul in Rome, the forty martyrs (of Sebaste) in Constantinople, St Irenaeus (of Smyrna) in Lyon, St Martialis (of Jerusalem) in Limoges, St Vitalis (of Milan) in Ravenna, St Demetrius (of Sirmium?) in Thessaloniki, St Quirinus (of Siscia) in Savaria (Szombathely) and Rome. Scholarship, however, is scarce on this issue: Fux, “Les patries des martyrs”; Tóth, “Sirmian martyrs in exile”; for a later period, see Efthymiadis, “D’Orient en Occident”; Lequeux, “Hélène d’Athyra,”; Maskarinec, “Foreign Saints at Home”. Scholars focused on the translation and importation of relics, not on the veneration of foreign martyrs in the places where they died. On Holy Land relics: Clark, “Translating Relics”; for translations: Heinzelmann, Translationsberichte; Caroli, “Bringing Saints to Cities”. On medieval thefts, see the classic work of Geary, Furta sacra.

4 On the rise of martyr cults in Late Antiquity, see Brown, The Cult of the Saints; Roberts, Poetry and the Cult of the Martyrs; Lamberigts and Van Deun, Martyrium; Grig, Making Martyrs.

5 Shotwell and Ropes Loomis, The See of Peter; Meyendorff, The Primacy of Peter; Daley, “Position and Patronage.”

6 Sogno, Q. Aurelius Symmachus; Fux, “Les patries des martyrs,” 371.

7 Cochrane, Christianity and Classical Culture; Boer, Romanitas et Christianitas; Martin and Cox Miller, The Cultural Turn; Sághy, “Fido recubans.”

8 Psalm 39:12.

9 Gen. 23:4; Leviticus 19:34; Psalms 39:12.

10 1 Peter 1:1.

11 1 Peter 1:17; 1 Peter 2:11.

12 Acts 18:2.

13 Romans 16:3.

14 Psalm 119:19.

15 Greer, “Alien Citizens.”

16 Epistle to Diognetus 5:5.

17 Markus, The End of Ancient Christianity; Cameron, Christianity.

18 Brakke, Deliyannis and Watts, Shifting Cultural Frontiers; Mitchell and Nuffelen, Monotheism; Salzman, Sághy, and Lizzi Testa, Pagans and Christians. For the debate on pagan-Christian assimilation, see Herrero de Jáuregui, “Christian Assimilation”; Roessli, “Assimilation chrétienne.”

19 Brown and Lizzi Testa, Pagans and Christians.

20 Vallejo Girvés, “L’Europe des exilés.”

21 Meyendorff, Imperial Unity.

22 Wimbush and Valantasis, Asceticism; Vogüé, Histoire littéraire.

23 Guinot and Richard, Empire chrétien.

24 Pourkier, L’hérésiologie.

25 Galvão-Sobrinho, Doctrine and Power; Clark, The Origenist Controversy; Berndt and Steinacher, Arianism; Shaw, Sacred Violence.

26 Tronzo, The Via Latina Catacomb.

27 Johnson and Schott, Eusebius of Caesarea.

28 Gennaccari, “L’Italia come luogo di transito.”

29 Curran, Pagan City; Grig and Kelly, Two Romes; Twine, “The City in Decline.”

30 Lenski, Failure of Empire; Alföldi, Az utolsó nagy pannon császár.

31 Matthews, Western Aristocracies; Kovács, “A sopianaei születésű Maximinus.”

32 Jones, The Later Roman Empire; Liebeschuetz, Barbarians and Bishops.

33 Harper, Slavery.

34 Schall, “Plotinus”; DePalma Digeser, “Lactantius, Porphyry”; Kelly, “The New Rome and the Old”; Ross, “Ammianus.”

35 Pietri, “La question d’Athanase”; Duval, Jérôme entre l’Occident et l’Orient; Kaufman, “Augustine, Martyrs.”

36 For an interesting parallel of imperial alienation in the sixteenth century see Bartels, Spectacles of Strangeness.

37 Bertolino, “Pannonia terra creat.” The Pannonian martyr St Quirinus is celebrated by Prudentius, Peristephanon 7, probably in relation to Pannonian and “Damasian” circles. I thank Pierre-Yves Fux for this reference.

38 De Waal, Die Apostelgruft ad Catacumbas an der via Appia.

39 Nagy, Pannoniai városok, mártírok, ereklyék, ch. 4.

40 Bertolino, “Pannonia terra creat.”

41 Andrade, “Assyrians, Syrians”; Goffart, “Rome, Constantinople.”

42 Auerbach, “The Arrest of Petrus Valvomeres.” Auerbach does not refer to this, but the redhead Petrus’ surname strongly suggests that he was a Christian.

43 Augustine, for example, had a strong African accent: Augustine, Confessions 5, 23.

44 Mathisen, “Peregrini, Barbari.”

45 Ammianus, Res Gestae 14, 6, 19.

46 Mommsen, Chronica minora, 1:71–2; Divjak and Wischmeyer, Das Kalenderhandbuch; Burgess, “The Chronograph of 354.”

47 Saxer, Morts, martyrs, 17.

48 See Cox Miller, The Corporeal Imagination.

49 Saxer, “Damase,” 67.

50 Pietri, Roma christiana, 1:673.

51 Damasus, Epigram 20 (English translation by Dennis E. Trout, see Trout, Damasus of Rome):

Hic habitasse prius sanctos cognoscere debes,

nomina quisque Petri pariter Paulique requiris.

Discipulos Oriens misit, quod sponte fatemur;

sanguinis ob meritum Christumque per astra secuti

aetherios petiere sinus regnaque piorum:

Roma suos potius meruit defendere cives.

Haec Damasus vestras referat nova sidera laudes.

52 Marotta, “Ius sanguinis.”

53 The relationship between life and death is shown by the late fourth-century “city gate” and “columnar” sarcophagi’s micro-architecture, reflecting the heavenly abode in the world to come. Thomas, “‘Houses of the dead’,” 387.

54 Matthew 25:35.

55 Augustine, Confessions, 1, 3.

56 Toll, “Making Roman-Ness”; Efrossini Spentzou, “Eluding ’Romanitas’.”

57 Gibson, “Aeneas as hospes.”

58 Trout, “Damasus and the Invention of Early Christian Rome.” By the fifth century, Romulus and Remus had come to be regarded as criminals, and Peter and Paul, the spiritual brothers, as the true founders of Rome in Leo Magnus, In Natali apostolorum Petri et Pauli, Tractatus 69 / LXXXII: “Isti sunt sancti patres tui verique pastores, qui te regnis caelestibus inserendam multo melius multoque felicius condiderunt, quam illi quorum studio prima moenium tuorum fundamenta locata sunt: ex quibus is qui tibi nomen dedit fraternal te caede foedavit.”

59 Cracco Ruggini, “Intolerance.”

60 Salzman, “Reflections on Symmachus’ Idea of Tradition”; Ebbeler, “Religious Identity.”

61 Maskarinec, “Who were the Romans?”

62 Trout, “Damasus and the Invention of Early Christian Rome.”

63 Roberts, Poetry and the Cult of the Martyrs.

64 Brown and Meier, Antioch and Rome; Zwierlein, Petrus und Paulus; competition for primacy remained a hot topic for centuries to come. For visual evidence see Van Dijk, “Jerusalem.”

65 Sághy, “Codex to Catacomb.”

66 Pietri, “Concordia Apostolorum.

67 2 Timothy 4:7.

68 Cannadine and Price, Rituals of Royalty; Gradel, Emperor Worship.

69 Damasus, Epigram 46: Incola nunc Christi, fuerat Carthaginis ante.

Tempore quo gladius secuit pia viscera matris,

sanguine mutavit patriam, vitamque, genusque

Romanum civem sanctorum fecit origo.

Mira fides rerum: docuit post exitus ingens.

Cum lacerat pia membra, fremit Gratianus ut hostis,

postea quam fellis vomuit concepta venena,

cogere non potuit Christum te, sancte, negare,

ipse tuis precibus meruit confessus abire.

Supplicis haec Damasi vox est: venerare sepulcrum.

70 The Roman cult of the martyrs is often derived from North African practice: Delehaye, Les origines du culte des martyrs; Saxer, Morts, martyrs.

71 On the making of “otherness” see Smith, “What a Difference a Difference Makes,” 15.

72 Damasus, Epigram 48: Iam dudum, quod fama refert, te Graecia misit.

Sanguine mutasti patriam, civemque fratremque

fecit amor legis. sancto pro nomine passus,

incola nunc Domini, servas qui altaria Christi,

ut Damasi precibus faevas, precor, inclyte martyr.

73 Brown, The Cult of the Saints, chapter 1.

74 Sághy, “Poems as Church History.”

75 Brown, “Enjoying the Saints.”

76 Shepherd, “The Liturgical Reform of Damasus I,” 861–63; Lafferty, “Translating Faith,” 21.

Volume 5 Issue 3 CONTENTS


Saint Martin of Tours, the Honorary Hungarian1

Levente Seláf

Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest


St Martin was one of the most important hagiographical figures of France in the Middle Ages. Because of his Pannonian origins, he was also an important saint for the Hungarian kings and for the monks of the abbey of Pannonhalma, Martin’s supposed birthplace in medieval times, where his cult was the strongest in Hungary. Martin’s connection to Pannonia, which became part of Hungary after the settlement of Hungarians in the Carpathian Basin, was not totally ignored in France, where Martin’s cult took root. In the late twelfth century, the Historia septem sanctorum dormientium, a curious hagiographical story invented to support a new cult of the seven hermit saints of the abbey of Marmoutier, claimed that St Martin of Tours descended from the royal family of the Huns or Hungarians. Hungarian scholars investigated the origins and the spread of this motif in the early twentieth century, but on the basis of a mistaken, much earlier dating of the Historia.
In this essay, I establish the exact relationship and chronology of the known texts containing the motif of St Martin’s royal and Hungarian origins. Moreover, I offer a systematic survey of the saint’s medieval French biographies, showing how limited knowledge of this motif was outside the texts descending directly from the Historia. At the same time, I examine a hitherto unedited Old French legend contained in a single manuscript (Paris, BNF fr. 1534), a legend which constitutes an addition to the corpus of texts referring to Martin as a Hungarian prince.

Keywords: St Martin, hagiography, Hungarian-French cultural connections, Historia septem sanctorum dormientium, Conte de Floire et Blanchefleur, dynastic sainthood.

St Martin and Hungary

St Martin of Tours was one of the most popular holy figures of France in the Middle Ages, and his cult was widespread in the Christian world. Thanks to his first biographer, Sulpicius Severus, one of Martin’s disciples, we know a great deal about the major milestones of his life. Born in Pannonia in 316 as the son of an officer of the Roman army, he was converted in his early youth to Christianity. After serving as a soldier, he became a monk and a disciple of St Hilary of Poitiers. Elected bishop of Tours in 371, Martin died in the fame of sanctity in 397. Sulpicius Severus’ Martinian writings saw several adaptations from the fifth century on in Latin and later in Old French, frequently with numerous additions concerning his deeds and miracles in vitam and post mortem.

Because of his birthplace, St Martin of Tours was linked to Hungary in medieval France. One thus could say that Martin was the first historically attested saint who was represented in some religious texts, even if in a legendary way, as Hungarian.

The imaginary Hungarian or Hun origins of the saint appear in several texts related to his cult. Of course, for chronological reasons this kinship is impossible: the nomadic Huns arrived in Pannonia almost a century after Martin had been born and had left his birthplace, while the Hungarians only arrived at the Carpathian Basin at the end of the ninth century. Nevertheless, it is possible that this element contributed to the popularity of St Martin in Hungary. The cult of Martin was extremely important for the Hungarian rulers from the beginnings of the creation of the state; he was useful in the creation of an ideological basis of the kingdom as a major argument for the consolidation of Christianity in the country.2 In 997, prince Stephen (crowned king of Hungary only three years later) prayed to Martin before going to battle near Veszprém against the pagan Koppány, and Stephen remained faithful to him after his victory.3 In 1001, as a king he enriched with an important donation the Benedictine abbey of Pannonhalma, dedicated to the saint. Pannonhalma played an important role in later Hungarian history, and the abbey’s long-lasting prestige was certainly related to the preservation of the importance of the cult of St Martin for the Hungarian rulers. The chronicles of the first crusade have preserved the memory of the negotiations between king Coloman and the crusaders of Godfrey of Bouillon in Pannonhalma, considered at the time as Martin’s place of birth.4 Even later, during the twelfth-fifteenth centuries, Martin complemented very well the cult of the dynastic saints of Hungary.

The imaginary Hun or Hungarian descent of the saint acquired special importance in the eyes of scholars dealing with medieval French and Hungarian cultural relations,5 and it has even piqued the interest of people working in the field of cultural politics in the twenty-first century. Via Sancti Martini was created in 2005 on the image of the medieval pilgrimage routes, leading from Szombathely, built on the ruins of the ancient Roman city Savaria (considered today the birthplace of the saint), via Italy to Tours, following the stages of Martin’s life from the Orient to the Occident.6

I explore the representation of St Martin as a Hungarian through a systematic analysis of medieval French vitae of Martin. My intention is to examine the importance and the expansion of this information about Martin’s Hungarian origins in the cult of St Martin in France and to determine the extent to which it influenced the image of Hungary and the Hungarians in medieval France. After briefly presenting the medieval texts containing mention of the Hungarian origins of St Martin that were familiar to twentieth-century scholarship and the popular fictitious biography of St Martin created in the chanson de geste Belle Hélène de Constantinople (according to which he was of Greek and English origin), I present the results of a systematic overview of Martin’s many, hitherto mostly unpublished Old French vitae. I provide this overview in part with the intention of finding additional texts asserting the saint’s hypothetical Hungarian origins.

The Creation of a Fabulous Genealogy

The earliest document that contains a fictitious genealogy of St Martin connecting him to the royal dynasty of the Huns or, in other manuscripts, directly to the Hungarians is the twelfth-century Legend of the Seven Sleepers, or in Latin Historia septem sanctorum dormientium, which I cite as Historia (BHL 2320).7 The Historia narrates the story of the Seven Sleepers of Marmoutier, allegedly Martin’s cousins, who allegedly were living as hermits in the monastery founded by Martin, where he himself lived as a hermit, like his nephews. The function of this rewriting of the legend of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus was to support the local cult of the hermits in the monastery of Marmoutier, which attracted a great number of pilgrims in the Middle Ages. It might have been construed as the “foundation charter” for the local cult of the hermits whose tombs were venerated as holy in Marmoutier, where several miracles occurred. Linking the Seven Sleepers to St Martin helped promote the fame of the abbey. The close ties between Martin and his nephews necessitated an important enlargement of the narrative about the saint’s youth: many new details had to be invented that were missing from Sulpicius Severus’ account. The anonymous author of the Historia presents Martin as a royal prince, and he describes the Hungarian kings living in Pannonia as rulers of a pagan kingdom which, after a lost battle, was conquered by the Romans and became part of the Roman Empire. The text gives a detailed genealogy of Martin’s family, listing his royal ancestors: the great-grandfather, Amnarus (Aumarus), his grandfather and father, both called Florus. While Amnarus was still an independent king, his captive son, Florus was only freed after he had renounced his crown. Florus the younger, his son, lived in the court of Emperor Constantine in Constantinople. He married Constantine’s niece and returned home to Pannonia to rule the country. Their son, also called Florus, was born in Pannonia. He went to study in Constantinople, where he was baptized by St Paul, the bishop of the city, and he changed his name to Martin. After he returned to Pannonia to join the imperial army as an officer, his life continued according to the vita of Sulpicius Severus. Martin’s nephews joined him in Marmoutier as hermits. They survived Martin, all falling asleep miraculously on the same day. They are “the Seven Sleepers” of the abbey.

It is surprising how far the compiler distanced his story from the original account of Sulpicius’ vita and its later rewritings. The dating of the Historia is obscure. Even in the earliest manuscripts, which date to roughly the end of the twelfth century, it was attributed to Gregory of Tours himself by a (false) letter supposed to have been sent by him to Sulpicius. In the nineteenth century, however, scholarship negated the Gregorian attribution on stylistic grounds and declared that it must have been composed much later. The generally accepted date was the ninth century. Ilona Király and Sándor Eckhardt, Hungarian scholars who studied the text in the first half of the twentieth century, dated it to the Carolingian period. This dating was questioned in the 1980s, when Guy-Marie Oury argued for a date in the second half of the twelfth century.8 The chief argument against the earlier dating is the absence of the cult of the Seven Sleepers in the Liber de miraculis of Marmoutier, which was composed in 1137. Their veneration must have begun only later. Oury suggested that the goal of the Historia was to consolidate the authority of the Abbey of Marmoutier by linking it to St Martin’s family and the newly discovered relics of his nephews. Hervé de Villepreux (1177–87), the abbot of Marmoutier, must have sponsored the compilation of the Historia: renouncing his position, he retired to the place where the Seven Sleepers died to live as a hermit for sixteen years. Oury rightly assumes that the cult of the Seven Sleepers was extremely important for the abbot personally.

The hypothesis of the late dating is somewhat weakened by Hervé de Villepreux’s letter to Philip, Archbishop of Cologne, written in 1181, in which he mentions the origins of St Martin and the history of the Seven Sleepers, referring to their legend, written by St Gregory of Tours. Is this a voluntary falsification by Hervé de Villepreux, who is then the inventor and the first witness of the cult of the Seven Sleepers? The cult, by all means, spread very rapidly between 1137 and 1180. Hervé refers to it as a popular and well-attested cult, also supported by the authority of St Gregory of Tours.

Sharon Farmer gave further proof in support of the contention that the Historia can be dated to the twelfth century.9 She connected the text to the rise of the “chivalric saint” in the twelfth century: as opposed to the holy crusader fighting the enemies of the faith, a new image of the virtuous prince, a young member of a royal dynasty who gives up his earthly kingdom to serve God as a hermit or a monk, became the model to follow. The figure of Martin as a knightly confessor and a young Hungarian royal prince is the most important innovation of the Historia. Dynastic holiness was on the rise in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries: the confessor kings were beatified at this time.10 Martin’s Christian name also reinforces the twelfth-century dating: born as Florus, he is given his new name in baptism after one of his uncles, a Christian bishop named Martin. This practice of name-giving only became widespread in this period. Remarkably, while Martin’s father remains pagan in both Sulpicius Severus’ text and the Historia, Martin converts much of the family in the later text.

Ilona Király focuses on Martin’s childhood and his royal descent as the son of the king of Hungary. Király pointes out that another Old French text also mentions Martin’s Hungarian origins: Maurice of Sully’s sermon to the feast of St Martin.11 No reliable critical edition of the sermons exists, this one might be also an apocryphon and it is impossible to know whether the vernacular or the Latin version was the earlier of the two. The exact dating of the sermons is debated. The earliest possible date is 1160. Király cites a half sentence from the French version: “Saint Martin fu nes de Hongrie” (“St Martin was born in Hungary”). There is no further indication of an influence of the Historia. Maurice of Sully does not refer to Martin’s royal descent in the sermon.

The “Hungarian Origins” as a Literary Motif: the Historia and the Conte de Floire et Blanchefleur

The twelfth-century dating of the Historia, makes necessary a revision of the intertextual relationship of the source text to its potential models and the texts influenced by it, a whole network of narrative sources. Király calls attention to the fact that the names of Martin’s father and great-grandfather, Florus and Aumarus, are rather frequent in the chansons de geste in their French forms (Floire and Aumer), and sometimes they even occur in the same context. An early dating of the Historia would have supposed that it exerted an influence on the vernacular texts, but in light of the new dating it is clear that it happened the other way.

There is another, even more important consequence of the late, twelfth-century invention of Martin’s fictitious genealogy. At that time, the kingdom of Hungary already existed. It is possible that the author of the Historia modeled Martin’s imaginary homeland on the shape of contemporary Hungary: his vision of the country may not have reflected merely a fabulous Hunnia-Hungaria, i.e. an exotic place-name without any direct reference, but the concrete reality, or at least the ideological construct that was Hungary in the twelfth century. At that time, St Stephen and St Emeric were both canonized, and the beata stirps of the Árpádians became the most important distinctive feature of the country. In the twelfth century, the ideal of royal sanctity was not yet very widespread in the Occidental world: the author of the Historia could have borrowed this ideological construct and may have adopted it to Martin and his family following the image of the saints of the Árpádians. If so, in his eyes it was not that Martin’s authority increased the prestige of Hungary. Rather, Martin’s fame was increased by the fact that he belonged to the dynasty of Hungarian monarchs. To maintain this hypothesis it is necessary to suppose that the author had some information about Hungary and its saints.12 There are no textual correspondences between the legends of St Stephen and Emeric on one side and the Historia on the other, but there are details in both that bear some resemblance. Florus, the father of Martin, marries Constance, the niece of the East-Roman Emperor, while Stephen married the sister “of the Roman emperor,,” as his legends claim.13 Another interesting parallel between the stories is Martin’s education in Constantinople, while it was precisely in the second half of the twelfth century, between 1165 and 1170, that a Hungarian prince, the future king Béla III, lived in the Byzantine court as the potential heir of Manuel I Komnenos. Of course, if we accept this parallel as mirroring the actual political reality, we have to date the Historia to the period after 1165.

Király draws an interesting comparison between the genealogies of Pepin the Short and that of St Martin as it is contained in the Historia. As she found several similar names, she supposed that the author of the Historia borrowed details from Pepin’s genealogy.14 Brichtildis, Martin’s grand-mother, and Blichtildis, mother of Pepin’s great-great-grandfather, have the same name, and it is important that there was a Martinus in Pepin’s family too. In my view, however, the other correspondences identified by Király are weak.15 All family trees resemble one another. I would not exclude the possibility that the writer of the Historia could have used also other models, and if he knew St Stephen’s legend, which affirms that Stephen was the fourth ruler of the Hungarians in Pannonia, we can reasonably hypothesize that the author of the Historia wanted to imitate this pattern when he suggested three ancestors of Martin as rulers of Pannonia. Incidentally, Pepin’s genealogy is much richer and more complex than the family trees of Stephen and Martin.16

I must mention a popular and relevant vernacular text, Floire et Blanchefleur, an early idyllic romance of rather controversial dating which is the oldest Old French romance starring a prince of Hungarian origins. It narrates the love of the pagan prince Floire and the Christian Blanchefleur. After many adventures, the two lovers marry and Floire converts his nation to Christianity. In the so-called aristocratic version of the text Floire is king of Hungary (in the other, he is king of Aumarie, which is a frequent name designating a Saracen kingdom of Iberia in the tradition of the chansons de geste, corresponding probably to Almería, in Spain). The most recent edition of the text dates the romance to 1150, but it is not clear whether Hungary was present in the first variant.17 Jean-Luc Leclanche, the critical editor, derives Floire’s name from the Historia, but if this derivation were accurate, Hungary would have had to have figured in the first version of the text, which is impossible if the Historia dates to the 1170s, as is suggested by Farmer and Oury. Huguette Legros has another hypothesis concerning the insertion of the reference to Hungary in Floire et Blanchefleur. She assumes that the romance was written around 1186 to please Marguerite Capet, future queen of Hungary, who married Béla III (who turned back from Constantinople some years before, as he had failed to inherit the Byzantine throne but had obtained the Hungarian crown) the following year: according to her, the loving couple of the romance, Floire and Blanchefleur, symbolically represent the alliance of the Hungarian and French rulers.18 Either the early dating of the romance is false, or it was the romance that influenced the Historia, and the author of the Historia might have borrowed the name of Martin’s father from the romance. But it is also possible that the reference to Hungary as Floire’s kingdom was effectively inserted later in the romance, reflecting already an influence of the Historia or Marguerite’s marriage to king Béla. It is important to note that the prologue of the romance claims that Bertha Broadfoot (Berthe aux grands pieds), Charlemagne’s mother, was the daughter of Floire and Blanchefleur: instead of giving St Martin Hungarian ancestors, this text gives them to Charlemagne. The motif of Bertha’s Hungarian origins appears also in Adenet le Roi’s Berte aus grans piés (after 1273–74) and other later romances of the Middle Ages.19

The Influence of the Historia on Later Martinian Literature

The earliest text outside the region of Tours that mentions the Seven Sleepers and Martin’s relationship to them is Guibert of Gembloux’s biography of St Martin. The Walloon monk wrote several vitae of the saint in verse (two versions, BHL 5637 and BHL 5636, from 1177–79 and 1181)20 and in prose (1205, BHL 5635). Guibert mentions the Seven Sleepers as Martin’s nephews, and he identifies Martin’s father as King Florus of Hungary. However, this cannot be taken as “independent evidence,” for Guibert sojourned several times in the Abbey of Marmoutier, and he wrote these texts upon his return to his monastery from Marmoutier. He must have acquainted himself with the legend of the Seven Sleepers during his stay in Martin’s monastery.

The earliest vernacular text that bears clear signs of the Historia’s influence is the Vie de monseignor saint Martin de Tors by Péan Gatineau, canon of St Martin in Tours.21 The date of this verse legend is debated, as is the identity of the author. Most probably it was written in the first half or second quarter of the thirteenth century by a canon of the Cathedral of St Martin in Tours. Péan Gatineau draws on several sources when compiling his long legend, most of them identified in the rubrics of the single surviving manuscript. Although the source of Martin’s youth is not indicated, it is clear that Péan draws his information from Sulpicius Severus and the Historia. He repeats the complicated genealogy, describes Martin’s education in Constantinople, his baptism by the holy bishop of the city, and his conflicts after his return to Hungary (while Sulpicius Severus does not say clearly where Martin’s family lived while he was a soldier, the Historia claims that they stayed in Hungary, instead of moving to Italy). An important addition to the source is the mention of the monastery founded on the birthplace of the saint, where pious monks honor his memory: all scholars considered it a reference to the Benedictine abbey of Pannonhalma, but no one knows where Péan Gatineau got this information.

Péan Gatineau’s verse legend was rewritten in prose in the fifteenth century, faithfully following the original. Preserved only in a fragmented manuscript (Tours, BM ms. 1025), from which unfortunately the first part, dealing with Martin’s youth, is missing, it was printed twice (in Tours in 1496 and in Paris in 1516). One exemplar of each printed text survives, allowing the reconstruction of the text. At the end of the manuscript there is a long notice in which the composer of the prose version affirms that he simply translated Péan Gatineau’s work and prays for peace and the success of the French kingdom against their enemies, evidently the English. Thanks to this text a rather precise dating of the version is possible:


A ce derrain miracle cy se taist Payen Gastineau qui ce livre fist et ceste hystoyre mist en rime. Et pource qu’il n’en parle plus fault que je me taise moy comme non saichant qui ay translaté et mys de ryme en prose ce que Paien Gastineau avoit fait. Si prenez en gré et s’il y a faulte de langaige ou d’escripture si vueillez supplier a mon nom seus et a ma simplesse et icelluy corriger le plus gracieusement que pourrez. […] [N]ostre doulx saulveur Jhesucrist qui doint bonne santé et bonne vie et longue a nostre bon roy Charles et la royne, a monseigneur le daulphin, a leur lignee et a tous ceulx du sang royal aiant bonne voulenté et ceulx qui mauvaise sont dieu les vuelle amander tellement qu’ilz recongnoissent leur droicturier seignieur. Aussi vueille delivrer tous prisonniers du sang real qui sont es mains de noz ennemys. Aussi que nous puissons avoir bonne paix et vivon en ce reaulme a l’onneur et au prouffit du roy et de la chose publique a la confusion et deshonneur de ces anciens ennemys estranges et privez.22

(At this last miracle keeps silent Payen Gastineau, who made this book, and put in rhymes this story. And as he says nothing more, I have to keep silence myself as an ignorant man who translated from rhyme to prose what Paien Gastineau had made. Accept it benevolently, and if there is any fault of language or writing in it, you have to attribute it only to my name and my simplicity, and I ask you to correct it with as much gracefulness as you can. [We must pray to Martin to intercede on our behalf to] Our Saviour Jesus Christ to give good health and long and good life to our good king Charles and to the queen and the dauphin, their lineage and everyone of the royal blood who is of goodwill, and may God punish those who are bad so that they recognize who is their legitimate lord. Might He liberate all prisoners of royal blood who are in the hands of our enemies, that we might have good peace and live in this kingdom to the honor and profit of the king and the community, but to the confusion and dishonor of the ancient enemies, whether they are distant or close.)


The prose version must have been written after the battle of Azincourt in 1415 but before the release of Charles of Orléans and his brother from the captivity in 1440, and in all likelihood after the promotion of Charles, count of Ponthieu (the future Charles VII), to the dignity of dauphin (1417) and before the death of Charles VI (1422). The author must have been a fervent supporter of the Valois dynasty, and it is possible that the prose version of Péan Gatineau’s legend is a sign of the renewal of interest in St Martin’s cult in this period, which was difficult for the French monarchy.

The Hungarian origins of St Martin receive the greatest attention in another text, a mystery play composed by an anonymous author at the end of the fifteenth century.23 It was preserved in a now lost sixteenth century printed edition, and it is known only from an edition published in 1841. About half of the text is devoted to Martin’s youth. His father, the pagan king of Hungary, entrusts Martin to his cousin, the duke of Acherance, to give him the courtly and knightly education necessary to become a good sovereign. Martin’s sister is married to the pagan prince of Milan: their son is Brice, who will succeed Martin as bishop of Tours. Martin is converted by a hermit, and after the death of his father, when he is crowned king, he renounces the throne in favor of the prince of Milan, whom he had converted. While Martin leaves Hungary in secret to dedicate his life to Christ and become a monk in Marmoutier with his nephew Brice so as to accomplish the career known from his vita, the duke of Milan and the pagan prince of Acherance fight for the Hungarian throne. With the blessing of God, the duke of Milan triumphs in the battle and becomes the legal heir to Martin as king of Hungary.

In this play, there is no mention of the Seven Sleepers, no direct borrowing from the Historia or Péan Gastineau’s legend. Certain episodes suggest that the author might have known one of these texts, but his goals were not related to the cult of the Seven Sleepers in Marmoutier or in Tours. Was this mystery play ever performed? For what occasion was it written? These questions remain unsolved. Nevertheless, it is clear that the conversion of Hungary to Christianity is an important topic in the play.24

In the fifteenth century, another text telling the story of Martin’s birth became much more popular than the Historia. It was the famous fourteenth-century chanson de geste Belle Hélène de Constantinople, in which St Martin and St Brice, his successor as bishop of Tours, are represented as brothers, sons of the Byzantine princess Helene and King Henry of England. The great number of manuscripts and two fifteenth-century prose versions of this poem prove that this alternative genealogy of the saint was much more popular than the earlier Historia at that time.25 The first, mid-fourteenth-century verse text, a variant of the “tale of Constance” is preserved in five manuscripts, and it was translated into prose twice in the fifteenth century: the first, anonymous one is conserved in three manuscripts and several incunabula and early prints, while that of Jean Wauquelin26 is preserved in only one copy. The amount of surviving evidence attests to the greater popularity and wider spread of the Belle Hélène compared to the tradition of the Historia. The reasons are multiple: the complicated, romantic story of the text written later better fit the needs of a large public, while the sober narration of Martin’s life and miracles could serve as an inspiration for literary works of several genres as we have seen, but could not obtain a similar effect. St Martin has a secondary role in the romance. His presence strengthens the authority and reliability of a text filled with several of the miraculous adventures of his legendary family. It seems that the anonymous author of the mystery play on St Martin knew not only the Historia but the chanson de geste too, which is why he proposes a kinship between Brice and Martin, even though in his text Brice and Martin are not brothers. Rather, Martin is Brice’s uncle.

A non-literary document attesting to the influence of both the Historia and the Belle Hélène de Constantinople is a family tree of the saint, preserved on a double folio manuscript compiled sometime at the end of the fifteenth or beginning of the sixteenth century.27 The family tree is traditionally attributed to Ambroise de Cambrai (d. 1496), counsellor to King Louis XI and the holder of several important ecclesiastical and lay dignities.28 Among Martin’s ancestors and relatives we find all of the important, legendary rulers of the early medieval world, including not only his father, the Hungarian King Florus, but the emperors of Constantinople and kings of England as well, including Arthur and Uther. The compiler used all available sources to create a glorious and mighty lineage for St Martin. He drew on the Historia septem dormientium and the Belle Hélène de Constantinople, since he regarded these texts as authentic and true.

­Further Traces of the Historia’s Influence on Medieval Hagiographical Literature

To summarize my observations thus far, in addition to the Latin sources (the Historia, Guibert of Gembloux’s vitae, Alberic of Trois-Fontaines chronicle), there are four known vernacular texts containing references to the Hungarian origins of the saint. We can measure the real impact of these scarce data only if we compare them to other vernacular texts dealing with St Martin’s origins. For this reason, I carried out a systematic analysis of all medieval French biographies of St Martin in search of his link to Hungary, and I present the results of this survey in the following.

The medieval French legends of Martin were thoroughly gathered and enumerated in the JONAS database of the IRHT, in the framework of a research program aiming to collect all Old and Middle French hagiographical texts.29 At the moment, 36 items are registered concerning St Martin, 20 of which are legends. Some of them were translated from the same Latin source, but most of them are preserved in more than one manuscript, and the textual testimonies sometimes differ significantly, so these high numbers confirm that Martin was one of the most popular saints in medieval France, and his legend was widely read and rewritten in vernacular throughout the Middle Ages.

An overview of all of the medieval French legends of Martin (and of their Latin sources) shows that the motif of his Hungarian origins invented by the Historia had very little impact on the strictly hagiographical texts.30 Most of them constantly use Sulpicius Severus’ account, directly or indirectly, which includes only a half-sentence on Martin’s place of birth:


Igitur Martinus Sabaria Pannoniarum oppido oriundus fuit, sed intra Italiam Ticini altus est. Parentibus secundum saeculi dignitatem non infimis, gentilibus tamen.

(Martin was born in Sabaria, the city of the Pannonians, but he grew up in Italy, in Pavia. His parents were, according to the judgement of the world, of no mean rank, but they were pagans.)


This sentence was translated in all the legends I know of, but the interpretation of Sabaria and the “city of the Pannonians” appears in a great variety in them. The oldest French legend of Martin is attributed to Wauchier of Denain, one of the most prolific French translators and authors of the early thirteenth century. In a cycle of legends dedicated to eight confessors, he prepares an entire hagiographical dossier about Martin, including not only the vita made by Sulpicius Severus but also the history of the translatio of the saint and the dialogues of Sulpicius.31 The 17 surviving manuscripts mention “Sabaria” and talk about “Pannonia” instead of the “city of the Pannonians,” but in very different forms in the sentence translated from Sulpicius. For instance, in the manuscript Paris, BNF fr. 23112 we find the following: “Sains Martins fu ne de la contree de Pannonie d’un castel qui avoit a non Isapharie.” (St Martin was born in the region of Pannonie in a castle called Isapharie.)32

The later Old French legends either omit one or two of these strange names or modify them totally. We find “Sabaire” in the French translation of John of Mailly’s legend (Abbreviatio in gestis et miraculis Sanctorum, c. 1243, translated in the thirteenth century), while the manuscripts of the translation of the Legenda aurea made by John of Vignay (before 1348) propose “Salune” or “Salurie.” The tribe of the Pannoniens is also altered in various ways. Sometimes Pannonia is used, the correct name of the Roman province, but only rarely. The people living there are referred to as “Pononiens, Pannoniers, Panoniens,” while the geographical name occurs in forms like “Pannonie, Pannonye, Pannone, Pamo,” or even “Patmos,” probably under the influence of the Visions of St John. None of these sources insert a digression explaining the identification of the antique Pannonia with medieval Hungary, and the localization of Sabaria or its contemporary, medieval equivalent remains totally obscure. The French readers of these legends could hardly have even suspected that the remnants of this city are found in Hungary.

There is one exception that clearly shows the influence of the Historia. One of St Martin’s French legends, preserved in a single manuscript (Paris, BNF fr. 1534) and totally neglected by scholars and still unedited, narrates the origins of the saint in the following way:


Saint Martin fust de mont noble ligniee et de saincte vie. Il fu né de Pannonie qui ore est appellée Hongrie. Et fu filz Floires qui fu filz Eaumer Roy de Hongrie. Mauximien et Hercules cachierent Eaumer de Hongrie et cachierent hors de la terre, et Floires qui plus ne fu mies subget a l’empiere, puis prist Brigide nieche au roy d’Esoigne dont saint Martin fust, qui out deulx freres Hilgius et Floires le mendre qui fu mont saint homme. Saint Martin fu sy aumosnier, que de son enffance il donnoit pour dieu et sy ne savoit qui dieu estoit. Hilgius ot vii. filz. Aucuns dient que ce furent lez sains sept dormans qui sont a Tours en une eglise. Saint Martin lessa pere et mere et vint a Paiani l’evesque de Costentin noble qui le baptiza, a trois cens et lxiiij ans de la nativité. Puis revint a son pere qui le mena a Constant emperie de Romme qui le fist chevalier et fust chevalier .v ans puis vint en France et ung vallet a lui a qui mainte fois terdy ses soulles. Or adonc que Julien cesar ot besong de chevalier, sy manda Martin qui estoit nouvel chevalier qu’il venist a luy et il y vint. Et ly dist l’empeuere qu’il convenoit que il allast en la bataille. Et Martin ly dist: A moy n’est mie de combatre et se je vois je n’y porteroy escu, ne lances mes quant j’auroy feste la crois en mont front je les ire envaie.33

(St Martin descended from a very noble lineage, and he lived a very holy life. He was born in Pannonia, today called Hungary. He was son of Floire who was son of Eaumer, king of Hungary. Maximianus and Hercules deposed Eaumer and expelled him from his land, and Floire, who was no longer a subject of the empire, married Brigide, niece of the king of Saxonia. Martin was their son. He had two brothers, Hilgius and Floires the younger, who was a very holy person. St Martin was so charitable that he gave alms for God even before he knew of His existence. Hilgius had seven sons. Some people say they were the seven sleepers who are in Tours in a church. St Martin left his father and mother and came to Paiani, bishop of Constantinople, who baptized him in 364 AD. After that, he went back to his father, who brought him to Constant, emperor of Rome, who dubbed him knight, and he remained a knight for five years. After that, he came to France with a servant, to whom he cleaned several times the shoes. After that, when the Caesar Julien needed knights, he sent people for Martin, who was a newly dubbed knight, to order him to come, and he came. And the emperor told him that he was supposed to go to the battle. And Martin answered: “I am not willing to fight, and if I go there, I will bring neither shield nor lance, but when I make the sign of the cross on my forehead, I will conquer them.)


Probably the origin of this legend is not closely related to Tours, but the compiler must have read or heard the fabulous story of Martin’s royal birth. He could have read either the Historia or one of the texts reflecting its influence. The link between Martin and the seven sleepers is a clear sign that the Historia was at least the indirect source for him. Compared to the Historia, the genealogy of Hungarian kings has one element less, and there are some other slight changes in the data, but this may be simply an alteration that was made to the unique conserved manuscript. It is worth noting that the legend of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesos is also contained in the same manuscript, moreover in a unique variant. This is not the text of the Historia, but again it shows some knowledge of the cult of Marmoutier, because at the end the legend states that the relics of the sleepers were moved from Ephesos to the abbey: “... jusques au temps a une roigne de France Constance qui les fist porter a Mermonstier jouxte Tours l’an IX cens et VIII ans ou ilz repposent.”34 (...till the time of a queen of France, called Constance, who brought them to Marmoutier near Tours in 908, and from that time on they remain there.)

There are two potential candidates for the queen of France mentioned in the legend, but for chronological reasons neither one is her. She cannot have been Constance of Arles, who married Robert II in 1003 and died in 1032, or Constance of Castille, Louis VII’s second wife (1154–60), as their lifetimes do not correspond to the date indicated in the legend, and I am not aware of any transfer of relics from Ephesus to Arles during the period of their reign. But despite the contradictory and confused data of the text (maybe due to a negligent copyist), this version of the Seven Sleepers is further evidence that the author of the compilation, who must be responsible for Martin’s legend and that of the Seven Sleepers, knew some of the local traditions of Tours and Marmoutier, and he was aware of the role of the abbey in the cult of the Seven Sleepers, and probably this is why he tried to reconcile the data of the Historia and the vita composed by Sulpicius Severus. If not from an oral source, the author may have taken his information either directly from the Historia or from Péan Gatineau’s Vie de Monseignor saint Martin, or possibly from a vita written by Guibert of Gembloux, and he completed with it his translation of the Legenda aurea, based on Sulpicius’ account.


Apparently, in the huge hagiographical material dedicated to St Martin, the question of his origins was not of high importance. As in the case of many other saints, the laconic narrative of the original legend was enlarged in some texts written in the twelfth century, but the circulation of the enlarged version as we find it in the Historia and its textual family remained limited. There are different reasons for the rarity of this motif in later hagiographical material. First, the Historia septem dormientium was never so widespread and never obtained the fame of Sulpicius’ legend: probably because an eye-witness of Martin’s life was more reliable than an anonymous text that bore the signs of its primary goal (to support the abbey of Marmoutier) and contained some evidently spurious data. Martin’s popularity based on Sulpicius Severus was very high before the twelfth century. The Historia did not become an alternative legend of St Martin: it remained the main document of the cult of the Seven Sleepers of Marmoutier, and the scarce testimonies of this local cult prompted few new texts. The most popular hagiographers of the thirteenth century, like Jacobus de Voragine, did not use the Historia for their compilations, so its impact could not be strengthened by them as intermediaries. But it is important to note that not only the Historia but Péan Gastineau’s legend and its prose version also contained mention of the alleged Hungarian origins of the saint: they had a somewhat larger impact, and on different types of texts (Guibert of Gembloux’s Latin legend, Alberic’s chronicle, the anonymous mystery play, Ambroise de Cambrai’s genealogical table, and the newly discovered Old French legend). Nevertheless, neither in the mystery plays nor in the historical compilations are Martin and Hungary more strongly connected than in the vitae: for instance Andrieu de la Vigne’s Mistère de saint Martin (1496) or Vincent of Beauvais’ Speculum historiale (1246–63) did not mention Hungary as his birthplace.

Independently of the Historia, Old French legends rarely identified Pannonia with Hungary. Maurice of Sully’s above mentioned sermon, if it is authentic, might be an exception, as we do not know whether it was textually related to the Historia or was independent of it. The identification of the ancient Roman province and Hungary required a certain cultural knowledge from the scribes and compilers of medieval legends, and they did not always have this knowledge. The wish to remain faithful to Sulpicius Severus’ text or to its translators was stronger than the wish to update the information about the saint’s birthplace. Names and toponyms are the most fragile data in medieval texts, in which misspellings, autonomous interpretation, and false etymologization are very frequent: this is why “Sabaria Pannoniarum oppido” appears in such a wide variety in the sources.

When a text written in medieval France identifies Hungary as the birthplace of St Martin, one can reasonably suspect that this is due to the influence of the Historia and its textual network. The notion of St Martin as royal offspring, however, appears in other texts, such as the Belle Hélène and its prose versions. In this case, Constantinople and England supplemented Hungary, as the wandering Byzantine princess married the English king. There is a slight hesitation in the vernacular translations of the position held by St Martin’s father in the army, in the Old French legends independent of the Historia and the Belle Hélène. Sometimes they give him a very high rank, but none of them refers to him as a prince or a king. However, I think that this idea was not totally alien to the medieval compilers who considered that St Martin must have had an important status and a promising future as a layman in order to give greater weight to his renouncement of both. An interesting example is found in a fourteenth-century manuscript of the French version of Vincent de Beauvais’ Speculum historiale, translated by John of Vignay (Paris, BNF fr. 51, fol. 250), a miniature representing St Martin’s baptism. This is highly unusual in the saint’s iconography. It might reflect the impact of the frequently mentioned scene of the “baptism of a pagan or Saracen king.”35 The baptism of the king is connected to the conversion of Clovis in the iconography of the French chronicles. The pictorial cycles in the manuscripts of the chansons de geste also include similar images. For me, this clearly denotes the fact that the designer of the manuscript sought to illustrate the noble descent of St Martin and thus associate him with the Merovingians and the later French kings, even if the text does not mention Martin’s royal ancestors.

It seems almost certain that St Martin’s genealogy as outlined in the Historia was created in the last quarter of the twelfth century in order to buttress the importance of Tours and Marmoutier. The invention of the cult of the Seven Sleepers was intended to reinforce the cult of St Martin by creating a new local ritual of worship. The chronology of the spread of the Historia shows that the text did not remain as popular after the first half of the thirteenth century. Its importance was limited geographically and temporally as well: we can see it as a tool in a campaign to promote St Martin (somewhat neglected by the French kings in the twelfth century in favor of St Denis).36 The rise of the Kingdom of Hungary and the consolidation of its international prestige at the end of the twelfth century (thanks to the recently canonized dynastic saints of the House of Árpád) might also have contributed to the formation of the new image of St Martin: the pagan prince converted to Christianity, who renounced his earthly glory and crown to serve God.37 From this point of view, the Historia might be seen as the first piece of evidence of the international acknowledgement of the beata stirps of the Árpádian dynasty. We can thank this text and the subsequent texts that drew on it for the prefiguration of the pious Hungarian prince in the image of St Martin, and the limited but long-lasting influence of the Historia indicates the presence of the idea of “holy Hungary” in France, at least until the end of the fifteenth century.



Archives Indre-et-Loire, Liasse G. 365.

Paris: Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BNF) fr. 1534

Tours: Bibliothèque Municipale (BM) MS 1025


Adenet le Roi, Berte as grans piés, edited by Albert Henry. Textes littéraires français, 305. Geneva: Droz, 1982.

Beaune, Colette. Naissance de la nation française. Paris: Gallimard, 1985.

Bibliotheca hagiographica latina antiquae et mediae aetatis, 2 vols, Brussels: Société des Bollandistes, 1898–1901. (BHL)

Csernus, Sándor. “La Hongrie, les Français et les premières croisades.” In Les Hongrois et l’Europe: Conquête et intégration, edited by Sándor Csernus, Klára Korompay, 411–26. Paris–Szeged: Université de Szeged (JATE)–Paris III–Sorbonne Nouvelle (CIEH)–Institut Hongrois de Paris, 1999.

Eckhardt, Alexandre. De Sicambria à Sans-Souci: Histoires et légendes franco-hongroises. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1943.

Érszegi, Géza, ed. “Szent István király nagy legendája” [The Great Legend of King St Stephen]. In Árpád-kori legendák és intelmek [Legends and exhortations of the Árpád Era], Budapest: Szépirodalmi, 1983.

Farmer, Sharon. Communities of Saint Martin: Legend and Ritual in Medieval Tours. Ithaca–London: Cornell University Press, 1991.

Folz, Robert. Les Saints rois du Moyen Âge en Occident (VIe–XIIe siècles). Brussels: Société des Bollandistes, 1984.

Hartvic. “Life of King Stephen of Hungary.” Translated by Nóra Berend. In Medieval Hagiography: An Anthology, edited by Thomas Head, 378–98. London: Routledge, 2001.

Király, Ilona. Szent Márton magyar király legendája. [The Legend of St Martin, king of Hungary]. Bibliothèque de l’Institut Français à l’Université de Budapest 8. Budapest, Eggenberger, 1929.

Klaniczay, Gábor. Holy Rulers and Blessed Princesses: Dynastic Cults in Medieval Central Europe, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Knutsen, Katharine Anne, ed. Mystere de la vie et hystoire de monseigneur sainct Martin: édition critique. Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Massachusets, 1976.

Koszta, László. “Szent Márton tiszteletének magyarországi kezdete: Megjegyzések Pannonhalma alapításához” [The beginnings of St Martin’s cult in Hungary: Remarks on the foundation of Pannonhalma]. In Tiszatáj 55 (2001): 79–84.

Lecoy de la Marche, Albert. Vie de saint Martin: évêque de Tours, apôtre des Gaules. Tours: A. Mame et fils, 1895.

Legros, Huguette. La rose et le lys: étude littéraire du „Conte de Floire et Blancheflor.” Aix-en-Provence: Publications du CUERMA, 1992.

Leurquin, Anne-Françoise and Savoye, Marie-Laure. “Notice de Vie de saint Martin de Tours, anonyme.” Jonas-IRHT/CNRS database. Accessed March 19, 2016. http://jonas.irht.cnrs.fr/oeuvre/7230

Oury, Guy-Marie. “Les sept dormants de Marmoutier: La vocation à la réclusion,” Analecta Bollandiana 99 (1981): 315–27.

Pitra, J. B., ed. Analecta sanctae Hildegardis opera Spicilegio Solesmensi parata. Monte Cassino: n.p., 1882. [Reprint: Farnborough, 1966.] Accessed February 25, 2016. https://archive.org/stream/analectasanctae00hildgoog#page/n630/mode/2up.

Robert d’Orbigny. Le conte de Floire et Blancheflor, edited by Jean-Luc Leclanche. Paris: Champion, 2003.

Roussel, Claude, ed. La Belle Hélène de Constantinople: Chanson de geste du XIVe siècle. Textes littéraires français 454. Geneva: Droz, 1995.

Seláf, Levente. “Egy exemplum változatai: A magyar királyfi mint Mária jegyese és aquileiai pátriárka.” [Variants of an exemplum: The prince of Hungary as bridegroom of the Virgin and patriarch of Aquileia]. In Irodalomtörténeti Közlemények 113, no. 5–6 (2008): 582–98.

Seláf, Levente. “Párhuzamos életrajzok: Szent Erzsébet és Ysabelle de France legendái” [Parallel lives: Legends of St Elizabeth of Hungary and Isabelle de France]. In Árpád-házi Szent Erzsébet kultusza a 13–16. században [The cult of St Elizabeth in the thirteenth–sixteenth centuries], edited by Dávid Falvay, 141–51. Studia Franciscana Hungarica 2. Budapest, Magyarok Nagyasszonya Ferences Rendtartomány, 2009.

Söderhjelm, Werner. Das altfranzösische Martinsleben des Péan Gatineau aus Tours. Tübingen, 1896.

Thompson, John Jay. “Introduction to Wauchier de Denain.” In La vie mon signeur seint Nicholas le beneoit confessor, 11–47. Geneva: Droz, 1999.

Tolan, John. “Le baptême du roi « païen » dans les épopées de la Croisade.” Revue de l’histoire des religions, 217, no. 4 (2000): 707–31.

Wauquelin, Jean. La Belle Hélène de Constantinople: Mise en prose d’une chanson de geste, edited by Marie-Claude de Crécy. Geneva: Droz, 2002.


JONAS database http://jonas.irht.cnrs.fr/

1 In parallel with the redaction of this study I prepared an article in Hungarian on Old French legends about St Martin, containing more citations of medieval sources and adopting a somewhat different approach. It will be published in a volume dedicated to the 1700th anniversary of St Martin. The main arguments of the two texts are the same, but they are not identical.

2 Koszta, “Szent Márton,” 79–84.

3 According to St Gregory of Tours, Clovis was also helped by St Martin before a battle, so his role as a helper in military affairs was well attested for a long time.

4 Csernus, “La Hongrie,” 411–26.

5 The best documented and even today still most influential overview of the French tradition of St Martin’s Hungarian origins is a study published in Hungarian by Ilona Király in 1929, see Király, Szent Márton. A point of reference in Hungarian scholarship, it is practically unknown outside the country, except for some references given by Sándor Eckhardt, who refers to it in his book dedicated to the Hungarian–French cultural relations of the Middle Ages. See Eckhardt, Sicambria. Király collected with great competence and engagement numerous records of medieval French and Hungarian ecclesiastical relations in French archives and libraries before World War II, when, in 1940, the municipal library of Tours was bombed, resulting in the disappearance of several documents. For this reason, her work remains an important source collection, but several minor faults and misunderstandings in it make it necessary to revise her overview.

6 Accessed October 11, 2016, http://www.viasanctimartini.eu/.

7 Bibliotheca hagiographica latina (BHL). The only modern edition of the Historia is in the Patrologia Latina vol. 71, c. 1106–08. It is not reliable and does not really help clarify the original form of the text. I could not collate the surviving manuscripts, so I take these data from the PL-edition of the text. For a list of the manuscripts see Oury, “Les sept dormants,” 319.

8 Oury, “Les sept dormants.”

9 Farmer, Communities of Saint Martin.

10 See Klaniczay, Holy Rulers; Folz, Les saints rois.

11 He was bishop of Paris, 1160–96, see Király, Szent Márton, 39.

12 This knowledge of the lives of Hungarian saints would not be exceptional, as the anonymous author of the oldest French legend (circa 1243–62) of St Elisabeth of Hungary claims to have read the legend of St Stephen, see Seláf, “Párhuzamos életrajzok,” 141–51.

13 Hartvic, “Life of King Stephen,” 378–98; Érszegi, “Szent István király nagy legendája,” 27.

14 Király, Szent Márton, 32–33.

15 Király considered Amnarus as equivalent with Arnaldus, Florus with Flodulfus, Hilgrinus with Galechisus, see Király, Szent Márton, 33.

16 I remark very prudently that to my ears the name Aumarus/Amnarus (Martin’s great-grandfather) is more similar to the Hungarian Álmos (Almus/Aumus) than to Arnaldus, Pepin’s great-grandfather, an analogy proposed by Király. Of course, such a precise knowledge of the names of Hungarian leaders by the author of the Historia is not probable at all.

17 Robert d’Orbigny, Le conte de Floire et Blancheflor.

18 Legros, La rose et le lys, 14–35.

19 Adenet le Roi, Berte as grans piés.

20 Pitra, Analecta sanctae Hildegardis, 582–91.

21 Söderhjelm, Das altfranzösische Martinsleben.

22 MS 1025, fol. 117r-v. This is my transcription. I am very grateful to Régis Rech, director of the Bibliothèque Municipale of Tours, for providing me with the digital reproduction of some folios of the manuscript, which enabled me to transcribe this passage.

23 Knutsen, Mystere, 29 sq.

24 Although there is no evidence in support of it, the notion that the mystery play could have been composed for or performed on the occasion of the alliance of the French, Polish and Hungarian crowns in 1500, sealed by the marriage of Anne de Foix-Candale and King Wladislaus II of Hungary in 1502, is a charming hypothesis.

25 Roussel, La Belle Hélène de Constantinople.

26 Wauquelin, La Belle Hélène de Constantinople.

27 Archives Indre-et-Loire, Liasse G. 365. I am very grateful to the personnel of the archive, who sent me some high-quality digital reproductions of the document.

28 The attribution comes from Lecoy de la Marche, who at the end of the nineteenth century could still read the title of the table. The photos I received from the Archives Indre-et-Loire do not enable one to read the title of the text, which is badly damaged. Lecoy de la Marche’s reading is the following: “Généalogye du tres glorieux confesseur et amy de Nostre Syeur monsieur S. Martin, évesque de Tours, extraicte de diverses escriptures aucthenticques, composée a la dévotion du tres chrestyen roy de France Louys, unziesme de ce nom, et par son commendement mise en cest ordre par messire Ambroys de Cambray, docteur es droictz, conseiller et maistre des requestes ordinaire de l’hotel dudit seigneur,” see Lecoy de la Marche, Vie de saint Martin, 72. Ambroise was “maître des Requêtes de l’Hôtel du roi” from 1473; Louis XI died in 1483, so one can date the document between these two dates. It is not clear how or when the chart landed in the Archives Indre-et-Loire in Tours, and we do not know if the document was commissioned by the royal family, proving the interest of the dynasty in the patronage of St Martin, or by someone else related to Tours or Marmoutier.

29 Accessed October 11, 2016, http://jonas.irht.cnrs.fr/.

30 In the followings all transcriptions of the manuscripts are mine on the basis of the originals or digital copies available on Gallica (Accessed October 11, 2016, www.gallica.bnf.fr) or in the library of the IRHT in Paris. Exceptions are indicated in the footnotes.

31 Thompson, “Introduction”, 11–47. There is no critical edition of Wauchier’s Martinian dossier.

32 Some other variants: BNF fr. 185: “Sains Martins fu nez en la cité de Pannonie, d’un chastel qui Ysapharie estoit appelez.,” BNF fr. 412: “Seinz Martins fu nez de la contree de Pannone d’un chastel qi Ysabbarie avoit non.,” BNF fr. 413: “Saint Martin fut nez de Panone d’un chastel qui Ysapharie avoit non.,” BNF fr. 23117: “Sains Martins fu nez de Pavone d’un chastel qui Ysapharie avoit nom.”

33 Paris, BNF fr. 1534, fol. 74v-75r

34 Paris, BNF fr. 1534, fol. 54rb – 55rb Another version of the legend contained in the manuscript Rouen, Bibliothèque municipale, 1430 (U. 093) ends with the same episode, the arrival of the seven sleepers to Tours: “…et quant il furent mors, l’emperour lour fist faire moult grant reverence et les fist canoniser et sont appeller les sept dormans, et sont apresent en lour sepultures a Tours en Touraine” (...and when they died, the emperor honoured them and beatified them. They are currently called the seven sleepers and they are buried in Tours, [a city] in Touraine.”) In this interesting legendary Martin’s life also appears in a very rare version, mentioned only in one other source. Unfortunately, I could not read the text of the Martin legend, while I had no access to the exemplar from Rouen, and the other testimony of the text was seriously damaged in a fire in 1944. I quote the incipit after the JONAS database: “Saint Martin fut de noble lignage et se convertit des son enfance moult religieusement” (St Martin descended of a noble lineage, and he converted in his childhood very piously”), see Leurquin and Savoye, “Notice.”

35 About the iconographic and literary motif see Tolan, “Le baptême du roi ‘païen’,” 707–31.

36 St Martin’s role in the ideology of the Frankish Kingdom and later in the French monarchy was constantly evolving. For the Merovingian kings St Martin was a patron saint, and Martin was seen as the apostle of the country. Later his cult was widespread in the Carolingian Empire, but from the twelfth century onwards, its importance diminished. In the times of the Capetian dynasty, Martin became, in addition to St Remy and St Denis, just one of the three major figures who converted Gaul to Christianity. During Louis the Fat’s reign (1081–1137), St Denis and the abbey dedicated to him acquired general prestige, and Denis surpassed the other two saints in the dynastic ideology. Martin’s popularity stayed intact all over France, but he had a serious rival as the main protector of the country. See Beaune, Naissance de la nation française, 80–81.

37 The topos of the pious Hungarian prince abandoning his kingdom to live as a monk has several variants. In one of them the prince becomes patriarch of Aquileia, see Seláf, “Egy exemplum változatai.”

Volume 5 Issue 3 CONTENTS


A Sister in the World: Saint Elizabeth of Hungary in the Golden Legend 1

Linda Burke

Elmhurst College


I begin this essay with background information for a study of Elizabeth’s life story as disseminated throughout Western Christendom by Jacobus de Voragine’s Golden Legend: first, her historical originality as a model of sanctity, and second, the remarkable transmission of the Legend itself, both in Latin and the vernacular. I conclude this section with a note on the larger political agenda of the Legend. The essay continues with sections on the uniqueness of Elizabeth’s example as a “sister in the world” within the context of other saints’ lives in the Legend, the author’s evidently purposeful deletions and additions to his source for her life, and Elizabeth’s legacy as perpetuated by the Golden Legend.

Keywords: Elizabeth of Hungary, thirteenth-century sainthood, Golden Legend, Franciscan spirituality, Dicta Quatuor Ancillarum


The story of St Elizabeth of Hungary (1207–31, canonized 1235) as disseminated all over western Christendom by Jacobus de Voragine’s Golden Legend2 (completed ca. 1276), could not more perfectly fit the theme of “Hungarian saints abroad.”

Originally written in Latin for fellow Dominicans to use as a preaching aid, the Legenda Aurea (hereafter LA) was the most copied book in the Middle Ages after the Bible, with over a thousand manuscripts catalogued by Barbara Fleith in her magisterial work of scholarship.3 The entire collection is arranged in chronological order according to the liturgical year, beginning with Advent and ending in late November. Of the 178 chapters authored by Jacobus (many more were added later), the majority are saints’ lives, sequenced according to their feast days.4 The remaining chapters are mainly devoted to church holidays, with the penultimate chapter devoted (somewhat oddly) to a summary of world history with an emphasis on the author’s native Lombardy. Our Elizabeth appears twice in the LA, in a fully developed vita at the position appropriate for her feast day (then November 19),5 and again briefly noted as representing a milestone in the author’s capsule history of the church in the thirteenth century.6 Her presence in the LA is especially remarkable, and obviously purposeful on the part of the author, as Jacobus included only four thirteenth-century saints in the entire collection, preferring saints of the remote past, and only one woman among these near-contemporaries.7 As we will see, Jacobus gave special attention to her vita, crafting it as quite distinct from any other saint’s life in the entire collection, and using it to support a new model of the holy woman as “sister in the world,”8 both active as “Martha” in her works of charity, and contemplative as “Mary” in her intense piety and personal communication with Jesus.9 However, despite the foundational importance of Elizabeth’s example and the wide-reaching influence of the LA, Elizabeth’s legend as specially rendered by Jacobus has received very little focused attention, with only one sustained treatment (so far as I know) devoted to this topic alone.10

I will begin with background information for a study of Elizabeth’s legacy as spread far and wide by the Golden Legend: first, her historical originality as a model for sanctity, and second, the remarkable transmission of the Legend itself, both in Latin and the vernacular. This section concludes with a note on the larger political agenda of the Legend. I will continue with sections discussing the uniqueness of Elizabeth’s example within the context of other saints’ lives in the LA, the author’s evidently purposeful deletions and additions to his major source for her story, and Elizabeth’s legacy as carried forward (in large part) by the Legend.

Elizabeth the “Modern Saint”

Elizabeth lived at a time of renewal for the definition of sanctity in western Christendom. As explained in the foundational study by André Vauchez, the canonization of St Thomas Becket (1173) inaugurated an era in which saints who had recently died were increasingly popular with the laity and also sought after by the papacy as role models for Christians of their own day.11 These saints were actually understood and referred to as “new.”12 Beginning with St Francis (1228) and St Dominic (1234), members of the newly founded mendicant orders were quick to be canonized. Accordingly, mendicant communities were also among the strongest voices for the promotion of a new type of saint—living by rule, yet active in the world, with a new emphasis on the vita apostolica, especially zeal for the care of souls and relief of the poor.13 For our present purposes, it is important to remember that the mendicant movement provided new opportunities for women, even married women, to practice the ideals of humility, poverty, and a Christian life in the world. While some female mendicants (such as Clare of Assisi) would enter the cloister, others—with clerical support—remained in the lay estate while pioneering a life of hands-on involvement with the ill and the poor.14 Elizabeth of Hungary, as a “sister in the world,” was not unique in this regard. To give just one example, another contemporary holy woman with a similar life trajectory was the married beguine Marie d’Oignies (d. 1213), who like Elizabeth rejected personal wealth and devoted her entire life to good works in the world, especially direct treatment of the most repulsive medical conditions. Like Elizabeth and others, she was supported by a powerful male hagiographer, the bishop and crusade preacher Jacques de Vitry.15 In a striking departure from the usual misogamous tropes of medieval hagiography, both women’s husbands are described as supportive of their wives’ apostolic lifestyle, including their devotion to the poor,16 although unlike Elizabeth, Marie requested and was granted a celibate union.

Like Marie’s, Elizabeth’s example was promoted as a corrective and rebuke to heresy as it threatened the hegemony of the Catholic church. Since the leading heresy of the time, Catharism, affirmed a radical rejection of the body, Elizabeth’s unusual status—as happy wife and mother before her widowhood—was obviously welcomed as opportune.17 Elizabeth also role-modeled orthodoxy through her humble obedience to the brutal demands of her confessor, the inquisitor and crusade preacher Conrad of Marburg,18 although I will argue that (as testified by her female companions and thus partly reflected by Jacobus) she maintained her spiritual independence in crucial ways and even at times resisted his demands, as guided by her conscience.

While acknowledging that Elizabeth’s achievement did not arise in a vacuum, it is equally important to note the strikingly original elements in her self-fashioned paradigm for sanctity. As explained by André Vauchez, she surpassed other saints of the thirteenth century, both in her intimate participation in the life of the poor, and in her practical and larger-scale achievements in the provision of care for the suffering. For example, she set up a distribution center at the foot of Wartburg Castle for those too infirm to reach the elevation of the château,19 and in her widowhood she created her famous hospital in Marburg. Also highly distinctive, if not absolutely unique in her day, was Elizabeth’s Speisegebot, her refusal to partake of food obtained through oppression of the poor.20 Elizabeth’s uniqueness transcended the domain of good works; in her report of personal conversation with Jesus, she also practiced at the forefront of late medieval mystical experience.

A Legend on the Move

To understand the Golden Legend as a vector for Elizabeth’s reputation throughout the reaches of western Christendom, it is necessary first to review the textual history and transmission of the work as authored in Latin by Jacobus de Voragine (ca. 1230–98), the Dominican prior provincial of Lombardy and later Archbishop of Genoa. Jacobus completed his first redaction before 1265, the date appearing on a manuscript of this family.21 No later than 1272-76, the author added ten more chapters (including Elizabeth’s) to the collection, bringing the number of chapters to 178.22 The original purpose of the work is not in doubt: the Latin Legend was created by a Dominican for Dominicans, especially future preachers23 studying at university. By the 1270s, the LA had spread through Dominican channels to the University of Paris, where it became a textbook for students who belonged to the Franciscan order and the secular clergy as well.24 As documented by Fleith, Elizabeth’s vita was included in the majority of manuscripts copied at the University of Paris,25 and from that center of influence, it spread to other universities and Europe at large. Many graduates, of course, would use their education to play a pastoral role as preachers and teachers to the laity.

While circulated widely in Latin, the LA was quickly translated into virtually every European vernacular, beginning at the turn of the fourteenth century. At least one version survives, and usually more, in French, English, Langue d’Oc, Catalan, Italian, several dialects of German, Czech, Hungarian, and other languages.26 In tandem with its emerging popularity in the languages that lay people could read, the Golden Legend was quickly recognized as an important book both about and for women. Although out of 200-plus saints named in the LA only 41 are women, and only five of these were married, this total equals dozens of female saints with a record of action and achievement27 that was obviously “relatable” to women. In at least one case, his life of St Katherine of Alexandria, Jacobus appears to have strategically enhanced the prestige of a woman saint, “[by supplying] five reasons, apparently original to him, why she was admirable ... her wisdom, eloquence, constancy, chastity, and dignity”; these “reasons” include her prowess at the philosophy and public preaching traditionally limited to men.28 Many vernacular manuscripts of the Golden Legend were commissioned, and/or owned, by influential laywomen and by houses of women religious.29 For our present purposes, the most interesting example may be the Légende dorée in its literal French translation by Jean de Vignay (ca. 1333), which includes the life of Elizabeth among the full roster of legends authored by Jacobus.30 One manuscript even displays a presentation picture from the Workshop of the Master of the Cité des Dames, showing the translator presenting a copy of the work to his patroness, Queen Jeanne de Bourgogne.31 To use as his Latin prototype, de Vignay would have doubtless had access to a manuscript of the complete LA in Latin as reproduced for students at the University of Paris, to judge from the evidence discussed above.

What kind of book was the Golden Legend, that foundational collection of exemplary Christian lives? On close inspection, it is found to be surprisingly limited in terms of “redeeming social value.” Few of the saints in the collection, the majority of them ancient martyrs, provide any kind of practical model for everyday Christian living. Although many saints are described as engaged in works of charity, I agree with Sherry Reames that the book is devoted far less to instruction in love of neighbor, than to affirming Church authority above all, praising virginity as the supreme way of life, and denigrating marriage and children as a stumbling block to salvation.32 I would add that the book is from beginning to end a justification of faith-based violence and killing, both in ancient times, and in the author’s immediate milieu. As retold in the LA, the passions of ancient saints quite often feature more pagans killed by divine intervention than Christians martyred; to give just one example, four thousand onlookers were annihilated by a shower of miraculous debris at the scene of Katherine of Alexandria’s decapitation.33 Jacobus’s contemporary Peter Martyr, one of the four “contemporary” saints included in the collection, was murdered by heretics as he was on a mission to convert or kill them.34 In the chapter on St Dominic, the saint is approvingly described as signing off on orders to have a group of heretics burned alive, sparing only one of them on a seemingly random premonition.35 Just as with the Jacobus’s own Order of Preachers and his late medieval Catholic Church, a major agenda of the Golden Legend is to shore up clerical authority and orthodoxy, even by intimidation and deadly force.

Elizabeth’s Vita as Unique within the Golden Legend

Elizabeth’s model of sanctity appears to have been just as original in the 1270s as it had been four decades earlier at the time of her death and canonization, to judge from the evidence of her vita as rendered by Jacobus de Voragine. While the historical Elizabeth was not entirely unique in her achievements, as noted above, there is simply no other life story similar to hers in the Legenda Aurea. In a variety of ways, Elizabeth’s vita stands alone, showing forth her distinctive contribution to medieval Christian spirituality despite the mediating voices of agenda-driven clerical interpreters.

Jacobus was evidently quite concerned to choose an acceptable role model for women aspiring to sanctity in his own time and place. The most striking novelty in Elizabeth’s portrayal, and one with no counterpart elsewhere in the LA, is the ambiguous religious status she adopted after the death of her husband—putting on a dingy gray habit suggesting the Minorite tradition, embracing celibacy once a widow, spinning wool with her own hands, and living in poverty with the poor, but not entering a cloister or taking formal vows. Her life transition included renunciation of earthly ties, on terms defined with precision by herself. In early widowhood, supervised by her confessor, but by her handmaids’ account acting with passionate conviction, Elizabeth prayed the Lord


to fill her with contempt for all temporal goods, to take from her heart her love for her children, and to grant her indifference and constancy in the face of every insult. When she had finished her prayer, she heard the Lord saying to her: “Your prayer has been favorably heard.” Elizabeth told her women: “The Lord had heard my voice graciously, because I regard all temporal things as dung, I care for my children no more than for [my other neighbors/aliis proximis], I make light of all contempt and disrespect, and it seems to me that I no longer love any but God alone.36


Elizabeth’s prayer to be released from love for her children is cruel and bizarre by any human standard, but compared to the lives of other canonized parents in the LA, it is mild and respectful of family ties. The collection abounds with examples of mothers (and at least one father) who prayed for their children to get sick and die (before losing their virginity), or to be swept off to heaven by martyrdom before their mothers’ eyes.37 Biblical prototypes were the mother of the seven martyred sons (including a small child) in the Book of Maccabees38 and the gospel admonition to hate one’s parents, spouse, and children for the sake of the Lord.39 Closer to Elizabeth’s era, St Angela of Foligno (1248–1309) prayed for her mother, husband, and children to die so that she might devote her life to religion; her prayer was answered as she wished. Even if Angela’s plea is a trope of hagiography not to be understood as an actual death-wish, it is extreme even by the standards of its time.40 By contrast, Elizabeth is approvingly described by Jacobus as constructing her great renunciation with a loophole allowing her to love her children according to the biblical mandate that she love her neighbor as she loves herself, meaning she will never hurt them and will help them if she can. As a “sister in the world,” Elizabeth will not renounce all ability to love and be loved. Clearly, Jacobus wished to present an alternative to the extreme anti-family asceticism of Catharist heresy, and indeed, certain other chapters in his own Legenda.

Elizabeth had a lifelong gift for emotional intimacy, as evident from the testimony of her female companions. The naturalistic portrayal of her everyday personal bonding with friends is unlike any other descriptions in the Legenda. Guda, one of the four handmaids who testified at her canonization hearing, had lived with Elizabeth since the two women were about four or five years old until shortly after the death of Elizabeth’s husband in 1227.41 At the age of four, Elizabeth had been sent from the home of her parents, King Andrew and Queen Gertrude of Hungary, to be brought up in the home of her future husband Ludwig, who was soon to inherit his father’s position as landgrave of Thuringia. Thanks to Guda’s testimony, we have almost the only description of childhood in the entire LA, and the only one with a hint of a budding personality in a setting of naturalistic detail. For example, in a game that seems like tag, Elizabeth would always try to run into the chapel, where she would pray; at age five, she pretended to read the psalter even though she could not yet read; and if she won anything at games, she would share with playmates who had less than she.42 Although the child Elizabeth was pious, she was not oppressively so; she clearly enjoyed the same pastimes as other little girls, was a welcome companion, and displayed at an early age her lifelong generosity to the needy.

On the basis of the testimony of handmaid Isentrude, who had served Elizabeth since her marriage to Ludwig, Jacobus recounted an intimate companion’s description of a saint’s happy married life that is also completely different from anything else in the LA. Throughout the rest of the collection, almost all of the hundreds of saints are virgins, with only five named saints being married women. Of the saints who did marry, many (most famously St Cecilia) agreed with their spouse to a celibate union. Almost never in the 178 chapters is a normal marriage presented as a positive, much less a sanctifying influence for either husband or wife.43 There is nothing comparable elsewhere in the Legenda to the glimpse of a happy marriage in the following incident recalled by Isentrude:


She often rose during the night to pray, though her husband begged her to spare herself and give her body some rest. She had an arrangement with one of her maids who was closer to her than the others, that if by chance she overslept, the maid would wake her up by touching her foot. Once by mistake she touched the landgrave’s foot. He woke up with a start but understood what had happened, and patiently put up with it and pretended not to have noticed anything.44


This vignette is unique within the LA in several ways. Nowhere else does Jacobus acknowledge such a commonplace marital practice as sleeping close together, much less with tolerant amusement, and (as noted earlier), almost never does he portray a husband and wife in a true partnership supporting each other’s spiritual concerns. Jacobus’s record of Elizabeth’s grief at her husband’s death (in Otranto, struck down by illness as he attempted to go on crusade) is also markedly at odds with a collection in which the generality of sainted spouses prefer to be liberated through widowhood or cheer on one another’s martyrdom.45 Channeling the resignation of Job as well as Jesus in Gethsemane, but unmistakably affirming her love and grief for Ludwig, Elizabeth is quoted as lamenting


You know, O Lord, that I loved him dearly, as he loved you, yet for love of you I deprived myself of his presence and sent him to relieve your Holy Land. Delightful as it would be for me to live with him still, even were we reduced to go begging through the whole world, yet I would not give one hair of my head to have him back against your will, nor to recall him to this mortal life. I commend him and me to your grace.46

Indeed, according to André Vauchez, the tender portrayal of Elizabeth’s happy marriage in the handmaids’ testimonies (and the vitae based on them) was an outlier that was not be repeated in saints’ lives of the later Middle Ages.47

Scores of saints in the LA give money or goods to the poor, but following Isentrude, Jacobus portrays Elizabeth as taking a stand on systemic injustice and organizing programs for long-term social betterment that have no counterpart anywhere else in the Legend, and indeed, were remarkable by the standards of their time.48 Elizabeth not only imposed on herself the pains of poverty; she tried to challenge the larger socioeconomic structure that oppressed the powerless. Willingly obeying her confessor, she adopted a food boycott known as the Speisegebot, designed to prohibit all sustenance acquired by plunder or robbery of the poor:


Master Conrad forbade her to eat any food about which she had the slightest qualm of conscience, and she obeyed his behest so meticulously that however abundant the delicious foods might be, she and her servingmaids partook of the coarser fare. At other times she sat at table and divided and moved the food around on her plate, so as to seem to be eating and to ward off any notion that she was superstitious: thus, by her urbanity, she put all the guests at their ease. When they were traveling and she was worn out with the length and labors of the journey, and she and her husband were offered foods that might not have been honestly acquired, she accepted none of them and patiently ate stale black break soaked in hot water, as her maids did. . . . The Landgrave was tolerant of all this and said that he would gladly do the same himself if he were not afraid of upsetting the whole household.49

Again, the Landgrave is described as supporting his wife’s spiritual journey even when he could not follow. Although the boycott was required by her confessor, it is clear that Elizabeth was deeply committed to the practice. According to Kenneth Wolf, “[of] all the different aspects of Elizabeth’s saintly regimen reported to the commission by her handmaids, the Speisegebot was the most distinctive. I know of no other examples of such precise restrictions on consumption tied to issues of economic justice.”50 If this type of renunciation was not absolutely unique to Elizabeth, it was at least extremely rare.51 The saint’s commitment to alleviating poverty on the systemic as well as the individual level was active as well as passive. While her husband was still alive, Elizabeth fed the hungry and assisted the sick and dying, providing hands-on care even to the most disfigured,52 all of these actions deriving from the standard repertoire of Christian good works and echoed in countless other saints’ lives.

However, Elizabeth went further than giving handouts or other fleeting ministrations by establishing what seems to have been a day care center where the children of poor women, presumably patients in hospital, were not only fed and cared for, but obviously treated as children:


In the same house [her hospital in Eisenach] Elizabeth saw to it that children of poor women were well fed and cared for. She was so gentle and kind to them that they all called her Mother and, when she came into the house, followed her around as if she were in fact their mother, and crowded about her to be as close to her as possible. She also bought some small dishes and cups and rings and other glass toys for the children to play with. She was riding up the hill, carrying these things in the fold of her cloak, when they came loose and fell to the rocks below, but not one of the toys was broken.53

Elsewhere in the LA, there is no such natural and sympathetic depiction of childhood or childcare, much less of organized care for the children of the poor. Beyond her personal attention to individual patients, Elizabeth addressed the larger problem of the impoverished ill in her community by having hospitals built, first in Eisenach near Wartburg Castle where she lived with Ludwig,54 and during her widowhood in Marburg where she spent her final years.55 Elizabeth is the only saint in the collection, male or female, to carry out such a large-scale and practical plan. The medical volunteerism of St Francis—visiting a leprosarium, kissing the hands of the patients, and leaving them money—seems disorganized and sporadic by comparison.56 In the sustained attention and hands-on intimacy of her work as a hospital sister at Marburg, Elizabeth surpasses any other saint portrayed by Jacobus. There is no detail quite like this one in any other saint’s life of the collection: “After the hospital was built, she committed herself to serving the poor like a simple servingwoman. . . . she humbled herself so completely that when a poor child who had only one eye and was covered with scabs came into the hospital, she took him in her arms to the privy seven times in one night and willingly washed his bedclothes.”57

Jacobus is also careful to describe Elizabeth’s contemplative life with vivid circumstantial detail, in a manner having no counterpart elsewhere in the LA. Following Isentrude, he describes how at mass during Lent, Elizabeth received such a powerful vision that on returning home exhausted


she rested on the lap of one of her maidservants and gazed through the window at the heavens, and such joyousness swept over her face that she burst out laughing [risus mirabilis sequeretur]. Then, after she had for some time been filled with joy by this vision, suddenly she was weeping. Opening her eyes again, the earlier joy was renewed in her, and when she closed them again, back came the flood of tears. This went on till compline, as she lingered in these divine consolations. She did not speak a word for a long time, then suddenly exclaimed: “So, Lord, you wish to be with me and I with you, and I want nothing ever to separate me from you!”

Later on her [handmaidens] asked her to tell them [rogaretur ab ancillis], for the honor of God and their own edification, what was the vision she had seen. Conquered by their insistence, blessed Elizabeth said: “I saw the heavens opened, and Jesus leaning toward me in a most kindly way and showing me his loving face. The sight of him filled me with ineffable joy, and when it was withdrawn, I could only mourn my loss. Then he, taking pity on me, gave me again the joy of seeing his face and said to me: “If you wish to be with me, I will be with you.” And you heard my answer.58

The above passage is one of only two quotations of a near-contemporary female contemplative in the LA (Jacobus also cited Elizabeth of Schönau in repeating some details from her vision of the Assumption of the Virgin59), and it is the only one to describe the experience of a visionary encounter with Jesus. As explained by André Vauchez, this passage represents a clear choice on the part of Jacobus to embrace the creative forms of contemplation already introduced by women in the beguine milieux of Flanders and Germany.60 In his study of the LA, Jacques Le Goff notes Elizabeth’s joyful spirituality, including her holy laughter, as a “modern” thirteenth-century development in a monastic culture where laughter had been discouraged, and it was debated whether Jesus had ever laughed at all.61 Other saints in the collection are described as cheerful, but Elizabeth’s mirthful outburst is unusual if not unique within the LA.62 Following Isentrude, Jacobus describes Elizabeth as at home and alone during her vision except for her female companions; they were the ones who asked her to describe it and the ones who reported it later. Conrad neither was present when Elizabeth saw and spoke with Jesus, nor did he tell the story. By endorsing all aspects of Elizabeth’s contemplative model, Jacobus shows himself to be one of the thirteenth century mendicants, especially Dominicans, who engaged in the fruitful exchange between clerics and holy women that led to a new movement in spirituality and in the process, the emergence of a vernacular literature to support it.63

It is unclear whether Jacobus fully recognized the radicalism of Elizabeth’s mystical revelation in a context independent of male authority. In most of her vita, he reports approvingly on Elizabeth’s subservience to her confessor, while not appearing to recognize her spiritual independence of his authority, and even her occasional rebellion. Solely in order to make her suffer and break her will, Conrad dismissed her beloved long-time attendants Guda and Isentrude, causing great pain on both sides, replacing them, at least at first, with harsh and uncongenial women.64 Although Elizabeth accepted the change, she never defends his arbitrary punishments as justified, saying only that she herself had chosen his harsh discipline in order to grow closer to God by depriving herself of earthly satisfactions:


For God’s sake [propter deum] I fear mortal man as much as I ought to fear the heavenly judge. Therefore I choose to give my obedience [obediantiam facere volui] to Master Conrad, a poor, undistiguished man, rather than to some bishop, so that every occasion of worldly consolation may be taken away from me.”65


Later, Conrad had her flogged so severely that marks were still visible on her body three weeks later, all because, as rendered by Jacobus, she had visited a convent at “the earnest request of some nuns . . . without obtaining permission from her spiritual master . . .”66 Consoling herself and her companions, Elizabeth never expressed remorse for her innocent action or any intention to change her behavior; rather, she accepted Conrad’s punishment as practice in resigning herself to adversity imposed by the will of God: “The sedge grass lies flat when the river is in flood, and when the water recedes, the sedge straightens up. So, when some affliction befalls us, we should bow to it humbly and, when it passes, be lifted up by spiritual joy to God.”67 It is unclear whether Jacobus recognized Elizabeth’s spiritual independence of her “master”’s will, an independence with no parallel in any saint’s example amid the relentlessly pro-clerical agenda of the LA.

Finally, Jacobus adorned his vita of Elizabeth with expressions of tenderness that are remarkable in comparison to other chapters in the collection. In a departure from his usual style, he interpolates a personal meditation, complete with first person verbs exceptional for the LA, at the scene of her holy deathbed:


The bird that perched between Elizabeth and the wall, and sang so sweetly that she sang with it, we take [credimus] to have been her angel, who was delegated to be her guardian and also to assure her of eternal joy. . . . We believe [credimus] that the birds that sang jubilantly on the ridge of the church roof were angels sent by God to carry her soul to heaven.68

On this note of personal affirmation, Jacobus moves on to his recitation of her posthumous miracles, of less concern to us here.


Reworking His Source: What Jacobus Chose to Omit, Revise, or Retain

Within the context of the LA, as we have seen, Elizabeth’s vita is exceptional. As discussed by André Vauchez, Elizabeth’s life is the only one in the entire collection that was based on a sort of rough draft primary source,69 a group of testimonies from the saint’s canonization hearing of just a few decades earlier. Even more remarkable, this document, known as the Dicta Quatuor Ancillarum (Statements of the Four Handmaids),70 is based entirely on the voices of women, translated from their native German into Latin and filtered by clerical authorities, but nonetheless replete with details that only an intimate female companion would know.71 André Vauchez’s analysis underscores the uniqueness and extraordinary value of the handmaids’ testimony:


The Dicta Quatuor Ancillarum constitutes a very precious document. In contrast with later processes of canonization, the witnesses express themselves with almost total freedom; their statements are only rarely guided by questions and they are not yet bound by the rigid system of articuli interrogatorii, as would be the case in the fourteenth century.72

In much of his life of Elizabeth, as we have seen, Jacobus closely adhered to the Dicta Quatuor Ancillarum, a new type of source for the life of a new type of saint.

In certain crucial passages, however, he altered his source (or deleted material entirely) with the effect of bringing Elizabeth’s radical new model of sainthood into line with the mainly conservative values of the work as a whole: promotion of Catholic orthodoxy, unquestioned church authority, traditional subservience for women, and inextricable from all these, violence in the service of faith. Jacobus appears to have maintained consistency with this agenda both in his changes to the record, and in what he chose to retain.

It is no surprise that Jacobus omitted from his Legenda the sole anecdote from the handmaids’ testimony where Elizabeth directly questioned clerical authority, in this case a group of male religious who seem to have been proudly showing her around their cloister church:


Once when she came to a certain cloister of monks who had no possessions and who fed themselves only from daily alms, she was shown the sumptuous gilded sculptures in their church. She said to the approximately two dozen monks who were standing near her: “Look, it would be better to invest this revenue in your clothing and food than in your walls, because you ought to carry such images as these only in your hearts.” When one of them said, with regard to a particularly beautiful image, that it suited her well, she responded: “I have no need of such an image because I carry it in my heart.”73


As he states elsewhere in the LA, Jacobus held a favorable view of religious images in church; he considered such pictures a conduit for the word of God and an aid to Christian faith.74 Clearly, this particular example of Elizabeth’s audacity and spiritual independence could not be admitted into the very conservative and always pro-clerical Legenda Aurea. For Jacobus, the problem went beyond the fact that he disagreed with her negative opinion of the visual arts. The entire LA, at least in the chapters authored by Jacobus, contains no approved example of a lay person (much less a woman) defying or even standing in opposition to any representative of the clerical estate.

In another case, Jacobus simply rewrote the handmaids’ testimony to justify Conrad’s cruelty and render Elizabeth at fault. According to the eyewitness testimony of Irmgard, one of Elizabeth’s replacement handmaids who seems have become her close friend, the incident where Elizabeth entered the convent at Altenberg, and was flogged by Conrad as punishment, did not take place exactly as described by Jacobus and quoted above. As Irmgard tells the story,


[t]he ladies who were there [at the convent at Altenberg] asked Master Conrad to give permission to blessed Elizabeth to enter the cloister upon her arrival so that they could see her. Master Conrad responded: “She may enter, if she wishes,” confident that she would not. But Elizabeth, taking Master Conrad at his word, did enter, thinking that she had permission to do so. . . . Because Sister Irmgard had been responsible for getting the key and opening the door to the cloister—though she had not entered with Elizabeth—Master Conrad had her prostrate herself alongside blessed Elizabeth and ordered Brother Gerhard to beat them hard with a certain kind of whip that was big and long. While Gerhard beat them Master Conrad sang the Miserere mei Deus.75

Irmgard’s testimony puts Conrad clearly in the wrong for punishing Elizabeth, who did not knowingly disobey his command, and even more at fault for causing a handmaid to be lashed for merely helping her mistress. Both women bore stripes on their bodies for three weeks or more.76 (Elizabeth’s little daughter Gertrude had been placed at the convent,77 a fact not mentioned in the handmaid’s testimony, which may explain why Conrad was so enraged at the visit—he may have judged his spiritual daughter to be backsliding from her renunciation of love for her children.) Jacobus could not accept such an open, well justified critique of “Master” Conrad, who (as he must have known) was an inquisitor authorized by Pope Gregory IX to root out heresy throughout the German lands during the same period as he served as Elizabeth’s confessor.78 As Elizabeth’s confessor, Conrad of Marburg could not be censured, even by implication.

In another case of simply suppressing details of the story in order to whitewash Conrad’s brutality, Jacobus omitted Isentrude’s account of Elizabeth’s Christian charity as superior to that of her “Master,” as the saint defied his command to limit her almsgiving; if caught red-handed aiding a pauper, Elizabeth bore her confessor’s chastisements willingly, “mindful of the buffeting suffered by the Lord,”79 but she is never said to have obeyed her confessor’s restrictions on her charity, only to have accepted his punishments as opportunities to share in the suffering of Jesus. Clearly, Jacobus had no place in his agenda for any obvious breach of unquestioning obedience to clerical authority, whether bravely articulated by Irmgard after the fact, or reportedly practiced even by a saint.

Although Jacobus followed his source in paraphrasing Elizabeth’s beautiful speech on the return of her husband’s bones (quoted above), where she honors him for having set forth on crusade,80 the Dominican introduced a detail not present in the Dicta, by inserting a statement that she had originally exhorted her husband to go.81 As noted by Eszter Konrád, this may be Jacobus’s most significant alteration to his major source for the vita,82 as it transforms Elizabeth from a mere supporter to the instigator of her husband’s fatal voyage as he joined in a chaotic attempt to “rescue” the Holy Land.

This time hewing closely to Irmgard’s testimony, Jacobus approvingly reports that Elizabeth approved of and practiced faith-based violence at the personal level as well as (in his account) promoting it overseas. When a poor old woman in her hospital in Marburg refused to go to confession, Elizabeth beat her with rods until she complied.83 In the incident at the convent noted earlier, the saint not only accepted the cruelty done to her, but appears to have had no objection when a handmaid was forced to share in the punishment. Of course, there is also the enigma of why a saint who was so deeply concerned with oppression on the larger societal scale, would have chosen as her spiritual father an inquisitor who from 1227 (near the beginning of his association with her) was actively engaged in a reign of terror across the German-speaking lands. Attended by the same Gerhard who whipped the saint and her handmaid, and licensed by Pope Gregory IX, Master Conrad traveled from town to town accusing of heresy anyone who was unlucky enough to be brought to his attention, often by informers with agendas of their own. The accused had only two choices: confess their “guilt” or be burned at the stake. To save oneself, it was also necessary to implicate others. When Conrad was finally murdered in March 1233 by a group of nobles he had been reckless enough to accuse, Pope Gregory professed himself grief-stricken, but pointedly neglected making any moves to have the inquisitor canonized; Conrad had made himself too much hated, and his victims were now held to be martyrs themselves.84 By all accounts, and with Jacobus’s evident approval, Elizabeth clung to this monster during her married life and for as long as she lived.85

As noted above, St Elizabeth is mentioned in two different chapters of the LA, not only in her rather lengthy vita, but in Jacobus’s capsule summary of historical events leading up to his own day. Honoring crusaders and inquisitors, Jacobus places Elizabeth’s life firmly in the context of the war on heresy to which his work was so heavily devoted:


At this time the Orders of Friars Preachers and Friars Minor arose. Innocent sent legates to King Philip of France to get him to invade the Albigensian area in the South and destroy the heretics. Philip took them captive and had them burned at the stake. Finally Innocent crowned Otto (IV) emperor, exacting an oath that he would safeguard the rights of the church. . . . Saint Elizabeth, daughter of the King of Hungary and wife of the landgrave of Thuringia, lived at this time. It is recorded that among a great number of miracles she raised many, namely, sixteen, dead to life and gave sight to a person born blind. It is said that an oil still flows from her body.86


For Jacobus, Elizabeth’s shining example is a weapon in the crusade against heresy, just as surely as the violence often used to carry it out.

Jacobus also refashioned the “givens” of Elizabeth’s vita in a more conservative direction by adding a passage describing how the saint was unwilling to marry, preferring to die a virgin, but agreed to marriage only in obedience to her father’s will and to bring Christian children into the world; he elaborates, “. . . while bound to the law of the conjugal bed, she was not bound to enjoyment.”87 This passage reinforces the pro-clerical, thus anti-matrimonial bias of the LA as a whole, but is obviously at odds with the statements by her female companions, who never testify that Elizabeth was reluctant to marry Ludwig, and who describe the couple as deeply in love and enjoying a normal married life that included sleeping together. Further on, Jacobus makes an important omission in his retelling of events from the handmaids’ testimonies, evidently in the interest of portraying Elizabeth as strictly conforming with the subjection of women as required by her faith. The handmaids describe how when Elizabeth was visited by wealthy matrons during her married life, she would rebuke them for their prideful lifestyle “as if she were preaching (quasi predicans.)”88 Of course, women were not allowed to preach, and Jacobus never shows us an Elizabeth doing anything like predication. His vita keeps her spoken communication within the limited territory allowed to women and already defended on behalf of the beguines: he describes her as “giv[ing] instruction to the ignorant (incultos homines edoceret),”89 speaking words of consolation to the sick (“verba exhibebat consolationis”)90 and recounting her vision of Jesus in a private context, as noted above, but never preaching.91 It is notable that Jacobus gives us female saints who preached in public, but all in ancient times: the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene, her sister Martha, and Katherine of Alexandria,92 among one or two others. His model of sainthood for the “modern” woman allowed for an active life where the saint might give edification in private even to men, but she would be subservient to clerical authority and sternly enjoined from preaching.


A Golden Legacy

Although the Golden Legend was not the only source transmitting Elizabeth’s legacy to the world, it is safe to say that none traveled any further abroad or in a greater number of manuscript witnesses, at least in the later Middle Ages. (The Dicta Quatuor Ancillarum, Jacobus’s major source for her vita, survives in seven manuscripts.)93 So indebted to the Golden Legend for its dissemination to the world, how is Elizabeth’s legacy alive today? Except to historians, Conrad of Marburg and his war on Catharism are largely forgotten, while Elizabeth’s golden paradigm endures. As recognized by her contemporaries, St Elizabeth invented and lived a new model of sanctity, the “sister in the world” combining direct experience of Jesus with hands-on relief of the sick and poor, and not only with occasional palliative measures, but in programs of ongoing societal impact such as a daycare center and hospitals. As explained by Gábor Klaniczay, “Elizabeth’s life and saintly glory became the major career script” for other women to follow.94 Although it is anachronistic to call Elizabeth a Franciscan tertiary,95 her example certainly helped give rise to the movement. She is the patron saint of Third Order and an inspiration to secular Franciscans96 along with many others who continue her works of mercy in the world. As a happily married mother, she opened the door to a model of sainthood that was relatively supportive of family ties, especially by the standards of her time. She was a woman of spiritual courage and independence in a brutally patriarchal milieu. Jacobus affirmed her association with violence as a means of defending the faith; in the interest of honesty this part of her legacy must be confronted, not denied. However, the majority of his chapter on Elizabeth is devoted to memorable examples of her loving kindness in action. This is the legacy of St Elizabeth of Hungary that continues to instruct and inspire.





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1 An earlier version of this paper was presented at a session of the Women in the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition, 48th International Congress on Medieval Studies, Kalamazoo, MI, 2013. I wish to thank the WIFIT community for encouraging my work.

2 When referring collectively to the Legend in all its incarnations, Latin and vernacular, I will call it the Golden Legend, the equivalent of its traditional Latin title.

3 The Latin MSS are listed and described in Fleith, Studien, 55–331.

4 When quoting or referring to the Latin LA, I will use the now standard edition, Iacopo da Varazze, Legenda Aurea, ed. Giovanni Paolo Maggioni. Tavarnuzze: SISMEL, 1998, (cited as Iacopo da Varazze, Legenda Aurea). When quoting or referring to the Legend in English, I will use the only modern English translation: Jacobus de Voragine, The Golden Legend: Readings on the Saint, trans. William Granger Ryan. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993, (cited as Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend). Two fully annotated editions of the Legend are now available: Jacques de Voragine, La Légende dorée, (edited and translated by Alain Boureau in Modern French), and Iacopo da Varazze, Legenda Aurea, con le miniature, (edited and translated by Giovanni Paolo Maggioni and Francesco Stella, a Latin–Italian bilingual edition).

5 Iacopo da Varazze, Legenda Aurea, 2:1156–79; Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend, 2:302–18.

6 Iacopo da Varazze, Legenda Aurea, 2:1282; Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend, 2: 384.

7 On the four saints, Francis, Dominic, Peter Martyr, and Elizabeth, see Vauchez, “Jacques de Voragine.”

8 The exact phrase “sister in the world” is found not in Jacobus, but in the source for all or most of Elizabeth’s vita, the Dicta Quatuor Ancillarum (Statements of the Four Handmaids), based on the depositions taken from Elizabeth’s close female associates at her canonization hearing, January 1235. As reported in the Dicta, Elizabeth said “Vita sororum in seculo despectissima est et, si esset vita despectior, illam elegissem” (“Dicta,” in Quellentstudien, 135); “The life of the sisters in this world is the most despised of all. If there were a life that was more despised, I would choose it” (“Dicta,” trans. Wolf, 212). The edition of the original Latin is “Dicta,” in Quellenstudien, 112–40. The Dicta have been translated into English by Kenneth Baxter Wolf, “Dicta Quatuor Ancillarum,” in Wolf, The Life and Afterlife, 193–216, (cited as “Dicta,” trans. Wolf) and by Lori Pieper as “Statements of the Four Handmaids,” in Pieper, The Greatest of These is Love, 119–48.

9 See Luke 10:38–42. Jacobus praises Elizabeth as Mary in her prayers and Martha in her works of mercy: Iacopo da Varazze, Legenda Aurea, 2:1167, 1169; Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend, 2:310, 311.

10 The only previous study entirely devoted to Elizabeth in the Golden Legend is Konrád, “The Legend of Saint Elizabeth,” easily available online. My approach (as focused on Jacobus’s selective use of the Dicta Quatuor Ancillarum and the political agenda involved) is complementary to, not duplicative, of hers. Other discussions of Elizabeth in the Golden Legend have been brief: she is one of the four thirteenth century saints discussed in Vauchez, “Jacques de Voragine.” Ottó Gecser includes the LA in his comprehensive overview of the thirteenth-century sources on Elizabeth’s life: “Lives of St. Elizabeth,” 71–73. Both annotated editions of the Golden Legend have informative notes on her chapter: Jacques de Voragine, La Légende dorée, 1454–58, and Iacopo da Varazze, Legenda Aurea, con le miniature 2:1694–96. See also Le Goff, In Search of Sacred Time, 161–64, and Epstein, Talents of Jacopo da Varagine, 150–51.

11 Vauchez, Sainthood, 106–112.

12 Ibid., 111.

13 For an overview of the mendicant role in the new model for sanctity, both as saints and as promoters of causes, see Ibid., 113–27.

14 On female mendicant saints specifically, see Vauchez, Sainthood, 348–54; on lay female “new” saints, see Vauchez, Sainthood, 369 ff.

15 On parallels between Marie d’Oignies and Elizabeth, see Wolf, “The Life,” 63 ff., and Elliott, Proving Woman, 107. Elizabeth’s aunt, St Hedwig (canonized 1267), practiced good works as a laywoman following the death of her husband; see Wolf, “The Afterlife,” 4, n.4.

16 Wolf, “The Life,” 61 n.82.

17 Elliott, Proving Woman, 100. See also Michael Goodich, “The Politics of Canonization.”

18 Elliott, Proving Woman, 101.

19 Vauchez, “Charité et pauvreté,” 165–66 [29–30].

20 See nn. 49–51, below. Vauchez reviews but rejects the theory that she practiced the Speisegebot on Conrad’s orders to boycott food from lands her husband had seized from the church, or as a penance for wives of crusaders; he argues that she considered seigneurial exactions of food to be organized robbery of the poor: “Charité et pauvreté,” 169–70 [33–34].

21 Fleith, Studien 14–15, calls 1252 (the death of Peter Martyr) the terminus post quem for the LA, and 1265, the date of a first redaction MS, the terminus ante quem.

22 For the earliest dateable MS of the second redaction with Elizabeth’s vita, see Maggioni, Ricerche sulla composizione, 96, also 9–12, 550. Maggioni explains how 178 chapters are original to Jacobus, and of these 178, which ten belong to the author’s later redaction: passim, esp. 131–34.

23 On the LA as a collection for use in sermons, see Boureau, La Légende dorée: le système narratif, 21–23; Boureau, Introduction, xxix–xxx; and Fleith, Studien, 37–42.

24 For Fleith’s complex argument documenting the university connection on the basis of pecia markings, see her Studien, 41–42, 419 ff., and Fleith, “Legenda aurea: destination,” 41–48. Boureau considers but dismisses Carla Frova’s argument for the absence of a university connection: Introduction, xxiii–iv.

25 Fleith, Studien, 341, 355–56.

26 On the Legend in French, English, Langue d’Oc, German, and English, see the articles in Dunn-Lardeau, Legenda aurea: sept siècles. On at least twelve MSS of the LA in Italian, see Falvay, “St Elizabeth,” 139 and 139 n.6. On the Legend in Italian, English, Czech, and Hungarian, see Konrád, “The Legend of Saint Elizabeth,” 22–88. On eight different versions in French, see Ferrari, “La Légende dorée.” The most popular French translation was by Jean de Vignay; the modern edition is Jacques de Voragine, Légende dorée, édition critique, (edited by Brenda Dunn-Lardeau). On a German translation complete with Elizabeth’s vita, see Williams-Krapp, “Die deutschen Übersetzungen.” For more on the vernacular translations, see n. 29, below.

27 For example, see the erudition of Katherine of Alexandria and Paula; also Mary Magdalene as “apostle to the apostles” who (with her sister Martha) preached to the pagans in France, all located via the index to any edition.

28 Epstein, Talents of Jacopo da Varagine, 159.

29 For examples of women who commissioned vernacular translations, see Maddocks, “Pictures for Aristocrats,” 8, on de Vignay’s highly popular translation as originally presented to Queen Jeanne de Bourgogne, wife of Philip IV de Valois. See Ferrari, “La Légende dorée,” esp. 128, on another French translation commissioned by a woman, Béatrice de Bourgogne. On a “comtesse” who ordered saints’ lives in Catalan, see Brunel, “Les saints franciscains,” 110. On Isabella of Castile’s ordering a Spanish “santoral,” see Gatland, Women from the Golden Legend, 4. On ownership of an Italian Legend by Lady Judith of Forzate, a Dominican tertiary of the Lombard province, see Richardson, Materials for a Life, 8–9. For an example of a German legend in a house of Béguines, see Wetzel, “Légende et spiritualité monastique,” 211–26.

30 Elizabeth’s vita appears at Jacques de Voragine, Légende dorée, édition critique, 1069–83.

31 Formerly London, British Library, MS Phillipps loan 36/199; now privately owned. For description and discussion, see Maddocks, “Illuminated Manuscripts of the Légende dorée,” 156–57. She includes a reproduction of the presentation picture at “Illuminated Manuscripts of the Légende dorée,” fig. 66. I wish to thank Hillary Maddocks for sharing in our personal communication her knowledge of the manuscript and its sale into private hands.

32 Reames, Legenda Aurea: A Reexamination, passim, especially 26, 98–99, 106–07.

33 Iacopo da Varazze, Legenda Aurea, 2:1210; Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend, 2:338.

34 Peter questions a heretic taken captive, no doubt with the intention to have him killed if he does not recant: Iacopo da Varazze, Legenda Aurea, 1:423; Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend, 2:256.

35 Iacopo da Varazze, Legenda Aurea, 2:732; Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend, 2:47.

36 Iacopo da Varazze, Legenda Aurea, 2:1166; Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend, 2:309, with my preferred translation and original Latin in square brackets. For Isentrude’s testimony on which this passage is based, see “Dicta,” in Quellenstudien, 126, and “Dicta,” trans. Wolf, 205.

37 Legends in which parents pray for their children to die or rejoice at their martyrdom, located via the index to any edition: St Hilary (both daughter and wife); St Sebastian (exhorting the parents); St Paula (who didn’t pray for her children to die, but abandoned all but one of them); St Petronilla (whose father St Peter prayed for her to get sick and die while still a virgin); St Sophia; St Julitta (whose martyred son was only three years old); St Felicity; St Symphorian.

38 2 Maccabees 7.

39 Luke 14:26.

40 See Tomkinson, “‘Poverty, Suffering and Contempt,’” 114–15. More typical for saints’ lives is the approving report that he or she displayed no emotion on the death of child or children: Vauchez, Sainthood, St Charles of Blois, 365; Elizabeth’s aunt St Hedwig, both husband and son, 373.

41 “Dicta,” in Quellenstudien, 112; “Dicta,” trans. Wolf, 193.

42 Iacopo da Varazze, Legenda Aurea, 2:1157; Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend, 2:303. Based on Guda’s testimony, “Dicta,” in Quellenstudien, 112; “Dicta,” trans. Wolf, 193. On the growth of interest in childhood and the childhood of saints, see Vauchez, Sainthood, 509. On Elizabeth’s childhood with an emphasis on its commonalities with conventional hagiography, see Goodich, “A Saintly Child.”

43 Like a man, a woman is safer and happier unwed; Domitilla is dissuaded from marriage in the chapter on Saints Nereus and Achilleus by arguments that husbands are cruel, abusive, and unfaithful to their wives. A rare exception to the overwhelmingly misogamous LA is Elizabeth’s ancestor St Stephen of Hungary, cited in Jacobus’s brief history of the world, who was converted to Christianity by his wife “Gala”: see Iacopo da Varazze, Legenda Aurea, 2:1276; Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend, 2:380.

44 Iacopo da Varazze, Legenda Aurea, 2:1159; Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend, 2:304. Based on Isentrude’s testimony, “Dicta,” in Quellenstudien, 116; “Dicta,” trans. Wolf, 197.

45 For examples, located via the index to any edition, see St Anastasia; St Hilary (hoping for death of daughter and wife); St Adrian; St Genebald (in the life of St Remy).

46 Iacopo da Varazze, Legenda Aurea, 2:1165; Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend, 2:308. Based on Isentrude’s testimony, “Dicta,” in Quellenstudien, 124; “Dicta,” trans. Wolf, 204.

47 Vauchez, Sainthood, 383–84.

48 See n. 20, above.

49 Iacopo da Varazze, Legenda Aurea, 2:1160–61; Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend, 2:305–06. Based on Isentrude’s testimony, “Dicta,” in Quellenstudien, 115–16; “Dicta,” trans. Wolf, 196.

50 Wolf, “The Life,” 66. See also n. 20, above.

51 According to McNamara, “The Need to Give” 210, citing Jacques de Vitry’s Life of Marie d’Oignies 2:44, Marie in her youth chose to live on herbs she picked herself rather than partake of food from her mother’s house, which she regarded as the fruit of injustice and usury; on parallel renunciation by wives of usurers, see Elliott, Proving Woman, 94 n. 39.

52 Iacopo da Varazze, Legenda Aurea, 2:1161–62; Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend, 2:306–07.

53 Iacopo da Varazze, Legenda Aurea, 2:1162–63; Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend, 2:307. Based on Isentrude’s testimony, “Dicta,” in Quellenstudien, 119–20; “Dicta,” trans. Wolf, 200.

54 Iacopo da Varazze, Legenda Aurea, 2:1162; Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend, 2:307. Based on Isentrude’s testimony, “Dicta,” in Quellenstudien, 119; “Dicta,” trans. Wolf, 199.

55 Iacopo da Varazze, Legenda Aurea, 2:1169; Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend, 2:311. Based on handmaid Elizabeth’s testimony, “Dicta,” in Quellenstudien, 127–28; “Dicta,” trans. Wolf, 206.

56 As described in the “Life of St Francis,” Iacopo da Varazze, Legenda Aurea, 2:1017; Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend, 2:221. André Vauchez agrees that Elizabeth surpassed other thirteenth century saints in the hands–on intensity and organization of her care for the poor and ill: “Charité et pauvreté,” 165–66 [29–30].

57 Iacopo da Varazze, Legenda Aurea, 2:1169; Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend, 2:311. Based on handmaid Elizabeth’s testimony, “Dicta,” in Quellenstudien, 128; “Dicta,” trans. Wolf, 207.

58 Iacopo da Varazze, Legenda Aurea, 2:1167–68; Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend, 2:310. Based on Isentrude’s testimony, “Dicta,” in Quellenstudien, 122–23; “Dicta,” trans. Wolf, 202–03.

59 Iacopo da Varazze, Legenda Aurea, 2:787; Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend, 2:82–83. Jacobus’s quotation of Elizabeth of Schönau is explained by Alain Boureau at Jacques de Voragine, La Légende dorée, 1345–46, nn. 18–20.

60 Vauchez, “Jacques de Voragine,” 53.

61 Le Goff, In Search of Sacred Time, 163.

62 For example, St Dominic is lauded for his cheerful and calm disposition, but with no mention of laughter: Iacopo da Varazze, Legenda Aurea, 2:734; Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend, 2:53. Jacobus writes approvingly that St Bernard seemed never to laugh spontaneously, only to force his laughter: Iacopo da Varazze, Legenda Aurea, 2:817; Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend, 2:101.

63 Grundmann, Religious Movements, esp. 192–97, and Coakley, “Friars as Confidants.”

64 Iacopo da Varazze, Legenda Aurea, 2:1166; Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend, 2:309. Based on the testimony of Isentrude, “Dicta,” in Quellenstudien, 126–27; “Dicta,” trans. Wolf, 205.

65 Emphasis added. Iacopo da Varazze, Legenda Aurea, 2:1166; Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend, 2:309. Based on the testimony of Irmgard, “Dicta,” in Quellenstudien, 135; “Dicta,” trans. Wolf, 212.

66 Iacopo da Varazze, Legenda Aurea, 2:1166; Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend, 2:309.

67 Iacopo da Varazze, Legenda Aurea, 2:1166–67; Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend, 2:309. Based on the testimony of Irmgard, ”Dicta,” in Quellenstudien, 135–36; ”Dicta,” trans. Wolf, 212.

68 Iacopo da Varazze, Legenda Aurea, 2:1172; Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend, 2:313; on these passages as Jacobus’s personal interjections, with first person verbs unusual for him, see Alain Boureau’s discussion in Jacques de Voragine, Légende dorée, 1457 n. 63.

69 Vauchez, “Jacques de Voragine,” 48. He is referring to the Dicta Quatuor Ancillarum, agreed to be almost the only if not the only source for the vita portion of Elizabeth’s legend in Jacobus’s LA: see n. 70, below. On medieval sources for the life of Elizabeth, including later vitae, see Gecser, “Lives of St. Elizabeth,” and Reber, Elisabeth von Thüringen, 9–34.

70 From my personal comparison, I agree with Vauchez, see n. 69 above, and Gecser, “Lives of St. Elizabeth,” 72 and 72 n.107, that Jacobus used only the earlier version, the Dicta Quatuor Ancillarum, and not the Libellus, available as Der sogenannte Libellus, ed. Huyskens. As explained by Andre Vauchez, “Charité et pauvreté,” 163 [27], five sets of documents were used in Elizabeth’s canonization process, concluded in 1235: Conrad of Marburg’s Summa Vitae, the Dicta Quatuor Ancillarum, and miracle depositions collected in 1232, 1233, and 1235.

71 Vauchez, “Jacques de Voragine,” 48. For more discussion of the sources of Elizabeth’s legend in the LA, both vita and miracles, see Konrád, “The Legend of Saint Elizabeth,” 19–22. Konrád agrees, 20, that the Dicta is the most important, and possibly the only source for Elizabeth’s vita in the Legenda.

72 Vauchez, “Charité et pauvreté,” 163 [28]; translation mine.

73 “Dicta,” trans. Wolf, 214; “Dicta,” in Quellenstudien, 137–38.

74 St Ambrose had a vision of St Paul whom he recognized only by a painting he had seen: Iacopo da Varazze, Legenda Aurea, 1:538; Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend, 1:327. A Jewish boy-convert remains steadfast through martyrdom with the comfort of the Virgin Mary, whom he recognizes by a painting just seen on the altar as he took communion with the Christian children: Iacopo da Varazze, Legenda Aurea, 2:796; Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend, 2:87.

75 “Dicta,” in Quellenstudien, 135–36; “Dicta,” trans. Wolf, 212.

76 Irmgard, “Dicta,” in Quellenstudien, 212; “Dicta,” trans. Wolf, 212.

77 Wolf, The Life and Afterlife, 212 n.57.

78 Elliott, Proving Woman, 95–106.

79 Isentrude, “Dicta,” in Quellenstudien, 127; “Dicta,” trans. Wolf, 206.

80 Isentrude, “Dicta,” in Quellenstudien, 124; “Dicta,” trans. Wolf, 204.

81 Iacopo da Varazze, Legenda Aurea, 2:1163; Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend, 2:307.

82 Konrád, “The Legend of Saint Elizabeth,” 22.

83 Testimony of Irmgard, “Dicta,” in Quellenstudien, 129; “Dicta,” trans. Wolf, 207; story retold by Iacopo da Varazze, Legenda Aurea, 2:1169; Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend, 2:311.

84 Elliott, Proving Woman, 95–100. As noted by Elliott, Proving Woman, 60–61, other inquisitors were “martyred” in the line of duty, but of these, only Peter Martyr was canonized; the common people simply refused to report any miracles of dead inquisitors, thus denying the basis for a process. Even Peter Martyr’s canonization was unpopular and much criticized: see Vauchez, Sainthood, 415–16 and 415 n.10.

85 I am aware of only one study entirely devoted to the moral conundrum of Elizabeth’s intimacy with Conrad: Werner, “Die heilige Elisabeth,” 45–69. At 63, Werner pleas for understanding Elizabeth in terms of her own time, not ours; however, Conrad was widely despised by his contemporaries: see Elliott, Proving Woman, 98–100.

86 Iacopo da Varazze, Legenda Aurea, 2:1282; Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend, 2:384.

87 Iacopo da Varazze, Legenda Aurea, 2:1158; Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend, 2:304.

88 Isentrude, “Dicta,” in Quellenstudien, 117; “Dicta,” trans. Wolf, 198.

89 Iacopo da Varazze, Legenda Aurea, 2:1159; Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend, 2:304.

90 Iacopo da Varazze, Legenda Aurea, 2:1163; Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend, 2:307.

91 For a discussion of the private admonitory speech permitted to women, including Beguines, see Wolf, “The Life,” 77 n. 144.

92 Mary Magdalene, “apostle to the apostles,” “preached Christ fervidly to them [a public crowd of pagans] (Christum constantissime predicabat)”: Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend, 1:376; Iacopo da Varazze, Legenda Aurea, 1:631. Katherine of Alexandria’s “eloquence was admirable; it was abundant when she preached (habuit enim eloquentiam facundissimam in predicando)”: Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend, 2:340. Iacopo da Varazze, Legenda Aurea, 2:1214. Martha also preached (“predicaret”) in public: Iacopo da Varazze, Legenda Aurea, 2:684; Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend, 2:24. The Virgin Mary kept her memory of the Incarnation in her heart until it was time to preach it or write it (“tempus predicande vel scribende”) to Luke the Evangelist and others wanting to know: Iacopo da Varazze, Legenda Aurea, 2:1069; Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend, 2:253. However, Jacobus stopped short of suggesting that a contemporary woman should be allowed to preach.

93 Gecser, “Lives of St. Elizabeth,” 55. Of course, there were other lives of Elizabeth outside the LA: see Gecser, “Lives of St. Elizabeth,” passim. The LA was a major source for the spreading of her story, but not the only one.

94 Klaniczay, “Legends as Life Strategies,” 99–100, with emphasis on her saintly relatives.

95 According to Vauchez, Laity in the Middle Ages, 108, citing research by Meersseman, the Third Order was not founded until 1289 with the papal bull by Nicholas IV, Super Montem.

96 Pieper, The Greatest of These is Love, 101, explains how secular Franciscans (including herself) are especially inspired by Elizabeth’s example.

Volume 5 Issue 3 CONTENTS


The Saint and His Finger: Dominican Legends and Exempla from Thirteenth-Century Hungary

Attila Györkös

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.

Keywords: Dominican Order, exempla, legend, medieval Hungary, relic


The implantation of the Black Friars in Hungary was due to a decision made by one of St Dominic’s closest companions, Paulus Hungarus (Paul of Hungary), a former professor of Law in Bologna who, in 1221, began to organize the activity of the Order of the Preachers in Central Europe. The first convents were established in the greatest commercial centers of the country, but the Friars continued to advance beyond the southern and eastern frontiers of the kingdom to fulfil the wish of their founding father: the Christianization of the Bosnian heretics and the pagan Cumans. The order enjoyed royal support until the early 1260s, but afterwards King Béla IV (1235–70) favored the Franciscans.1

The arrival and settlement of Dominicans was followed by the genesis of a Dominican written culture in Hungary. The single most significant piece of evidence of this activity is the Life of St Margaret (the so-called Legenda vetus, before 1274),2 but there were other attempts to collect legends or miraculous acts from among members of the Order in Hungary. Italian, Spanish or French vitae Dominici or exempla collections relate numerous stories from the missionary work of the Friars in the Balkans, and they also present the political influence of the Order in the kingdom of Hungary. These documents reveal fragments of a rich, but later almost totally forgotten, Hungarian Dominican legendary tradition. In this essay, I examine the activity of the Preachers in the eastern frontiers of Western Christendom and the birth and decline of this special Hungarian cult of Dominic, which was centered on a relic of the saint.

Historians have shown little interest in the miracles or exempla that were alleged to have taken place in Hungary.3 To this day, the main work in the field remains the 1927 doctoral thesis by Mária I. Rössler.4 This brief volume (64 pages) constitutes an attempt to provide an overview based on the documentation assembled by the seventeenth-century Dominican writer Sigismundus Ferrarius,5 but Rössler analyzed neither the source-tradition nor the historical context of the subject, and some of her conclusions have already been shown to be erroneous.

Recent editions of early sixteenth-century’s vernacular legendary compositions (for instance the Old Hungarian Dominican Codex,6 the Book of Examples,7 and the Life of St Margaret8) made efforts to identify precisely the textual basis of some miracles, but these studies focused essentially on linguistic problems. Hence, before venturing into a more profound examination of our subject, I would like to offer a short overview of the development of the Dominican tradition from a specific, Hungarian perspective.

The Genesis of St Dominic’s Legendary and Its Connections to Hungary

The first brief vita of Dominic (Libellus de principiis Ordinis Praedicatorum) was composed between 1231 and 1234 by Jordan of Saxony (d. 1237), one of his closest companions and followers as master general of the Order (1221–36). It could be considered the most authentic report of the life of the saint because it was based on a personal and collegial contact. Jordan’s Libellus was continued by a Spanish friar, Peter of Spain (Petrus Ferrandi), whose Vita was written in the period between 1237 and 1242. In these documents there was no mention of any Hungarian miracles. The two Lives recount only Dominic’s acts and deeds in Spain, France, and Italy. The General Chapter of the Order decided in 1245 to prepare a new composition of the Vita, a work that Constantine of Orvieto (d. cca. 1258) compiled, complementing Peter’s writings with the addition of some two dozen other miracles that allegedly took place after the death of the saint.9 These stories obviously mark how the cult of recently canonized (1234) Dominic spread toward the frontiers of Western Christendom. Apart from some southern Italian cases, almost the whole newly incorporated miracles (namely 20 from 23) took place in Hungary. The Vitae of Peter and Constantine served as the basis for a more recent Vita written by Humbert of Romans, the fifth master elected in 1254 during the General Chapter in Buda.10 His version later became the “official”11 legend of Dominic, a reference point for all other biographers.12

Among the later collections of the second half of the thirteenth century (Bartholomew of Trent, Rodrigo of Cerrato, Gerard of Frachet), one should definitely mention the Vita of Theodoric of Apolda (about 1294–96) which contains 17 Hungarian miracles from the earlier legends.13 Apparently, the Hungarian part of the Dominican corpus was already closed.

Finally, from the “non–official” Dominican writings emerges the famous Legenda Aurea of the Genoese friar, Jacobus de Voragine. This work, written before 1264, was the amplest and most popular medieval hagiographical compilation, with almost one thousand manuscripts surviving up to 1500.14 As a Preacher, the author assigns particular place to the founder saint of the Order, and in his legend he cites five Hungarian miracles. A no less popular encyclopedia, the Speculum historiale of Vincent of Beauvais (about 1260), relates nine stories, and the exempla collection of Thomas of Cantimpré, entitled Bonum Universale de Apibus (or simply Apiarius, about 1254–63) also contains five miracles concerning the activity of the Order in the frontier lands of Hungary, i.e. in Cumania and Bosnia (See Appendix).

As I have mentioned, the first Dominican Vitae did not pay attention to the Hungarian cult of the saint, but the situation changed about 1245, when the new, “revisited” Life involved Hungarian elements, and these miracles were incorporated into the legendary corpus.

But while these texts are of the same origin and relate the miracles in identical ways, the exempla of Thomas of Cantimpré are different in subject and source material and therefore constitute exceptions. As I demonstrate below, they concern the missions to the Balkan frontier of Hungary, referring also to the Mongol invasions, themes completely ignored in other Dominican works.

Memory of the Cuman Missions

The missionary work among the pagan Cumans had a primary role in the early visions and plans of the newly founded Order of the Preachers. According to Jordan of Saxony’s account, Dominic initially planned to evangelize this nomadic people living beyond the Carpathians,15 but in the end he became an ardent combatant of the Albigensian heresy in Languedoc, France. Nevertheless, the Hungarian Dominican province, from its beginnings, had a sworn ambition to convert the Cumans. With the support of the papacy and King Andrew II of Hungary (1205–35), a bishopric was founded in Milko16 around 1227, and a Dominican friar became head of the diocese.17 We know little of the activity of this Episcopal see, but we do know that in 1241 the invading Mongols destroyed the diocese,18 which was never re-established, although the title “bishop of Milko” was in use until the early sixteenth century.19

However, in the Dominican tradition, the memory of these missions, so important for the identity of the Order, did not remain without echo. In his famous allegorical Apiarius, Thomas of Cantimpré offers two accounts which touch on their work. According to one, a seven year-old Cuman child, playing with his sisters near the river, was killed by a water demon. He was resuscitated by the supplications of his parents, and later, under the influence of the Prior of the Order, he became a friar (a priore ordinis praedicatorum in Hungaria receptus). According to the second, this same friar later committed a serious infraction of the rules by giving his used clothes to vagrants (lotrici) without permission. He fell ill and died sine confessione and sine viatico, but Archangel Michael drove away the demons hoping to capture his soul, and he rose again. Confessing his sins to the Prior, he received absolution, and he later evangelized many of his people (Cumanorum populum non modicum baptizavit).20

In these stories, the role of a certain Dominican prior was emphasized several times. There were only two Hungarian priors whose activity in Cumania could be historically confirmed: Paulus Hungarus, the founder of the province, and his companion and successor in the position, Theoderic. Paulus fulfilled his duty for two years (1221–22), but Theoderic was head of the province between 1223 and 1227, and he later become bishop of Milko.21 Since Thomas of Cantimpré makes no mention of the title of bishop for his protagonist, we can reasonably suppose that the story was incorporated into the Dominican memory before 1227.

Impacts of the Mongol Invasions and the Bosnian Heretics

The Cuman missionary diocese was swept away by the Mongols in 1241, like many other Dominican convents, and many friars were killed.22 The Bonum universale de Apibus recalls the devastation with an exemplum. A powerful Hungarian duke (Dux quidam in Hungaria potentissimus) surrendered his offices and entered the Order. At the approach of the Pagans, their companions left the convent, but he remained behind with the invalids. After the withdrawal of the enemy, the friars returned and found his severed head pierced by lances. Horrified, one of the brothers pleaded with God for three days to explain to him the reasons for what had befallen them. Finally, the murdered man appeared to him and, using biblical citations,23 explained to him that the sufferings of this world are remunerated in the Heaven.24

The so-called “duke” of this story was already identified in the Hungarian historiography.25 In reality, Buzád Bánffy was not a member of the royal family or the aristocracy, as his title misleadingly suggests, but he did hold several important positions. He was comes (or count, a sort of nominated royal official of a county) in different regions, such as Győr, Bihar, Pozsony, and Sopron, and he then served as ban of Slavonia26 or Szörény.27 In 1233, he entered the convent of the Black Friars in Pest.28 It seems, however, that he preserved some of his former secular duties: his name reappears in numerous official charters as a witness.29 If one is familiar with the details of Buzád’ career, it is not difficult to identify the anonymous convent of the exemplum as the convent in Pest.

Apparently, the connections of the Hungarian Dominicans with the “Infidels” intrigued the attention of a so distant chronicler as the Brabantian Thomas of Cantimpré. In another exemplum he turned towards Bosnia and told a story on Johannes Teutonicus, bishop of the diocese.

The narrative emphasized the sanctity of the protagonist: as a prelate, he continued to maintain a mendicant way of life. Though he had an annual income of more than 8,000 marks, he frequently visited his diocese on foot, without a horse, using a donkey to carry his books and episcopal accessories. Thomas of Cantimpré emphasizes that Johannes later became master general of the Order, referring to his election of 1241.30

It is an intriguing question how these stories came to the Netherlands. At the time, there were many Hungarian prelates who fostered close contacts with Western intellectual centers, for example Bartholomew and Raynald, bishops of Pécs and Transylvania, respectively, both of French origin,31 or the Wallonian Robert, Archbishop of Esztergom. The latter was born in Liège, where Thomas was educated. The contemporary French Cistercian Alberic of Trois-Fontaines relates in his Chronica the role of both Bartholomew and Robert in the evangelization of the Cumans in 1227.32 Raynald of Transylvania is also mentioned in other documents.33 As László Koszta points out, this mission was almost exclusively directed by prelates of foreign origins. He held that these clerics, not having had any earlier contact with the pagan world in their native countries, were more zealous than Hungarian bishops, who had grown somewhat accustomed to the presence of Cumans.34

Judit Csákó argues that Alberic learned these details orally through Cistercian sources,35 which does not explain how Thomas was informed of the specifically Dominican miracles. Concerning the accounts of other exempla of the period of the Mongol invasion, Robert died earlier (1239) and Raynald was killed on the battlefield of Muhi (1241)36 a few weeks before the devastation of Pest, and only Bartholomew survived. Later, from 1247 until his death (1254), he was at the papal Curia in Lyons, and he almost certainly died in Paris,37 so he cannot be ignored as a possible distant source of Thomas. However, some facts suggest that the Apiarius drew on a few other Hungarian testimonies, and the Bosnian bishop is particularly interesting from this point of view.

The Activity of Johannes Teutonicus in Hungary

Johannes Teutonicus (or Wildeshausen,38 also known in Hungary as John of Bosnia39) was educated, like many early Dominicans, at the law schools of Bologna, and he became friar in the early 1220s. After having spent several years wandering all over Western Europe (for instance preaching the Crusade of Emperor Frederick II in Germany),40 he joined his old confrère, Paulus Hungarus, and perhaps in 1227 became prior of the Hungarian province. By papal appointment, he became bishop of Bosnia between 1234 and 1237. Four years later, he was elected master general of the Order, a function he fulfilled until his death (1252).41

Johannes was a well known actor in Hungarian political life in the early 1230s. In the tense situation between the clergy and the royal power after the agreement of Bereg in 1233, he followed the “hard-core” clerical line, excommunicating King Andrew II in the name of the papal legate, Cardinal James of Pecorara.42

A few months later, along with his nomination as bishop of Bosnia, the Hungarian Dominicans obtained, in addition to the Cuman missions, oversight of the evangelization of the Balkan heretics. However, the Christianization of Bosnia proved a fiasco. The predecessor of Johannes (an unknown, local cleric) was deprived of his office, as he was, according to a papal letter, incompetent, analphabetic, simoniac, and a friend to the Bogomils. None of this was true of Johannes, but he was no more successful. In 1234, prince Coloman (king Andrew’s son) led a Crusade against the Balkan heretics, but Johannes himself, in all probability, never crossed the borders of his diocese.43

Apparently, the bishop had better relations with other members of the royal family than with the king himself. Almost two decades later, in 1252, already as master of the Order, Johannes designated the newly founded convent of Buda44 as a place for the next General Chapter at the request of Andrew’s son, King Béla IV. As mentioned above, in this royal center Humbert of Romans was elected in 1254 as the fifth master general of the Preachers.45

Once again, one has to return to the texts of Thomas of Cantimpré to get a sense of the warmth demonstrated by Béla and his wife to the late Johannes Teutonicus who, even after his death, seemed to intervene in Hungarian politics. According to this exemplum,46 the son and the consort of a Hungarian queen fought against each other. Fearing for the life of the combatants, she began to pray and, by revelation, her former confessor and Johannes appeared to her and reassured her that the two men would soon reconcile. As if by a miracle, an envoy came, sent by her husband, and declared that the two men had made peace.

Fortunately, historians have been able to identify the sources of this exemplum. The 1260 General Chapter, held in Strasbourg, investigated the miracles of Johannes Teutonicus, wishing to collect contemporary testimonies. In order to respond to this appeal, Béla IV and his queen had written two letters (in Lent, March 14) to the capitulum generale on the sanctity of Johannes.47 The king describes the Bosnian bishop as “of holy memory,” emphasizing his affection for the poor and recounting how he healed the lame and the blind and even helped Béla recover from his illness. In her letter, Queen Maria Laskaris offers a similar account: the fame of Johannes’ miracles and heavenly signs (miracula atque prodigia) spread far and wide, but in a more informative way, she describes a particular case, one concerning the same royal father–son disagreement, which can be read in the Apiarius.

One must keep in mind, in order to grasp the context in which these events took place, that in the late 1250s Béla and his elder son (the future King Stephen V, 1270–72) were in permanent conflict. In 1257, Stephen forced his father to elevate him to the dignity of the “Duke of Transylvania,” with complete power over this vast region. In 1259, he became Duke of Styria, but a year later he lost these recently occupied Austrian lands due to an uprising of local lords. Having lost all political and military power, he began to organize revolts against his father. Finally, after several agreements, as a “younger king” (iunior rex Hungariae), he ruled over almost all of Eastern Hungary until the death of Béla (1270). Hungarian historians found no other sources indicating any military conflict between the king and his son before 1262, so the information in the letters involved in the Apiarius is the only evidence permitting us to date this conflict back to the period at least two years earlier.48

These stories contain episodes from the early missionary work of the Friars beyond the Balkan frontiers of Hungary, and they also commemorated the destruction wrought by the Mongol invaders as well. The protagonist of some of these exempla was Johannes Teutonicus, and this indicates the formation of his Hungarian cult. However, he was not the only person whose post mortem miracles were venerated in the country, especially in a region close to the southeastern peripheries of the kingdom.

A Hungarian Region Full of Miracles

A Hungarian nobleman visited the relics of Dominic with his family. His son became ill and died en route. The body was placed in the church of the Order, in front of the altar, and the mourning father bitterly lamented to the saint: “I came to you joyfully, but I will return in sadness. Please, give me back my son, the happiness of my heart!” The boy revived and began to walk.

A noble lady from the same region intended to attend a mass in honor of St Dominic. Upon entering the church, she could not find the priest, so leaving her cloth-rolled candles on the altar, she went to a corner to pray. When she returned, she saw the candles burning brightly, but the cloth remained intact.

These two exempla are cited from the Life written by Constantine of Orvieto and repeated literally by Humbert of Romans.49 They strike us as typical, because, as with other texts concerning the Hungarian presence and cult of a relic of St Dominic, they reappear in numerous Vitae compositions (Appendix). As a common characteristic, each of these legends records the miracles happening around or in the same convent with the same relic, which is not specified. It seems that in the early thirteenth century this place was a center of the Preachers’ activity in the region.

The chronology and geography of the implantation of the Order is more or less clarified in the historiography. In 1241, the Hungarian Dominican network consisted of 25 houses. This number rose to 33–35 in 1303.50 Nevertheless, the question of the identity of the abovementioned convent was problematic for a long time. According to different manuscripts of the Vita of Constantine of Orvieto, it was Sumlu, Similii or Similu.51 Vincent of Beauvais’ Speculum historiale also identifies it as Similu,52 and Jacobus de Voragine designates it as Silon in his Legenda Aurea.53 The early twentieth-century Hungarian historiography drew on Sigismundus Ferrarius’ legendary composition, which mentioned the locality as Similium or, sometimes, Simigium. So, misdirected, in 1927 Rössler identified the place as Székesfehérvár,54 and ten years later Harsányi proposed the town of Sümeg or the county of Somogy (all situated in western Hungary).55 Finally, two generations later, following the edition of Theodoric of Apolda’s Vita,56 Györffy correctly localized the convent to Somlyó (Sumlu in Latin) in medieval southeast Krassó County (present day Vršac, Serbia).57 It is almost certain that the other versions of the place name were due to typical scribal mistakes: in the process of copying the writer simply confounded how to connect the minims, and for the unknown Sumlu (see: Sııııılıı) he erroneously put Similii or Similu, but Silon, Similium or Simigium are later and explicitly distorted forms.

An examination of other geographical names used in the different Lives offers persuasive support for Györffy’s conclusion: flumen Cris as the Karas River, castrum Karassu as Krassóvár (Caraş and Caraşova in Romania), or villa Tituliensis (Titel in Serbia) are all in the same region: in the Banat (nowadays divided between Serbia, Romania, and Hungary). Thus, as a result, in his recent (2008) work on Humbert of Romans’ Legenda Sancti Dominici, Simon Tugwell used the more correct Somlou as the name of the convent, instead of Similiu, which was used in the earlier (1935) edition.58

Consequently, it seems clear that these miraculous stories were parts of a local Dominican tradition emerging around the convent of Somlyó/Sumlu/Somlou and somehow (almost certainly through Johannes Teutonicus) were integrated into the Lives of Dominic, from Constantine of Orvieto to Theodoric of Apolda. Why did this convent become so important in the legendary corpus? Somlyó was not a significant town in Hungary, neither from the political nor from the economic point of view. But its geographical position, as a close place to Cumania, was ideal for any Dominican missionary activity. And not independently of these facts, it was where a relic of the founder saint was kept.59 Which one? The thirteenth-century sources are silent on this, but we have later evidence.

The last contemporary miraculous event related to Somlyó was written by Petrus Calo Clugiensis60 in his Life of St Dominic.61 Petrus heard the story in 1315 during the General Chapter in Bologna from Miklós Vasvári, prior of Somlyó. According to the text, a provost of Fehérvár (Alba Regalia) died in the convent. The relic, Dominic’s finger, was used in a particular way: it was plunged in a glass of water, and the water was poured into the throat of the corpse. Suddenly, the dead cleric vomited a stone, bigger than a hen’s egg, and returned to life.

The story reappears two centuries later in the Hungarian vernacular legend of the saint (1517),62 with some alterations: “and in Hungary, in the town of Fehérvár (…) they sent to the convent where the finger of our father, St Dominic was.”63

Apparently, in the early sixteenth century, Lea Ráskai, a Dominican nun64 and the scribe of this Hungarian Vita asserted that the relic was held in Fehérvár. She worked on a copy of an earlier, fourteenth-century translated text.65 Since we have no more information concerning a relic kept in Fehérvár or anywhere in her time, we could assume that this “transference” from Somlyó to Fehérvár was due simply to a mistake in the translation of her source or a mistake on her part. This prestigious finger of Dominic had almost certainly been lost in the meantime, lost at least from the memory of the Hungarian cult of the Preachers.

Late Medieval Dominican Miracle Tradition in Hungary: A Forgotten Past?

Beginning in the second half of the thirteenth century, the Hungarian Dominican tradition was enriched with new elements. As mentioned before, the cult of St Margaret emerged after 1270, producing numerous Legendae consecrated to this devoted young nun of royal blood. Although several medieval Hungarian kings, from Stephen V to Mathias Corvinus (1458–90),66 took steps to have her canonized, she was not beatified until 1943. Blessed Helen of Hungary (d. 1240?)67 and Mauritius of Csák (d. 1336)68 also had legendary compositions, written perhaps in the 1400s.

On the other hand, some parts of the previous legendary memory were lost in the later centuries of the Middle Ages.

We have no evidence of new miracles occurring in the Somlyó convent or any concerning Dominic’s finger relic after the early fourteenth century. Western Vitae continue to repeat the abovementioned stories without important changes, and even this apparently closed corpus is ignored in Hungarian documents. Evidently, as a result of the tumultuous history of this kingdom, the loss of medieval sources is enormous, but it is symptomatic that the 1517 vernacular legend had to borrow its stories that bore in some way on Hungary from Italian sources.

One observes the same phenomenon with regards to the Hungarian exempla of Thomas of Cantimpré, which are independent of the “official” Dominican legendary tradition. The Apiarius was particularly popular in the Middle Ages: apart from its numerous vernacular (French, Flemish etc.) translations, 94 Latin manuscripts have survived up to the present day.69 Hungary was no exception in this tendency. A compilation was written in 1448 by the Silesian–born Bartholomew of Münsterberg, a priest of Szepesolaszi (today Spišské Vlachy in Slovakia) and a former preacher of Lőcse (today Levoča in Slovakia). The codex is held in the University Library of Budapest.70 The document served as a preacher’s guide, and it included sermon-drafts, theological and medical treaties, and various exempla.71 The part containing 103 stories from the Apiarius is an abbreviated version of the two-thirds longer original work. Interestingly, no Hungarian miracles are mentioned in the manuscript. We do not know if this is due to the characteristics of the sources used by the scribe. A closer investigation could perhaps reveal the textual bases of this work. But it is certain that the intention of our cleric was not to evoke the ties of the miracles scattered in Thomas’ allegorical opus to Hungary.


I have examined how the thirteenth-century Hungarian Dominican tradition was represented in various legendary or exempla compositions. These stories are testimony to the memory of the missionary activity of the Preachers and a flourishing, but later forgotten cult around a finger relic of the saint, kept in a convent in the southeastern part of the kingdom. Accounts of these miracles arrived in Western Europe in different phases, brought by different people in different ways between 1221 and 1260, where they became part of the hagiographical tradition. This transmission reveals multiple connections linking the different provinciae to one another, and the genesis, spread and subsistence of these legends prove that Hungarian Black Friars played active roles in the cultural and spiritual life of the Order.

However, in later periods of the Middle Ages, the information flow reversed: Hungarian Dominicans became receptors, as the compilation of the work of Thomas of Cantimpré and the composition of the Hungarian vernacular Legenda show in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The Apiarius was used only as sermon guide, with no references to local particularities, and the Hungarian Life of St Dominic (copied by Ráskai) had to turn to Italian Vitae to rediscover some Hungarian bearings of Dominic’s miracles.

This transformation was due to various facts. The Balkan missionary work among the pagans and heretics was abandoned in the midst of thirteenth century; the legendary corpus was closed a generation later. New spiritual ideas were emerging: female mysticism and sanctity,72 complemented by an unquestionably Central-European aspect: the cult of holy women of royal blood.73 Inspired by a modern enthusiasm for the mulieres sanctae, Margaret’s veneration became widespread in Hungary, and it began to overshadow other local cults, including that of the finger of St Dominic.


Appendix. Cases Related to Hungary in Thirteenth-century Dominican Legends and Exempla



Constantine of Orvieto

Humbert of Romans

Vincent of Beauvais (L. 30.)

Thomas of Cantimpré (L. II.)

Jacobus de Voragine (c.113.)

Theodoric of Apolda

Hungarian Vernacular Legend




(c. 116.) 1.


1. (p. 479)

C 324

1. (pp. 73–74)






2. (p. 480)

C 325








C 326







3. (p. 480)

C 327

2. (pp. 74–75)




(c.117.) 1



C 328

3. (pp. 75–77)







C 329





(c.118.) 1


4. (p. 480)

C 330








C 331








C 332
























C 333 a








C 333 b
















C 334 a








C 334 b








C 334 b








C 334 c

4. (p. 161)







C 335







5. (p. 480)

C 336









5 (pp. 172–73)





c. XLIV 2








c. LVII 11








c. LVII 12








c. LVII 55








c. LVII 59







Budapest: Budapesti Egyetemi Könyvtár, Cod. lat. 65. ff. 116–57.


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Budai, Dániel, “A milkói püspökség” [The Diocese of Milkó]. Studia Vincentiana 2, no. 2 (2014): 9–18.

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Deák, Viktória Hedvig OP. Árpád–házi szent Margit és a domonkos hagiográfia. Garinus legendája nyomán [St Margaret of Hungary and the Dominican hagiography. Following the traces of the legend by Garinus]. Budapest: Kairosz, 2005.

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Frazier, Alison Knowles. Possible Lives: Authors and Saints in Renaissance Italy. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.

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Fügedi, Erik. Ispánok, bárók, kiskirályok: A középkori arisztokrácia fejlődése [Counts, barons and oligarchs. The development of medieval aristocracy]. Budapest: Magvető, 1986.

Gombos, Albinus Franciscus, Catalogus fontium historiae Hungaricae. Aevo ducum et regum ex stirpe Arpad descendentium ab anno Christi DCCC usque ad annum MCCCI. 4. vols. Budapest: Academia, 1937–1938.

Graesse, Theodor, ed. Jacobi a Voragine Legenda Aurea vulgo historia Lombardica dicta. Breslau: Koebner, 1890.

Györffy, György. Az Árpád–kori Magyarország történeti földrajza [Historical geography of Hungary under the Árpád dynasty]. 4. vols. Budapest: Akadémiai, 1987.

Harsányi, András. A domonkos rend Magyarországon a reformáció előtt [The Dominican order in Hungary before the Reformation]. Budapest: Kairosz, 1999. (Originally published: Debrecen: n.p., 1938).

Henriet, Patrick. “Dominique avant Saint Dominique, ou le contexte castillan.” In Dominique avant les Dominicains, 13–31. Mémoire dominicaine 21. Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 2007.

Katona, Lajos. “Újabb adalékok codexeink forrásaihoz” [New additions to the sources of our codices]. Irodalomtörténeti Közlemények 16 (1906): 105–20.

Kiss, Gergely. “11–13. századi magyar főpapok francia kapcsolatai” [French relations of the Hungarian prelates in the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries]. In Francia–magyar kapcsolatok a középkorban [Franco–Hungarian relations in the Middle Ages], edited by Attila Györkös and Gergely Kiss, 341–50. Debrecen: Debreceni Egyetem, 2013.

Klaniczay, Gábor. “Efforts at the Canonization of Margaret of Hungary in the Angevin Period.” Hungarian Historical Review 2, no. 2 (2013): 313–40.

Klaniczay, Gábor. “Matthias and the Saints.” In Matthias Rex 1458—1490: Hungary at the Dawn of the Renaissance, edited by István Draskóczy et al., 1–18. Budapest: Eötvös Loránd University, 2013.

Klaniczay, Gábor. “The Mendicant Orders in East–Central Europe and the Integration of Cultures.” In Hybride Kulturen im mittelalterlichen Europa – Hybrid Cultures in Medieval Culture, edited by Michael Borgolte and Bernd Schneidmüller, 245–60. Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2010.

Klaniczay, Gábor. Holy Rulers and Blessed Princesses: Dynastic Cult in Medieval Central Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Klaniczay, Tibor and Gábor Klaniczay. Szent Margit legendái és stigmái [Legends and stigmata of St Margaret]. Budapest: Argumentum, 1994.

Koszta, László. “Egy francia származású főpap Magyarországon: Bertalan pécsi püspök (1219–1251)” [A French–born prelate in Hungary: Bertalan, bishop of Pécs (1219–1251)]. Aetas 9, no. 1 (1994): 64–88.

Körmendi, Tamás. “Az Imre, III. László és II. András magyar királyok uralkodására vonatkozó nyugati elbeszélő források kritikája” [Critic of the Western narrative sources concerning the rule of kings Emeric, Ladislas III and Andrew II]. PhD diss., ELTE Budapest, 2008.

Lázs, Sándor. Apácaműveltség Magyarországon a XV–XVI. század fordulóján: Az anyanyelvű irodalom kezdetei [Nun culture in Hungary at the turn of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries: The beginnings of the vernacular literature]. Budapest: Balassi Kiadó, 2016.

Lorenc, John A. “John of Freiburg and the Usury Prohibition in the Late Middle Ages: A Study in the Popularization of Medieval Canon Law.” PhD diss., University of Toronto, 2013.

Madas, Edit, “Boldog Csák Móric (1270k.–1336. március 20)” [Blessed Mauritius of Csák (cca 1270–March 20, 1336]. In A domonkos rend Magyarországon [The Dominican order in Hungary], edited by Pál Attila Illés and Balázs Zágorhidi Czigány, 26–30. Piliscsaba–Budapest–Vasvár: PPKE BTK–METEM–DRGY, 2007.

Maier, Christoph T. Preaching the Crusades. Mendicant Friars and the Cross in the Thirteenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Makkai, László. A milkói (kun) püspökség és népei [The (Cuman) diocese of Milko and its people]. Debrecen: Pannonia, 1936.

Mezey, László. Codices latini Medii Aevi Bibliothecae Universitatis Budapestinensis. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1961.

Monumenta historica sancti patris nostri Dominici, edited by Heribert Christian Scheeben. Rome: Institutum historicum fratrum praedicatorum, 1935.

Monumenta Hungariae Historica. Diplomataria, vol. 12, edited by Gusztáv Wenzel. Pest: n.p., 1869.

Pauler, Gyula. A magyar nemzet története az Árpádházi királyok alatt [The history of the Hungarian nation under the Árpád dynasty]. Budapest: Athenaeum, 1899.

Pennington, Kenneth. “Johannes Teutonicus and Papal Legates.” Archivum Historiae Pontificiae 21 (1983): 183–94.

Példák könyve 1510. Hasonmás és kritikai szövegkiadás [Book of examples 1510. Facsimile and critical edition], edited by András Bognár and Ferenc Levárdy. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1960.

Pfeiffer, Nikolaus. Die ungarische Dominikanerordensprovinz von ihrer Gründung 1221 bis zur Tatarenverwüstung: 1241–1242. Zürich: Leemann, 1913.

Puskely, Mária. Virágos kert vala híres Pannónia [Famous Pannonia used to be a flourishing garden]. Budapest: Ameko, 1994.

Rössler, Mária Irén, Magyar domonkosrendi példák és legendák [Hungarian Dominican exempla and legends]. Kassa–Košice: Globus, 1927.

Selecká Mârza, Eva. A Középkori Lőcsei Könyvtár [The medieval library of Lőcse]. Szeged: Scriptum, 1997.

Szent Margit élete, 1510 [The life of St Margaret, 1510], edited by János P. Balázs, Adrienne Dömötör and Katalin Pólya. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1990.

Szentpéteri, Imre. “V. István ifjabb királysága” [Stephen V as younger king]. Századok 55 (1921): 77–87.

Tarnai, Andor. “A magyar nyelvet írni kezdik…” Irodalmi gondolkodás a középkori Magyarországon [“The Hungarian language is beginning to be written”: Literary thought in medieval Hungary]. Budapest: Akadémiai, 1984.

Thomae Cantimpratani Bonum Universale de Apibus. Douai: Balthazar Bellère, 1627.

Tugwell, Simon, ed. Humberti de Romanis Legendae Sancti Dominici. Rome: Instituto Storico Domenicano, 2008.

Tugwell, Simon, ed. Miracula sancti Dominici mandato magistri Berengarii collecta: Petri Calo legendae sancti Dominici. Monumenta Ordinis Fratrum Praedicatorum Historica 26. Rome: Institutum Historicum Ordinis Fratrum Praedicatorum. 1997.

Vauchez, André. La Spiritualité du Moyen Age occidental, VIIIe–XIIIe siècle. Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1994.

“Vita sancti Dominici composita a fratro Petro Calo Clodiensi Ordinis Praedicatorum.” In Annalium Ordinis Praedicatorum, vol. 1., Appendix Monumentorum ad tomum primum, edited by Tommaso Maria Mamachi et al., 334–58. Rome: n.p, 1756.

Wilson, Katharina M., ed. Women Writers of the Renaissance and Reformation. Athens–London: University of Georgia Press, 1987.

Zágorhidi Czigány, Balázs, “A domonkos rend konventjei a XIII. századi Magyarországon” [Dominican convents in thirteenth-century Hungary]. Tanítvány 7 (2001): 81–95.

Zsoldos, Attila. Családi ügy. IV. Béla és István ifjabb király viszálya az 1260-as években, [Family affair. Conflicts between Béla IV and the younger king Stephen in the 1260s]. Budapest: História–MTA Történettudományi Intézete, 2007.

Zsoldos, Attila. Magyarország világi archontológiája, 1000–1301 [A secular archontology of Hungary]. Budapest: História, MTA Történettudományi Intézete, 2011.

1 See Fügedi, “Koldulórendek és városfejlődés,” 66–68.

2 Klaniczay and Klaniczay, Szent Margit legendái, 38–50. The term legenda vetus is proposed by Tibor Klaniczay, ibid, 20.

3 The problem is mentioned in Tarnai, “A magyar nyelvet írni kezdik…”, 89, note 206.

4 Rössler, Magyar domonkosrendi példák.

5 Ferrarius, De rebus Hungariae.

6 This Hungarian Life of St Dominic was copied by the Dominican nun Lea Ráskai in 1517, along with the two other vernacular works mentioned below (notes 7–8). For the critical edition, see: Domonkos–kódex, 1517.

7 Példák könyve, 1510.

8 Szent Margit élete, 1510.

9 For the edition of the two documents, see: Monumenta historica, fasc. II. 1–88. and 197–260.

10 Acta Capitulorum, 68 and 71.

11 Here, I call Humbert’s legend “official” in the sense that the 1260s General Chapter of Strasbourg recommended his use in the lectionary, and added that “et alie deinceps non scribantur”. See Acta Capitulorum, 105.

12 On the evaluation of Dominic’s legends, see: Tugwell, Humberti de Romanis Legendae, 30 et passim.

13 The ties to Hungary of Dominic’s legendary tradition were related by Deák, Árpád-házi szent Margit, 125.

14 Vauchez, La Spiritualité, 174–75.

15 Henriet, “Dominique avant Saint Dominique,” 25–26 and note 49. Henriet argues that Dominic’s intention to preach among the Cumans could simply indicate his determination to convert the pagans of distant regions.

16 We could not identify this place precisely, but it is located somewhere in the Vrancea region in Romania. Budai, “A milkói püspökség,” 17.

17 The papal letters were published in: Pfeiffer, Die ungarische, 177–79. Concerning their analyses, see: Ferenţ, A kunok és püspökségük, 133–38.

18 Klaniczay, “The Mendicant Orders,” 257–58.

19 Makkai, A milkói (kun) püspökség, 43–44.

20 Thomae Cantimpratani Bonum Universale, lib. 2, cap. LVII, Nos 11–12, 544–45.

21 Pfeiffer, Die ungarische, 133–34.

22 The Mongols besieged and certainly burned down the convents of Pest and Szeben (present-day Sibiu, Romania). For Pest, see: Pauler, A magyar nemzet, 2:164–66; For Szeben, see Pfeiffer, Die ungarische, 160.

23 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” Luke 24:26; and I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18.

24 Thomae Cantimpratani Bonum Universale, lib. 2, cap. XLIV, no. 2, 421–22.

25 Pfeiffer, Die ungarische, 196; Puskely, Virágos kert vala, 178–80.

26 Fügedi, Ispánok, bárók, 94. and 100.

27 Zsoldos argues that Buzád was ban of Szörény and not of Slavonia, as the earlier historiography contended. See: Zsoldos, Magyarország világi archontológiája, 291–92.

28 Harsányi, A domonkos rend, 27. The exact date of his conversion is identifiable by his testament, see: Ferrarius, De rebus Hungariae, 59.; Pfeiffer, Die ungarische, 154–55.

29 Monumenta Hungariae Historica. Diplomataria, 12:76, 88.

30 Thomae Cantimpratani Bonum Universale, lib. 2, cap. LVII, No. 55, 582.

31 Kiss, “11–13. századi magyar főpapok,” 346–47.

32 “Chronica Albrici monachi Trium Fontium,” 920. As Körmendi points out, the Cistercian chronicler erroneously identified the Bishop of Transylvania: his name was in fact Raynald and not Guilelmus. See: Körmendi, “Imre, III. László és II. András,” 155.

33 Pfeiffer, Die ungarische, 78.

34 Koszta, “Egy francia származású főpap,” 70.

35 Csákó, “Néhány megjegyzés,” 521–22.

36 The bishop of Transylvania was killed on April 11 on the battlefield of Muhi by the Mongols. See: Zsoldos, Magyarország világi archontológiája, 348.

37 Koszta, “Egy francia származású főpap,” 70–71.

38 In order to distinguish him from the contemporary Canon Law glossator, Johannes Teutonicus Zemeke. See: Pennington, “Johannes Teutonicus,” 183–94.

39 He was also often identified incorrectly as John of Freiburg, see: Árpád-kori és Anjou-kori levelek, note 352. In fact, Johannes Teutonicus de Friburgo, lector of the Dominican convent of Freiburg-im-Breisgau, lived two generations later and died in 1314. On this misunderstanding, see: Lorenc, John of Freiburg, 2 and mainly 11–12.

40 Maier, Preaching the Crusades, 32.

41 Chevalier, Répertoire, 1:1246.

42 In the agreement of Bereg, August 12, 1233, King Andrew II reaffirmed some political and economic privileges of the clergy (e.g. tax exemptions, salt trade), and he promised to pay 10,000 marks of indemnity as recompense for all previous damages. The king delayed the payment, so in the temporary absence of the papal legate, it was Johannes’ duty to declare the excommunication. Engel, The Realm of St Stephen, 96.

43 Fine, The Late Medieval Balkans, 143–45.

44 Apparently, according to the decisions of the Chapter General of Metz in 1251, the convent of Buda was founded by request of the Queen of Hungary, Maria Laskaris. “Concedimus provincie (...) Ungarie unam [domum] ad peticionem regine.Acta Capitulorum, 60.

45 Harsányi, A domonkos rend, 25.

46 Thomae Cantimpratani Bonum Universale, lib. 2, cap. LVII, no. 59. 584.

47 Edited in: Fejér, Codex diplomaticus, 3:22 and 68.

48 Szentpéteri, “V. István,” 77–87. For a more modern point of view, see: Zsoldos, Családi ügy.

49 Monumenta historica, no. 72–73; Tugwell, Humberti de Romanis Legendae, no. 85–86.

50 Fügedi, ”Koldulórendek és városfejlődés,”, 68, and Zágorhidi Czigány, “A domonkos rend konventjei,” 81–95.

51 Sumlu in the Vatican and Bourg Mss, Similii in the Paris Ms. The Rome Ms was the basis for the 1935 edition and identifies the place as Similu. See: Monumenta historica, 338.

52 Bibliotheca Mundi., vol. 4, lib. 32, cap. CXVI. 1272.

53 Graesse, Jacobi a Voragine Legenda Aurea, cap. CXIII, 479–80.

54 Rössler, Magyar domonkosrendi példák, 27.

55 Harsányi, A domonkos rend, 84. Here, Harsányi follows the opinion of Ferrarius who wrote: “civitas Similium, vel Simigium (hungarice Somogy)”. Ferrarius, De rebus Hungariae, 74.

56 Gombos, Catalogus, 3:2333–39.

57 Györffy, Az Árpád–kori Magyarország, 1:493–94.

58 Tugwell, Humberti de Romanis Legendae, 521 et passim. However, he prefers the form flumini Eris instead of the correct flumini Cris. Ibid., 521.

59 The Vitae repeats on several occasion the forms: “ad reliquias beati Dominici accessit / visitandas etc. See for example: Tugwell, Humberti de Romanis Legendae, no. 85, 91, 92, 94, 98. etc.

60 Pietro Calò da Chioggia, d. 1348. Italian Dominican writer, author of a Life of St Dominic. See: Frazier, Possible Lives, 72.

61 “Vita sancti Dominici,” 348. Unfortunately we could not consult the modern edition of the text: Tugwell, Miracula sancti Dominici.

62 Lajos Katona pointed out that this narrative was an interpolation of Calo’s exemplum. Katona, “Újabb adalékok,” 115–18.

63 Translated by the author. The original text in Hungarian: “Esmeeg magyer orzagban feyer varat (...) kevldenek az conuentben hol vala zent damancos atyanknak vya”. In Domonkos-kódex, 1517, 172–73.

64 Wilson, Women Writers, 435–40.

65 Lázs, Apácaműveltség Magyarországon, 307–08.

66 For a summary of these attempts, see: Klaniczay, “Efforts at the Canonization,” 313–40, and idem, “Matthias and the Saints,” 1–18.

67 Deák, Árpád-házi szent Margit, 245–53.

68 Madas, “Boldog Csák Móric,” 26–30.

69 A complete bibliography for the medieval manuscripts of Thomas of Cantimpré is given by Axters, Bibliotheca Dominicana, 76–112.

70 Budapesti Egyetemi Könyvtár, Cod. lat. 65. ff. 116–57. I should mention the existence of a second one, also from around Lőcse, written by a certain Jacobus de Sommerfelt in 1453, which is held in our day by the Library Batthyaneum of Gyulafehérvár (today Alba Iulia in Romania). See: Selecká Mârza, A Középkori Lőcsei Könyvtár no. 42. Unfortunately, I could not consult this document.

71 For the manuscript descriptions see: Mezey: Codices latini Medii Aevi, 110–15.

72 Vauchez, La spiritualité, 162–64.

73 Klaniczay, Holy Rulers.

Volume 5 Issue 3 CONTENTS


The Cult of Saint Katherine of Alexandria in Medieval Upper Hungarian Towns*

Dorottya Uhrin

Eötvös Loránd University, School for Historical Studies, Medieval Hungarian History Doctoral Program


The aim of this article is to survey the cult of St Katherine of Alexandria in towns of medieval Upper Hungary (today mostly in Slovakia). In the first part, I briefly summarize the origin of the veneration of St Katherine and the beginning of her cult in Hungary. The geographical scope of my own research is the Upper Hungarian region, mainly the towns. The veneration of St Katherine has left most traces in the towns settled by Germans. Some of her earliest churches were established by families of German origin in the thirteenth century. Interestingly, St Katherine’s cult became significant in several mining towns, presumably from the fourteenth century, and her popularity there suggests that she might have been venerated as a miners’ saint (together with St Barbara). The heyday of Katherine’s cult was the late Middle Ages, when her veneration spread to other towns: confraternities and altars were dedicated to her honor and her life was depicted on several altarpieces.

Keywords: St Katherine, urban history, virgin martyrs, mining towns, urban religiosity


St Katherine of Alexandria was one of the celebrated female saints in the Middle Ages. She was a virgin martyr and a role model for women. St Katherine was regarded as a uniquely privileged saint and a powerful intercessor because of special privileges she received at the time of her death: a visitation from Christ, an emanation of oil from her bones, an effluence of milk of her body instead of blood, the miraculous preparation of sepulcher, and the hearing of petitions of those who would honor her memory.1 Therefore many were interested in promoting her cult. Although her ancestry and the way in which her cult spread are questionable, during the fourteenth and fifteenth century she became one of the most popular female saints in late medieval Europe, including Hungary.

Although several traces of St Katherine’s veneration has been researched in Western Europe,2 the only aspect of her cult in the medieval Hungarian Kingdom that has been a subject to research is the verse legend of St Katherine.3 In my paper I would like to trace the origin and the development of the cult of St Katherine in Upper Hungary. My research is concerned with the towns of Upper Hungary (today mostly in Slovakia). The analysis also extends to some rural places, however, so as to obtain a better understanding of the cult. I examine the different roles that she played as a patron saint in Upper Hungarian towns of different types. The most interesting aspect of St Katherine’s urban cult is her outstanding popularity in the Upper Hungarian mining towns. Since St Barbara is the most venerated miner-saint in Central Europe, Katherine’s role as the patrona of this towns is remarkable, and I will attempt to explain this phenomenon. In the late Middle Ages, when Katherine’s cult reached its peak all over Europe, her cult also spread to the other towns in Upper Hungary. Religious associations and altars were dedicated to her. I examine the donations to her altars which indicate her increasing popularity in Upper Hungary in the fifteenth century and beyond. Because of the complexity of St Katherine’s cult, my investigation is interdisciplinary: my sources are historical (charters, chronicles and testimonies), art historical (altarpieces, mural paintings and coats of arms) and literary (legends and masses).

The Cult of St Katherine

Origin of the Cult

According to her vitae, St Katherine lived and suffered martyrdom in late Antique Alexandria, a place considered rather exotic in the Middle Ages. Her shrine is supposed to be located at Sinai. The cult of Katherine – like that of other virgin martyrs – started to spread in the seventh and eighth centuries, when her name appeared in liturgical sources and the martyrologia of the Byzantine Empire. In Latin Christianity, the cult of Katherine spread in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, simultaneously with those of many other Eastern saints, including St George. Scholars generally explain the increasing interest in the virgin martyrs in terms of Mediterranean transcultural contacts during the crusades.4 Although the first Crusade seized the places where the virgin martyrs suffered martyrdom and their holiest shrines were supposed to be located, one can hardly find any references in the contemporary sources on the translation of the relics of Katherine from Sinai during the crusades. The discovery of the saint’s body on Sinai is a relatively late development of her cult,5 and the invention of her relics might have been the result of the popularity of her life in Greek.6 Her legend originally contained only her passio. The story of her miraculous birth began to circulate in the fourteenth century.7 The earliest vernacular versions of her legend in Western Europe can be dated to the twelfth or thirteenth century.8 What drove the veneration of virgin martyrs was a growing interest in exotic legends of the saints after the First Crusade and the general livening of religious life.9

Katherine as an Intercessor and Role Model

The function of saints was twofold in the Middle Ages: they were considered as heavenly intercessors and exemplars for proper Christian life. Although this concerned all saints, not all of them had equal influence as intercessors and – as Duffy argues – the strong emphasis on a saint’s intercessory power almost made their role as exemplars insignificant. The chastity of virgin martyrs was a source of celestial power, not an expectation on the laity.10

The role of St Katherine as an exemplar might have been limited to the clerical and highest circles of society in the High Middle Ages. The lives of virgin martyrs were models for an ideal female saint in this period.11 The writers of the legends of the sainted princesses of the Árpádian dynasty regarded Katherine as one of the princesses’ figurative and even literal models.12 The image of Katherine depicted the perfect Christian woman. Her royal or noble status became a significant element of her legend from the twelfth century which may shed light on the main audience of her legend. Moreover, the hagiography of Katherine in some ways portrayed her as the opposite of what a medieval woman should have been.13

Jacobus de Voragine’s Legenda Aurea, the most popular collection of legends in the thirteenth century, describes her as an expert in liberal arts, which enabled her to defend Christianity. The legends emphasize how saints’ miracles set them apart from ordinary people.14 Only nuns are likely to have considered these legends as role models in the High Middle Ages.15 The role of the mendicant orders – mainly the Dominicans – was significant in the spread of the virgin martyrs’ cult. The mendicant orders supported female religious movements and promoted the cult of female saints. St Katherine, along with St Dominic and Mary Magdalene, was one of the main patrons of the Dominicans.16

From the end of the twelfth century the “lay saint” type became more and more popular and the legends of such saints were complemented with the story of their conversion. “The saints re-descended – so to say – from heaven to earth.”17 The late medieval tendency of secularization resulted in the humanization of saints, rendering them easier to follow as models.18 The saints were bestowed with other characteristics of contemporary laypeople.19 Central elements had changed in their legends, the emphasis on confrontation transformed into a focus on their steadfastness.20 After all, the increasingly human character of saints did not result in the renunciation of their intercessory power, but the new narratives of the saints’ legends encouraged the “consumers” to follow their roles.21 It seems that the significance of a saint’s intercession or auxiliary power started to increase in the fourteenth century.22

St Katherine was a member of a group of saints called the Fourteen Holy Helpers,23 whose common feature was an individual power of intercession believed to be particularly effective against several types of disease. These fourteen saints as a collective could protect against almost any type of medieval disease. The Holy Helpers consisted of sub-groups: bishop saints, knight-saints and virgin martyrs. The numerous visual representations24 and literary sources testify that from the fourteenth century onwards, St Katherine, St Margaret, St Barbara and St Dorothy of Caesarea were frequently venerated together as a distinct group called virgines capitales in Central Europe and Germany.25 Although the origin of their cult is obscure, the earliest traces concern the outbreak and spread of plague in early fourteenth-century South Germany. The catastrophe caused several changes in European society, including religious life. It seems that the first and main promoters of the Fourteen Holy Helpers’ cult were the Dominicans in the Nuremberg and Regensburg area.26 It was from this region that their collective cult came to Hungary.

Overview of St Katherine’s Cult in Medieval Hungary

Hungarian sources are reticent about the cults of saints, and so the introduction and the early development of St Katherine’s cult in Hungary remains obscure. The first evidence of Katherine’s veneration in Hungary can be traced to the end of the twelfth century. The Codex Pray (1192–1195) mentions her feast on 25 November,27 but this only refers to her appearance in liturgy. St Katherine’s cult started to spread further in the thirteenth century, and several monasteries were subsequently dedicated to her. The first known sermons and churches dedicated to Katherine in Hungary are connected to the Dominicans, which fits with her highly honored status in that order. Two Dominican codices from the thirteenth (or early fourteenth) century, the Codex of Leuven28 and the Sermons of the University of Pécs or Sermones compilati29 contain sermons to Katherine.

The spread of Katherine’s cult in Hungary, along with the cult of other virgin martyrs, coincides with Andrew II (1205–35) bringing and placing the skull of St Margaret of Antioch to the collegiate church of Szepeshely (Zipser Kapitel, now Spišská Kapitula, Slovakia).30 The rise of her cult in the fourteenth century (the era of the Angevin dynasty, 1308–82) is reflected in the increase in number of historical sources, and there were also more churches, chapels and altars dedicated to St Katherine at that time. However, many of these dedications might have had Árpádian (1000–1301) antecedents. The two Angevin kings, Charles I (1301/1308–42) and Louis the Great (1342–82), played an important role in the promotion of the virgin martyrs. It is possible that they had a personal devotion to Katherine. Both kings named one of their daughters after St Katherine.31 On the first initial picture of Chronicon Pictum, Louis and his wife pray to Katherine. Moreover, Louis’s royal funerary chapel was dedicated to her.32 European analogies suggests that one reason for kings’ preference for Katherine as a patron saint was that she had a royal background.33

Her legend is written in the Legenda Aurea, which was the most popular collection of lives of the saints in Hungary as in other parts of Europe. Only a few manuscripts have survived in Hungary, however, because of the large-scale devastation of Hungarian codices. The Legenda Aurea served as the basis for Hungarian legendaria. The sermons of the Sermones compilati were presumably written for novices, which would explain why the three sermons on Katherine emphasize erudition and chastity of the virgin martyr.34 The fifteenth-century Franciscan Observant preacher Pelbartus de Themeswar also based his sermons on the Legenda Aurea.35 In the four sermons Pelbartus wrote on Katherine, he followed the narrative of Jacobus de Voragine’s work but completed the life of Katherine with her marvelous birth and conversion to Christianity. He also emphasized Katherine’s role as an example.36 These sermons influenced other Hungarian authors. The other famous Hungarian Observant Franciscan preacher, Osvaldus de Lasko, based his work on Pelbartus’ sermons and37 dedicated two sermons to Katherine.38 Pelbartus’ St Katherine sermons were the source of the Codex Érdy and the Codex of Debrecen and the vernacular verse legend of 4047 lines 39 of the Codex of Érsekújvár, the most precious source of the Hungarian cult of Katherine.40 The sermons of Pelbartus circulated in the Hungarian kingdom after being printed at the end of the fifteenth century.

The upper classes developed a preference for the cult of St Katherine in the late fourteenth century. The popularity of the virgin martyrs reached its peak in Hungary – as elsewhere in Europe – in the later Middle Ages.

Initiation of Katherine’s Cult in the Upper Hungarian Region

The German hospites41 are presumed to have been the first to promote the cult of St Katherine in Upper Hungary, because she and other virgin martyrs (St Margaret and St Barbara) mainly appear in places inhabited by Germans. The first church to be dedicated to Katherine in Upper Hungary was in Kakaslomnic (Nagylomnic until 1899, Großlomnitz, now Veľká Lomnica, Slovakia) in Szepes County (Zips, now Spiš), a village owned by the Berzeviczy family. The Berzeviczys’ ancestors arrived in Hungary in the entourage of Gertrude of Andechs-Merania, wife of Andrew II. There can be no doubt that the family was German, from Istrian Merania or Andechs.42 Rutger, one of their ancestors, acquired the land of Kakaslomnic and the surrounding region in 1209,43 and his wife’s brother, Adolf, became the first known provost of the Collegiate Chapter of Szepes.44 The Szepes area was colonized by Germans (hospites Saxones de Scepus), who received privileges and territorial autonomy from King Stephen V in 1271.45

The church of Kakaslomnic was mentioned first in a charter from 1268. Interestingly, the murals of the church depict the cycle of St Nicolas and not that of the patron saint. Ján Endrödy suggests that the churches in the area had been dedicated to Katherine before the Berzeviczys settled there, and it was their preference for Nicolas over Katherine that caused the family to order the frescoes.46 This sounds improbable, however. The county was sparsely inhabited at that time and covered by forest, making it unlikely that several churches dedicated to Katherine existed before 1209. It was only after the Mongol invasion in the mid-thirteenth century that the Berzeviczys’ lands were colonized by new settlers.47 Furthermore, one can hardly find any mentions of Katherine in the sources from the twelfth century or earlier, and the patrocinia of Katherine spread from the second half of the thirteenth century.48 Besides the ancestors of the Berzeviczy family, the ancestors of the Görgey family founded churches49 in Kislomnic (Kleinlomnitz, now Lomnička, Slovakia)50 and in Krig (Krieg, now Vojňany, Slovakia)51 at the end of the thirteenth century or the beginning of the fourteenth.52

King Andrew II sent a relic of Margaret of Antioch53 to the newly founded Collegiate Chapter of Szepes to confer prestige on the church there. According to the Hungarian Chronicon Pictum, Andrew II acquired relics on his crusade to the Holy Land and distributed them to loyal prelates on his return in 1218 to express his gratitude for the flourishing kingdom.54 The relic of Margaret was presumably translated to the Collegiate Chapter under the provostship of Adolf, the brother-in-law of Rutger. Martin Homza and Peter Labanc assume that Adolf was the provost in the first third of the thirteenth century.55 Thus the virgin martyrs’ cult could have been connected to the German relatives, the ancestors of the Berzeviczy family.

Szepes and the surrounding region was a center of veneration for several virgin martyrs.56 Due to the emerging cult of St Margaret, the other virgin martyrs’ veneration also spread in that territory and in the kingdom.

Although it mainly involved churches in villages, the foregoing discussion of these early signs of the cult of St Katherine was necessary to understand how it spread. At this point, I turn to the early development of the urban cult of the saint. The earliest chapel of St Katherine in the Upper Hungarian region was in Pozsony (Pressburg, now Bratislava). It was connected with the Cistercians of Heiligenkreuz, who founded a convent in area of the town in the mid-thirteenth century, but occupied it only until 1297,57 when the buildings were transferred to the Poor Clares.58 The chapel was founded by Francis, a monk from Heiligenkreuz, in 1311,59 and it was consecrated in 1325.60 The choice of Katherine as the patron saint of the chapel was connected to the Cistercian responsibility for female religious movements.61 Virgin Mary enjoyed a pre-eminent role among the Cistercians, who devoted most of their monasteries to her patronage.62 Virgin Mary was held as an exemplar of perfect femininity, but the virgin martyrs were also portrayed as role models, particularly for proper behavior. St Katherine could have become the patron of the private chapel of the nunnery, because her virginity and her status as sponsa Christi certainly appealed to nuns.

St Katherine’s Cult in the Upper Hungarian Mining Towns

An interesting feature of St Katherine’s cult was her popularity in the Upper Hungarian mining towns. She thus seems to have been venerated as a patron saint of the miners63 together with St Barbara. St Barbara was the main patron saint of the miners in Central Europe,64 but the popularity of Katherine as her companion seems largely to have been peculiar to the Hungarian towns, although she was infrequently also venerated as a patron of miners elsewhere.65 Churches were dedicated to Katherine in several Upper Hungarian mining towns: Selmecbánya (Schemnitz, now Banská Štiavnica), Körmöcbánya (Kremnitz, now Kremnica), Nyitrabánya (Krickerhau, now Handlová),66 Telkibánya and Szomolnok (Schmölnitz, now Smolník). The coats of arms of Nyitrabánya and Körmöcbánya also prove that Katherine was the main patron saint of these towns, because both include Katherine’s attribute of the broken wheel with sharp knives.67 In contrast to the numerous Katherine patrocinia, only a few chapels were dedicated to Barbara in Upper Hungary,68 although her veneration appears through her representations on altarpieces.

The predominance of German miners in these mining towns from the twelfth century onwards certainly tells us that there was a strong German influence behind the veneration of Katherine there. Professional miners must have come from abroad.69 In addition, the cultural diversity of mining towns, including differences in their veneration of saints, derived from the international character of trade.70 Central European mining towns, particularly those in the Carpathian basin, were closely interlinked. The similarity of privileges granted to Hungarian mining towns prepared the ground for mutual alliances that started in the fourteenth century.71 The urban and economic policy of the Angevin kings of Hungary fostered development that forged the towns into a distinct group.72 The crown granted greater legal, ecclesiastical and economic privileges to residents of mining towns than to other settlers, including the right to practice their own customs.73

Two ecclesiastical institutions were dedicated to Katherine in or near Telkibánya74 in the mid-fourteenth century. The first, located between Göncruszka and Telkibánya, was the monastery of Göncruszka, donated to the Pauline monks by Domonkos of Ruszka and his brothers in 1338.75 They were the nobiles de Ruzka,76 the noble family of Göncruszka. There could have been several reasons for choosing St Katherine as patron of a monastery. In her legend, St Katherine lived in the same spatial and temporal dimension as the Desert Fathers, the early Christian hermits in late Antique Egypt. Thus, several representations of Katherine depict the virgin martyr with a hermit saint; in Italian Trecento paintings, this is usually St Anthony the Abbot.77

It seems from the charters78 that Pauline brothers ran a hospital dedicated to Katherine in Telkibánya – which was near their monastery dedicated to Virgin Mary in Gönc – starting in the second half of fifteenth century.79 The local judge of Telkibánya, Georg Kruper, and his brother, Konth, the rector of the mines, founded the hospital in 1367.80 According to the charter issued by Louis I, the leaders of the town founded a hospital rather than a wooden chapel at the request of the miners and the burghers.81 Georg Kruper left the hospital to his stepson, priest Matthias, in his will.82 Matthias in turn left the hospital to the Pauline brothers, with the condition that they offer masses for his and his parents’ salvation in the church of Katherine.83 Although it seems that these churches were connected to the Pauline order, the titulus reflected the will of the founders, the nobles of Ruszka and the burghers of Telkibánya. Despite the obvious appeal of Katherine’s cult to the hermits, the monastery of Ruszka was the only known Pauline foundation dedicated to her in the medieval Hungarian Kingdom.84 There were two other hospitals dedicated to Katherine in fifteenth-century Hungary,85 but the patrocinium of Telkibánya must have reflected the popularity of Katherine among the miners of Telkibánya.

The cult of St Katherine in Körmöcbánya raises interesting questions. The castle church there – also the parish church – is nowadays named after St Katherine. In the Middle Ages, it was another church which bore her name. According to the sources, St Katherine’s Church was located on the main square86 and was a filiale of the parish church of the Virgin Mary (castle church).87 The tituli must have been changed in the modern age, probably because of the Reformation. Körmöcbánya was Lutheran from ca. 1530 until 1674,88 after which the castle church was dedicated to St Katherine.89

The earliest reference to the medieval church of St Katherine in Körmöcbánya is dated to 1485, but the church must have been standing there since the first half of the fifteenth century at the latest.90 The medieval church on the main square was demolished in the nineteenth century because of subsidence.91 Moreover, an altar in the chapel of St Andrew was dedicated to St Andrew, St Peter and Paul, the Holy Trinity, St Martha, St Katherine and St Barbara in 1431.92 The cult of the Apostles had spread ever since the establishment of the church in Hungary, and the dedications to Martha, Barbara and Katherine show the local tradition of Körmöcbánya and symbolize the prominent role of these saints in the town.

Even though there is no evidence of the church’s existence before the fifteenth century, there are earlier sources that may refer to the cult of St Katherine. She is depicted on some of the town’s medieval seals. The earliest remnant seal of Körmöcbánya is dated to 1331.93 This seal – according to the prevailing view94 – depicts St Katherine with the Angevin coat of arms on one side and her attribute, the wheel, on the other. The circumscription reads “S[IGILLUM] · CIVITATIS · REGIS · KAROLI · DE · CREMNICA”. Nevertheless, Teodor Lamoš has identified the figure on the seal as that of the Hungarian king Charles I,95 who presumably granted the town its seal and its privileges at about the same time.96 The later seals, however, definitely depict St Katherine. Jozef Novák has found one such from 1405.97 A charter of 1407 refers to its seal as sigillum nostre civitatis magnum, which implies that the town had at least two seals.98 The second known seal depicts a standing figure with a sword and a wheel with sharp knives (St Katherine). Under the figure is the Angevin coat of arms, and the circumscription is “S[IGILLUM] · SECRETUM · CIVIUM · CREMPNYCZIE”.99 The third medieval seal depicts the broken wheel with sharp knives, the attribute of St Katherine.100

Considering that the town’s medieval seals contained Katherine’s figure and/or her attribute, and later a church was consecrated to her honor, she must have been the patron saint of the town in the Middle Ages.

The earliest seal of Szomolnok dates from the fourteenth century, and depicts St Katherine with a miner on her side.101 According to the literature, the titulus of the medieval parish church is not known, but there was a chapel dedicated to Virgin Mary.102 However, a document dated 1421 proves that the parish church was dedicated to St Katherine in the Middle Ages (ad ecclesiam in Smölnicz in honore Beate Katherine).103

The cult of St Katherine in Selmecbánya started in the second half of the fifteenth century. A chapel dedicated to her in 1444 was transformed into a church in the second half of the fifteenth century. On April 2, 1489, 100 days indulgence was given to those who helped in fitting out the church.104 The founder of the main altar, Andreas Hillebrand (notary and mine entrepreneur), and the priest Johannes Galler, were granted indulgences in 1496 and 1500 respectively.105 The church was consecrated in 1500, the main donators being the burghers of the town, such as Susana Ferczkin, who donated money and personal estates to St Katherine’s Church.106 Andreas Hillebrand bestowed to the church 10 florins and 1 florin each to its priests, and left 40 florins to the parish church of Virgin Mary in his will. His larger donation to Virgin Mary’s may have been prompted by his greater support of St Katherine’s during his lifetime.107 The high altar has not survived, but it must have been richly decorated and monumental, because three statues presumed to have belonged to it have survived the centuries, and they are each two meters high. They represent the Virgin Mary, St Katherine and St Barbara.108 There was also a confraternity dedicated to her honor in Selmecbánya.109

The main reason behind Barbara’s and Katherine’s role as protector of miners was their reputation as powerful intercessors. Barbara – according to her legend – promised her efficacious intercession at the hour of death, and thus became the patron saint of good death. The common perception was that if one were to die without the last sacrament and the Eucharist burdened by deadly sins, one would end up in Hell. Barbara’s role as protector against sudden death was strengthened in the fourteenth century due to the legend written by John of Wakkerzeel.110 Barbara became the patron saint of miners because of the unhealthy and dangerous working conditions that put them at high risk of sudden death and because she had taken shelter in the mountains when she was chased.111 Since Katherine, according to the Legenda Aurea, promised to listen to the appeals of those who would honor her memory, Louis Réau has suggested that Katherine could also be a protector at death.112

In this chapter I have tried to illustrate St Katherine’s role in some Upper Hungarian mining towns. In the following paragraphs I turn to the veneration of St Katherine in the free royal towns during the heyday of her cult. One cannot find churches dedicated to her in these towns, but her cult appears through confraternities, altars and visual representations.

The Heyday of the Cult in Upper Hungarian Towns

The cult of St Katherine appeared in several towns other than mining towns in Upper Hungary in the course of the fifteenth century. They were also mostly inhabited by Germans, which means that Katherine’s cult there was subject to intensive German influence. Developments in Pozsony stand as an illustration of how Katherine’s example transcended the clerical model and became available for imitation by the laity. Pozsony is particularly interesting because many more sources have survived the centuries there than in other parts of the kingdom, and the ecclesiastical history of the town has been thoroughly researched.113 I have mentioned earlier that the Cistercians founded a chapel dedicated to St Katherine. With the increasing veneration toward the virgin martyrs, their cult extended to a wider section of the population. Married women and widows were encouraged to follow Katherine’s example at the end of the Middle Ages as part of the late medieval transformation by which saints were presented as more real and familiar characters.114 In the fifteenth century, the private chapel of the monastic order became the public chapel of the burghers of Pozsony. The popularity of the chapel among the laity reached its peak in the sixteenth century, as attested by several donations recorded in surviving testaments. The chapel acquired an even greater importance in 1529, when the suburban parishes and the hospital were demolished.115 The cult of Katherine may have been fostered by intensive trade relations with Western Europe. The South German towns – mainly Augsburg and Nuremberg – started to exert significant commercial influence on the Hungarian Kingdom in the early decades of fifteenth century. Consequently, merchants living along the Danube were allied by matrimony as well as by commercial contacts. The popularity of Katherine and the other virgin martyrs was also manifested in the tradition of personal names. According to the late medieval testaments in Pozsony, the most frequent names were those of the virgines capitales.116

The testaments also record the increasing popularity of Katherine among women. The sources provide information about a guild dedicated to St Katherine in Eperjes (Preschau, now Prešov), but St Katherine’s patronage of craft guilds is recorded in only two cases in the whole country.117 Two confraternities were dedicated to St Katherine in Upper Hungary. One was in Kassa (Kaschau, now Košice), dated to the sixteenth century,118 and the other was the confraternity of Selmecbánya, mentioned above. Fortunately, several surviving charters concern donations to the St Katherine’s guild of Eperjes and throw some light upon the ethnic and gender composition of the testators. The guild was established by the furriers (fraternitas pellificium alias beatae Katherinae) in the mid-fifteenth century, but many of the donators were not furriers, which highlights the importance of the altar among the burghers.119 The altar was occasionally supported by the town, the council donating two florins for its consecration in 1500 and 1501.120 Most of the donators were women, like Ursula Harenbocken,121 Ursula, the widow of Jorg Cromer,122 and Katherine Mathien,123 whose names indicate German origins. The donators frequently left money for vestments and the celebration of mass, but clothes were also often bequeathed to the altar. An investigation of the wills of Eperjes shows that women preferred to donate items in their possession. Lucia left her best gold-embroidered cloak to the altar of the Virgin Mary and one green tunic to the altar of Katherine.124 Clara bequeathed dresses to the altars of the guild of furriers and guild of cobblers,125 (which was dedicated to the Virgin Mary).126 Christina donated to the guild of St Katherine a lilac cloak with silver pendulum.127 These women, by donating their own possessions, “were providing not only for their own households, but also for the household of God.”128

Late Medieval Altarpieces Depicting St Katherine in Upper Hungary

Visual representations of the Fourteen Holy Helpers and the virgines capitales appeared on altarpieces in Hungary in the late fifteenth century.129 The cults of these two groups spread simultaneously in the Upper Hungarian region. The veneration of the Holy Helpers flourished among Upper Hungarian citizens. An altar in Kassa is the first (in 1483) to be mentioned as being dedicated to them,130 and there is also a surviving fourteenth-century missal from Kassa into which the text of their mass has been inserted later.131 There are several surviving altarpieces that represent all fourteen of the saints,132 but separate sub-groups were more popular. More than sixty surviving altarpieces from the Upper Hungarian region depict saintly women classed among the four principal virgin martyrs, but Katherine, Dorothy, Margaret and Barbara as the group of virgines capitales are joined together only on thirteen of these.133 The virgin martyrs were frequently represented together with the iconographical theme of the Virgin and Child.134 The iconography of late medieval altarpieces depicting the virgines capitales have been analyzed from a gendered point of view in the work of Kristina Potuckova.135

Four individual altars dedicated to Katherine have survived in Szepes County: in Lőcse (Leutschau, now Levoča), Késmárk (Käsmark, now Kežmarok), Felsőrépás (Oberripsch, now Vyšné Repaše) and Csütörtökhely (Donnersmarkt, now Spišský Štvrtok). Lőcse was a royal free town and Késmárk a privileged town, while the other two were villages nearby. In the shrine of the altar of Késmárk (1493) Katherine was portrayed in the company of Barbara and Margaret.136

An altar was dedicated to Katherine in the church of St James in Lőcse in 1469.137 The images of the open wings depict four episodes from her life. The pictures illustrate her dispute with the philosophers, her beheading, her torture, and the wheel of her martyrdom. Katherine with her fellows virgin martyrs were represented on other altars of Lőcse: the altar of Vir dolorum (1476–90) and the altar of Our Lady of Snows (1494–1500). There was another altar dedicated to Katherine in Lőcse (1510–20), transported there from its original location, the church of St Katherine in Felsőrépás.138 In the shrine of an altar from Csütörökhely dating from 1440–50, and today located in Nagyturány (Turany), Katherine tramples down Maxentius and is accompanied by statues of Barbara, Margaret, Dorothy and Ursula. The open wings depict Katherine’s dispute, her tortures, her beheading and the saint with the wheel.139 Her legend appears also on other Upper Hungarian altars. The closed wings of the Vir dolorum altar in Bártfa (Bartfeld, now Bardejov) represent four episodes of her legend. In the first scene, Katherine disputes with the philosophers. This is followed by the converted scholars burning at the stake, and the last two panels depict scenes of her martyrdom: the wheel and her beheading.140 Two scenes of the altar of Virgin Mary in Pónik (Poniky) from 1512 depict the philosophers burning in the flames and the martyrdom of Katherine. Four scenes of Katherine’s life have survived on panel paintings (c. 1520) from the episcopal palace of Szepeshely, but the original location of the altar is unknown. These scenes represent Katherine in front of the ruler, her dispute with the philosophers, the stake of the philosophers and the martyrdom of Katherine.141

It is clearly visible that the iconographic program of the altars emphasized Katherine’s martyrdom and erudition. She was able to defeat her enemies, the enemies of Christianity.142 Her portrayal together with other virgin martyrs puts her own virginity into the focus of devotion. As Stanley E. Weed argues, “Virginity granted the four an especially prominent place in the heavenly realm, for they were not just martyr saints, but the brides of Christ. With this perceived closeness, they served as ideal intercessors to not only Christ, but also to the Virgin Mary, with whom they were frequently depicted.”143 Katherine’s primary role as an intercessor was highlighted by the epigraph on the panel painting of the altar of Késmárk which asks Katherine to pray for us.144

In addition to these altarpieces depicting Katharine’s martyrdom and erudition, there is a unique representation145 of her legend in the panel paintings of Bát (Frauenmarkt, now Bátovce), dating from 1420–1430. This illustrates the conversion of Katherine. In the first scene, she looks at herself in the mirror and seeks the perfect fiancé. In the second scene, a hermit gives her a picture of the Virgin and Child.146 Then comes a scene of her mystic marriage, which was especially popular in Late Middle Ages.147

Although intercession may have been St Katherine’s primary role in medieval religiosity, her status as a role model made her especially popular, because virginity was always an ideal of Christianity.


In this article I have demonstrated the cult of St Katherine in the towns of Upper Hungary during the Middle Ages. The cult of St Katherine arrived in Hungary in the second half of the thirteenth century and was fostered by German settlers. The first promoters of Katherine’s cult might have been the ancestors of the Berzeviczy and Görgey families in Upper Hungary.

The intercessory power of St Katherine was emphasized in her legend, and it was through this that she became the patron saint of several Upper Hungarian mining towns, something of a departure from her generic European cult. That she was venerated as a miner’s saint is clear from her popularity as a patron saint of mining towns. The only churches dedicated to her in Upper Hungary are in mining towns and rural areas (See Map 1). In some cases, the seals of these towns also depicted St Katherine. The saints to which the most churches in the principal mining towns were dedicated were the Virgin Mary, St Elizabeth of Thuringia and St Katherine (see Table 1). It seems that she was popular among miners together with St Barbara. The main reason behind St Katherine’s popularity might be that she and St Barbara helped at the hour of death. The heyday of St Katherine’s cult was in the late Middle Ages, just as the cult of the Fourteen Holy Helpers was also flourishing. In the late Middle Ages, she was venerated in the free royal towns, where confraternities and altars were dedicated to her. The donations to her altars indicate her increasing popularity in Upper Hungary. Being the bride of Christ, she mainly appealed to women. The altarpieces depicting St Katherine emphasize her martyrdom, her erudition and her virginity, conveying the message that her efficacious intercessory power derived from her chastity and martyrdom.



St Nicholas, All Saints

Bélabánya/Banská Belá/Düllen

St John


Virgin Mary, St Anthony’s Chapel, St Elizabeth, St Nicholas, St Jerome and St Barbara’s Chapel


Virgin Mary


Virgin Mary


Virgin Mary, St Katherine, St Andrew’s Chapel (originally St Michael’s Chapel), St Elizabeth’s Hospital, Chapel of St John the Baptist.


Mary Magdalene, St Anne’s Chapel, St Elizabeth’s Hospital


St Katherine


Virgin Mary, St Katherine, St Anne’s Chapel, St Elizabeth’s Hospital, Corpus Christi Chapel, St Michael’s Ossuary, St Nicholas’ Chapel


St Katherine, Chapel of the Virgin Mary

Újbánya/Nová Baňa/Königsberg

Virgin Mary, St Elizabeth’s Hospital


Table 1

Dedications of churches and chapels in the principal mining towns of medieval Upper Hungary. Based on this article and Mező, Patrocíniumok, passim.


Archival Sources

Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára (Hungarian National Archives – MNL OL), Diplomatikai Levéltár (Medieval Charters – DL).

Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára (Hungarian National Archives – MNL OL), Diplomatikai Fényképgyűjtemény (Collection of Photocopies – DF).


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1* I am grateful to Judit Majorossy and Gábor Buják for their comments, as well as to Mónika Belucz for her help.

Jacobus de Voragine, The Golden Legend, 2:341.

2 E.g. Walsh, The Cult of St Katherine; Lewis, The Cult of St Katherine; Simon, The Cult of Saint Katherine; Sands, The Company She Keeps; Jenkins and Lewis, St Katherine of Alexandria.

3 Hungarian scholarly attention has almost exclusively focused on the famous late medieval vernacular legend of St Katherine, see: Katona, Alexandriai Szent Katalin; Horváth, “Alexandriai Szent Katalin verses legendája,” 9–25; Kardos, Alexandriai Szent Katalin; Horváth, Középkori magyar verseink, 246–366; Kővári, “Alexandriai Szent Katalin”. In her MA thesis, Kristina Potuckova analyzed the Upper Hungarian altarpieces which depict the virgines capitales, see: Potuckova, “Virginity, Sanctity.” The author of this article wrote an MA thesis on St Katherine’s Hungarian cult and is working on the cult of the virgines capitales in medieval Hungary in her PhD dissertation.

4 Dresvina, A Maid with a Dragon, 14. I am indebted to the author, who provided me the draft of her book.

5 Chatterjee, “Saint Catherine,” 265; Collins, “Visual Piety,” 105; Walsh, The Cult of St Katherine, 42.

6 Bray, “The Legend of St Katherine,” 11–12, as cited in Jenkins and Lewis, St Katherine of Alexandria, 3.

7 Katona, Alexandriai Szent Katalin, 24–25.

8 Walsh, The Cult of St Katherine, 137–38.

9 Dresvina, A Maid with a Dragon, 14.

10 Duffy, “Holy Maydens, Holy Wyfes,” 189–93.

11 Klaniczay, Holy Rulers, 197.

12 According to legend of Cunegond of Poland (the daughter of Béla IV), the princess had descended from the lineage of St Katherine: “[...] dux Bela cui erat contoralis nomine Maria filia imperatoris Grecorum, imperątor vero ipse de stirpe Neronis Cesaris, imperatrix autem de genealogia sancte Catharine virginis et martiris eximie, prout tradunt dicte cronice.” Vita sanctae Kingae in Bielowski, Monumenta Poloniae historica, 4:683–84, and Uhrin, “Szent Katalin,” 251.

13 Lucraft, Katherine Swynford, 159.

14 Reames, Legenda Aurea, 107–13; Vauchez, “Jacques de Voragine,” 27–56.

15 Winstead, Virgin Martyrs, 60–63.

16 Jansen, The Making of the Magdalen, 74.

17 Vauchez, “Saints admirables,” 165.

18 Winstead, Virgin Martyrs, 121; Peters, Patterns of Piety, 102.

19 Huizinga, Waning, 168–78.

20 Winstead, Virgin Martyrs, 116–17.

21 Vauchez, “Saints admirables,” 167–72.

22 Gecser, “Holy Helpers,” 199.

23 The most common members of the group are: Barbara, Katherine, Margaret, Denis, Erasmus, Blaise, George, Achatius, Eustace, Christopher, Giles, Cyriac, Pantaleon and Vitus. On the Fourteen Holy Helpers, see: Guth, “Vierzehnheiligen,” 305–24; Pötzl, “Die Verehrung,” 157–86; Gecser, “Holy Helpers,” 174–201.

24 Marosi and Beke, Magyarországi művészet, 1:212.

25 Weed, “Venerating,” 1066.

26 Ibid, 1069.

27 Radó, Libri liturgici, 39.

28 Vizkelety, Az európai prédikációirodalom, 72, 259–60.

29 Petrovich and Ladislaus, Sermones compilati; Koszta, “A püspökség alapításától (1009),” 120–21.

30 Szentpétery, Scriptores rerum Hungaricarum, 1:465.

31 Kristó, “Károly Róbert családja,” 25–26; Uhrin, “Szent Katalin,” 253–56.

32 “Rector capelle Ludovici regis ad honorem Sancte Katherine virginis et martyris ad latus eiusdem ecclesie Albensis fondate” charter from 1458, see: Érszegi, “Fejér megyére vonatkozó oklevelek,” no. 211.

33 Lewis, The Cult of St Katherine, 63; Walsh, The Cult of St Katherine, 147; Sands, The Company She Keeps, 7–20.

34 Madas, Középkori prédikációirodalmunk, 137.

35 Madas, “A Legenda aurea,” 93–98.

36 “[…] beata Catherina commendatur et in exemplum nobis proponitur” - Pelbartus: Pomerium de sanctis, Pars aestivalis Sermo XCIX. De sancta Catherina. Sermo primus cum legenda; “Circa primum de spiritualibus divitiis quaeritur, quales divitias adquisierunt sanctae virgines, et exemplo earum quales debeant adquirere quique fideles” Pelbartus: Pomerium de sanctis, Pars aestivalis Sermo CII. De sancta Catherina. Sermo quartus. Accessed: February 2, 2016. http://sermones.elte.hu/pelbart/index.php?file=pa_index

37 Kertész, “Two Hungarian Friars Minor,” 63–64.

38 Osualdus: Sermones de sanctis Bigae salutis Sermo CX. De sancta Katherina virgine et martyre I. and Sermo CXI.: De sancta Katherina virgine et martyre II. Accessed: February 2, 2016. http://sermones.elte.hu/szovegkiadasok/latinul/laskaiosvat/index.php?file=os_index.

39 Madas et al., Érsekújvári kódex.

40 Rajhona, “Alexandriai Szent Katalin,” Accessed: January 24, 2016 http://sermones.elte.hu/?az=312tan_plaus_flora.

41 Slivka, Pohľady do stredovekých dejín Slovenska, 128.

42 Majorossy, “Bevezető,” 13.

43 Fekete Nagy, A Szepesség, 26.

44 Buják, “A szepesi és pozsonyi prépostságok,” 11.

45 Fekete Nagy, A Szepesség, 328–44; Zsoldos, “Szepes megye,” 19–31; Szende, “Power and Identity,” 37.

46 Endrödy, “Mikulášska legenda,” 49. On the medieval wall paintings of the church, see: Togner and Plekanec, Medieval Wall Paintings, 66–98.

47 Körmendy, “A falusi plébániák,” 155; Körmendy, Melioratio terrae, 43–63.

48 Hudák, Patrocinia na Slovensku, 57–59.

49 On the property division of Szepes county see the map of Števík and Česla, “Významnejšie majetkové,” 192.

50 Togner and Plekanec, Medieval Wall Paintings, 356.

51 Fekete Nagy, A Szepesség, 228–29.

52 On the origin of these villages, see Fekete Nagy, A Szepesség, 228–30. On the patrocinia see: Mező, Patrocíniumok, 164.

53 Pirhalla, A szepesi prépostság, 14.

54 Szentpétery, Scriptores rerum Hungaricarum, 1:465.

55 Buják, “A szepesi és pozsonyi prépostságok,” 13–14; Homza and Sroka, Historia Scepusii, 235–45.

56 For example, Dušan Buran points out the special popularity of St Dorothy in fifteenth-century Szepes. Buran, Studien zur Wandmalerei, 70–86.

57 Lékai, A ciszterciek, 478.

58 Szende, Otthon a városban, 15.

59 Kristó et al., Anjou-kori Oklevéltár, III, no. 119.; Štefánik and Lukačka, Lexikon Stredovekých, 137.

60 Majorossy, “Church in Town,” 375.

61 Tracey Sands also draws attention to the role of the Cistercians in the cult of St Katherine in Sweden. Sands, The Company She Keeps, XIX.

62 Burton and Kerr, The Cistercians, 131.

63 Bálint, Ünnepi kalendárium, 3:559.

64 Schreiber, Der Bergbau, 379–80.

65 Molenda, “Mining Towns,” 188.

66 Second half of the fourteenth century. Mező, Patrocíniumok, 164.

67 Benke, Bányaváros címerek, 26–27, 60–61.

68 The chapel of the church of St Lawrence in Káposztafalva/Hrabušice Slivka, Pohľady do stredovekých dejín Slovenska, 128, the chapel of St Jerome and St Barbara in the church of the Virgin Mary, Besztercebánya. Rados, Magyar oltárok, 54; Mező assumes two more patrocinia in Márkfalva/Jezernica) and Hilyó/Hýľov. Mező, Patrocíniumok, 61.

69 Szende, “Power and Identity,” 53.

70 Molenda, “Mining Towns,” 188.

71 Szende, “Power and Identity,” 53; Weisz, “Mining Town Privileges,” 309.

72 Weisz, “Mining Town Privileges,” 288.

73 Szende, “Power and Identity,” 52.

74 Telkibánya was one of the earliest mining towns in the Hungarian Kingdom, founded during the Árpádian era, but it received privileges in 1341. Weisz, “Mining Town Privileges,” 304.

75 Guzsik, A pálos rend építészete, 100.

76 Csoma, Abaúj-Torna vármegye, 490–93.

77 Stollhans, St. Catherine, 95.

78 MNL OL, DL, 5783.; MNL OL, DL, 11976; MNL OL, DL, 13819.; MNL OL, DL, 14390.; MNL OL, DL, 14391.; MNL OL, DL, 14392.; MNL OL, DL, 14396.; MNL OL, DL, 15368.; MNL OL, DL, 13819. Zsuzsanna Bándi published the short summaries of the charters in Borsodi Levéltári Évkönyv 5, 582, 588, 590–95.

79 Majorossy and Szende, “Hospitals,” 425.

80 MNL OL, DL, 5783.

81 Bándi, “Északkelet-magyarországi,” 582–83. The ruins of the hospital were found in 1997. Pusztai, “A Telkibányai Szent Katalin ispotály,” 429.

82 MNL OL, DL, 13819.

83 MNL OL, DL, 14390.

84 Urbán, “Pálos zarándokhelyek,” 63–94.

85 The hospital of Győr from 1420, see: Mályusz et al., Zsigmondkori Oklevéltár, VII, no. 2018, and the hospital of Veszprém in 1474, see: Pásztor, A magyarság vallásos élete, 76; Somogyi, A középkori Magyarország szegényügye, 103; Kubinyi, “Orvoslás, gyógyszerészek,” 264.

86 Krizkó, A körmöcbányai katholikus, 21–22.

87 “filialis ecclesie Sancti Katherine” MNL OL, DF, 249 876.; Krizkó, A körmöcbányai katholikus, 22.

88 Kriško, “Körmöczbánya,” 88.

89 The main altar of the church was consecrated in 1715 to St Katherine. Krizkó, A körmöcbányai vártemplom, 10.

90 Krizkó, A körmöcbányai katholikus, 20–21.

91 Krizkó, A körmöcbányai vártemplom.

92 MNL OL, DF, 249856. Krizkó incorrectly read Martin instead of Martha. Krizkó, A körmöcbányai katholikus, 20–21.

93 MNL OL, DF, 250 152.

94 E.g. Darvasy, Középkori városaink, 14–15; Körmendi, “Les saints patrons,” 152–53; Štefánik and Lukačka, Lexikon Stredovekých, 229.

95 Lamoš, Vznik a počiatky, 135, 211. As cited in Štefánik and Lukačka, Lexikon Stredovekých, 229.

96 Körmendi, “Les saints patrons,” 152–53.

97 Novák, Erby miest, 58–63.

98 MNL OL, DF, 249 454.

99 Štefánik and Lukačka, Lexikon Stredovekých, 229. This seal cannot be found in the MNL OL, DL DF database, because the database contains just few pictures of seals. Kriško published the drawings of the seals: Kriško, “Körmöczbánya,” 116, MNL OL, DF, 249 966. was corroborated with this seal. The (German) charter refers to the seal as “stat secret”.

100 According to Kriško, “Körmöczbánya,” 116, this seal was already used in 1452. This charter refers its seal as “gewonlichem statsigel” the common seal of the town (MNL OL, DF, 250 169.), an image of the seal can be found from 1477. MNL OL, DL, 63265. See: Bándi “A Magyar Országos Levéltár,” 96.

101 Štefánik and Lukačka, Lexikon Stredovekých, 441.

102 Ibid., 442.; Mező, Patrocíniumok, 468.

103 Mályusz et al., Zsigmondkori Oklevéltár, VIII, no. 965.

104 Poszler, “Selmecbánya,” 126.

105 Mojzer, “A festő hagyatéka,” 19.

106 MNL OL, DF, 235 108.

107 Mojzer, “A festő hagyatéka,” 20.

108 Végh, “A selmecbányai,” 113–20.

109 MNL OL, DF, 235 108.

110 Wolf, The Old Norse-Icelandic, 22–28.

111 Burke, Popular Culture, 35.

112 Réau, Iconographie, 3:264.

113 Majorossy,Church in Town.”

114 Huizinga, Waning, 166.

115 Majorossy, “Church in Town,” 375, 379. N. 108.

116 Szende, Otthon a városban, 38, 96, 103.

117 The other guild, dedicated to Katherine, was the fishermen’s guild in Sopron. Házi, Sopron, 305–08.

118 Kerekes, “Kassa polgársága,” 104–05. Moreover, confraternities were dedicated to her honor in Transylvania: in Kolozsvár/Cluj-Napoca/Klausenburg, Beszterce/Bistriţa/Bistritz), Nagydemeter/Dumitra/Mettersdorf). Florea, “The Cult of the Saints,” 119. There were two confraternities in Buda. Pásztor, A magyarság vallásos élete, 32.

119 The guild’s statutes were issued in 1451, while the first mention of the altar, dedicated to St Katherine is dated to 1462. Kubinyi, “Vallásos társulatok,” 344, 348.

120 Domenová, “Cirkev a prešovske bratstva,” 58.

121 Iványi, Eperjes, no. 895.

122 Domenová, “A polgári háztartások,” 131.

123 Iványi, Eperjes, no. 1201.

124 Ibid., no. 1003.

125 Ibid., no. 921.

126 “Fraternitas sutorum, alias ad altare Marie virginis.” Ibid., no. 886.

127 Ibid., no. 863.

128 Lucraft, Katherine Swynford, 105.

129 Kölnei, “A tizennégy segítőszent,” 101–37.

130 Bálint, Ünnepi kalendárium, 3:40.

131 Radó, Nyomtatott liturgikus, 29.

132 Lívia Kölnei counted ten medieval representations of the Holy Helpers on altarpieces, Kölnei, “A tizennégy segítőszent,” 127–35.

133 1. Altar of the Nativity of the Lord, Bártfa (end of 15th c.) 2. High Altar of Virgin Mary, Sztankahermány/Hermanovce, c. 1500–25) 3. Altar of Our Lady of Snows, Lőcse (1494–1500) 4. Altar of Virgin Mary, Liptószentmiklós/Liptovský Mikuláš/Liptau-Sankt-Nikolaus, 1470–80) 5. Altar of Virgin Mary, Bakabánya (Pukanec/Pukantz (1480–90) 6. High Altar of the Crucifixion, Bakabánya (end of 15th c.) 7. Altar of Annunciation to Virgin Mary, Kisszeben/Sabinov/Zeben (c. 1520) 8. Altar of Virgin Mary, Háromszlécs/Sliače, 1510–20) 9. Altar of Virgin Mary, Szepeszombat/Spišská Sobota/Georgenberg (c. 1470) 10. The so called Small Altar of Crucifixion, Szepesszombat 1510–20) 11. High Altar of St Katherine, Csütörtökhely (1490–1500), 12. Altar of Virgin Mary, Kakaslomnic (1494) 13. High Altar of Virgin Mary, Farkasfalva/Vlková/Farksdorf, c. 1480) Potuckova, “Virginity, Sanctity,” 27, 59–70.

134 Marosi and Beke, Magyarországi művészet, 1:212. Chlumská, Obrazy z legendy, 51.

135 Potuckova, “Virginity, Sanctity.”

136 The images of the open wings depict Dorothy, Apollonia, Agnes and Ursula. See: Rados, Magyar oltárok, 50.

137 Shrine: Katherine, Barbara, Margaret, Closed wings: Mater dolorosa, Vir Dolorum. Potuckova, “Virginity, Sanctity,” 62.

138 Shrine: Katherine, open wings: Barbara and Dorothy, closed wings: Apollonia and Odilia. Potuckova, “Virginity, Sanctity,” 63.

139 Closed wings: Virgin Mary’s annunciation, St Stephen and St Emeric, Angel from Annunciation, St Nicholas and St Ladislas. Potuckova, “Virginity, Sanctity,” 38; Marosi and Beke, Magyarországi művészet, 1:723; 2:587, no. 1803–04.

140 Rados, Magyar oltárok, 44.

141 Magyar Nemzeti Galéria [Hungarian National Gallery], no. l, 55. 914. 1–5. Végh, “Ismeretlen Szent Katalin sorozat,” 79; Mikó, “Alexandriai Szent Katalin,” 163.

142 Gerát, Legendary Scenes, 129.

143 Weed, “Venerating,” 1074.

144 “Sancta Katherina. ora. pro. nobis. deum. a- m- 493.” Rados, Magyar oltárok, 50.

145 Réau, Iconographie, 268.

146 Poszler, “Két jelenet,” 623; Schill, “Ikonographie und Kult,” 336.

147 Gerát, Legendary Scenes, 173.


Map 1


Volume 5 Issue 3 CONTENTS


A New sancta et fidelis societas for Saint Sigismund of Burgundy: His Cult and Iconography in Hungary during the Reign of Sigismund of Luxemburg

Dragoş Gh. Năstăsoiu

Central European University, Department of Medieval Studies


Examining both written and pictorial evidence, this study addresses the diffusion of the cult of St Sigismund from Bohemia to Hungary during the late fourteenth century and the saint’s subsequent transformation during the fifteenth century into one of the Hungarian kingdom’s patrons. In doing so, it assesses the significance of the actions that King Sigismund took to promote Sigismund of Burgundy, his personal patron, in Hungary and shows that the king emulated the model of his father, Charles IV of Luxemburg. King Sigismund promoted his spiritual patron within his kingdom and associated him with the traditional Hungarian patrons, the sancti reges Hungariae. The king thus succeeded in accommodating the foreign saint to a new home and transforming him for a short interval into one of Hungary’s holy protectors. The natural consequence of this “holy and faithful fellowship” was the transfer of the cult from the royal milieu to the nobility of the kingdom. Willing to prove their loyalty to the king, Hungarian noblemen decorated their churches with St Sigismund’s image and depicted him in the company of the saints Stephen, Emeric, and Ladislas. The study’s larger aim is to illustrate how the political transformations of a certain period could facilitate the spread of a new saint’s cult from the cult center to another region and that a saint’s veneration could sometimes be politically motivated.

Keywords: St Sigismund of Burgundy, Sigismund of Luxemburg, cult of saints, relics, sancti reges Hungariae, wall painting, iconography


Writing on the cults of dynastic saints in medieval Europe, Gábor Klaniczay showed that members of ruling dynasties were generally fervent supporters and promoters of cults of saints, especially those who had descended from their own families. Hungarian and Neapolitan Angevins, Přemyslids, or Luxemburgs harmoniously blended their personal piety with astute political calculation when proving their legitimacy to rule. Having several saints in the family or associating one’s deeds with a particular saint (especially one’s namesake) was an extension of that saint’s sacredness over his protégé, guaranteeing the success of a ruler’s actions.1 Examining the iconography of Sigismund of Luxemburg, Bertalan Kéry revealed that the Holy Roman Emperor had a high devotion for his personal patron, St Sigismund of Burgundy, and that medieval artists sometimes depicted the saint under his protégé’s appearance.2 Whereas King Sigismund’s devotion for his namesake protector received previous attention, it became apparent only recently that the new King of Hungary promoted his personal patron and one of Bohemia’s holy protectors within his realm.3

By examining the written and pictorial evidence, the present paper addresses the diffusion during the late fourteenth century of the cult of St Sigismund of Burgundy from Bohemia to Hungary and the saint’s subsequent transformation by the late fifteenth century into one of the patrons of the Hungarian kingdom. In doing so, it assesses the significance of King Sigismund’s efforts to promote his personal patron saint in Hungary and shows that he emulated the model of his father, Charles IV of Luxemburg, a fervent supporter and promoter of the cults of saints, an avid collector of relics, and a great patron of the arts. King Sigismund not only promoted his personal patron within his kingdom, but also associated him with St Ladislas, the patron saint par excellence of the Hungarian kingdom. Sigismund thus managed to accommodate the foreign saint to a new home and to transform him into one of the country’s holy protectors. The natural consequence of this association was the transfer of the new cult from the royal milieu to the kingdom’s aristocracy: willing to prove their loyalty to the king, Hungarian noblemen decorated their churches with the image of St Sigismund and depicted him in the company of the three sancti reges Hungariae, i.e., St Stephen, St Emeric, and St Ladislas. The paper’s larger aim is to illustrate how the political transformations of a certain period facilitated the transfer of a new saint’s cult from the cult center to another region and that a saint’s veneration was sometimes politically motivated.

One Saint—Two Cult Centers: St Sigismund of Burgundy between Agaune and Prague

King Sigismund of Burgundy (r. 516–24) was a convert from the Arian faith of his forebears to the orthodoxy of the Church of Rome and founder of the Abbey of Saint-Maurice d’Agaune in Valais, Switzerland (515). He was an impulsive and violent-tempered ruler, who had his son Sigeric killed mercilessly at the instigation of his new wife (522). Shortly after the murder of the king and his family by Frankish King Chlodomer, the Abbot of Saint-Maurice Venerandus became interested in the remains of his monastery’s founder and brought them for burial to Agaune from a well near Orléans, where the king’s body was lying together with his massacred family (535). From that moment on, the cult of the holy king and martyr Sigismund started its gradual development in the shadow of the cult of St Maurice and his fellow Theban martyrs.4 The monks of Agaune managed by the late sixth century to create for the founder of their abbey an aura of sanctity revolving around St Sigismund’s healing power over fevers. This was reflected by the Missa sancti Sigismundi regis pro febricitantibus, a votive mass composed initially for the forgiveness of King Sigismund’s sins, later sung as a means of seeking cure through the saint’s intercession.5 As attested by the distribution of relics, church dedications and commemoration through liturgical and hagiographical texts, St Sigismund’s cult was present until the mid-fourteenth century, mainly in Southern France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, and the Low Countries.6 This regional diffusion indicates a moderate veneration of St Sigismund, who was known, though not popular in other parts of Europe.

The situation changed through the actions of Charles IV of Luxemburg, King of Bohemia (1346–78) and Holy Roman Emperor (1355–78), whose great knowledge of the cults of saints, understanding of the power and value of relics, and intense piety made him a passionate collector of relics.7 He acquired first in 1354, from the Benedictine Monastery in Einsiedeln, a piece of St Sigismund’s skull, which ended up in St Vitus Cathedral in Prague.8 However, it was only in 1365, when Charles IV was crowned King of Burgundy and strengthened his imperial power in the region, that he took great interest in the cult of the sixth-century holy king, whose successor he claimed to be from that point on.9 Detouring to Agaune from his coronation site in Arles, Charles IV took with him, despite the abbot’s reluctance to hand them over, the ax of St Maurice’s martyrdom and St Sigismund’s skull and half the body, i.e., a significant part of the holy king’s relics.10 He arranged for their transfer to Prague through a series of well-orchestrated actions, which resulted in the rapid transformation of St Sigismund of Burgundy into one of Bohemia’s patron saints.11

As convincingly argued by David Ch. Mengel,12 the Burgundian royal martyr was placed from the very beginning in the sancta et fidelis societas of St Wenceslas,13 the tenth-century royal martyr and Bohemia’s traditional patron.14 St Sigismund’s relics arrived to Prague on the vigil of St Wenceslas (September 27), when the town was filled with people coming for one of the annual fairs. They were transferred the next day to St Vitus Cathedral, which was miraculously illuminated during the office of matins: a sign of St Sigismund’s previous merits and future miracles and a symbol of St Wenceslas’ rejoicing in such holy and faithful companionship. The relics were then placed in a prominent chapel situated opposite the shrine of St Wenceslas.15 The diocese-wide proclamation of the advent of St Sigismund’s relics requested by the Archbishop of Prague during a diocesan synod (October 17, 1365)16 and numerous miracles occurring immediately at the saint’s new shrine17 testify to the cult’s carefully planned promotion by the archbishop and emperor and to the great impact that the transfer of the holy king’s relics had in Bohemia. St Sigismund attracted numerous pilgrims seeking to be healed to Prague, both Archbishop John Očko of Vlašim and Charles IV himself being cured of fevers through the holy king’s miraculous intervention (late January of 1366 and summer of 1371).18 The cult’s rapid success and its strong support from Charles IV—who named his third-born son, the future King of Hungary and Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund of Luxemburg, after St Sigismund in 1368—led finally to the establishment of the saint as one of the country’s patrons.19 Consequently, at the 1366 diocesan synod in Prague, St Sigismund’s feast day was moved from May 1 to May 2 so that he could have a separate celebration on a different date from that of the Holy Apostles Philip and James. This was an honor usually granted to a country’s patron saint and was granted to Sigismund on account of his great and glorious miracles.20 St Sigismund’s newly acquired significance was reflected also in the religious art commissioned by his two promoters, the Burgundian holy king appearing twice in the early 1370s in the company of Bohemia’s traditional patrons, i.e., St Wenceslas, St Adalbert, St Vitus, St Procopius and St Ludmila: once on the votive panel ordered by Archbishop John Očko of Vlašim (before 1371) and a second time, as the result of Charles IV’s commission, on the mosaics above the Golden Gate of St Vitus Cathedral (1370–71).21

Two Sigismunds in Late Medieval Hungary: King Sigismund of Luxemburg and St Sigismund of Burgundy

As shown by Péter Tóth, the presence of St Sigismund’s cult in medieval Hungary was mediated by the transfer of the saint’s relics to Prague and the advent as King of Hungary of Sigismund of Luxemburg (1387–1437), who was the son of Charles IV and who promoted his personal patron in the region.22 Before this date, there is scant evidence of St Sigismund’s veneration in Hungary: some of the earliest Hungarian calendars do, nevertheless, contain the feasts of his martyrdom (May 1) and the translatio of his relics (October 15/16); however, the holy king’s passio, office, and votive mass are missing from these eleventh-to-fourteenth-century liturgical manuscripts23 and only the church in Kopács (Kopačevo, Croatia) was dedicated to St Sigismund (1299).24 This indicates that the cult of the first medieval royal saint was confined in limited form to Hungarian church practice and did not manage to become popular until the end of the fourteenth century, when the situation changed radically.

St Sigismund’s reputation seemingly spread rapidly outside Bohemia and news of the translation of his relics to Prague soon reached the neighboring Kingdom of Hungary. The gilded silver statue of St Sigismund was donated by quemdam nobilem de Hungaria to the saint’s shrine and appeared in the 1374 inventory of St Vitus’ treasury.25 In 1375, the Statuta capituli Varadiensis recorded the existence of an altar dedicated to St Sigismund in the Cathedral of Nagyvárad (Oradea, Romania).26 Sometime between 1364 and 1380, the chaplain of King Louis the Great requested permission to venerate St Sigismund’s relics kept in the Cathedral of Olomouc since the early thirteenth century.27 The Hungarian altars and churches dedicated to the new Bohemian patron correspond to the reign of Sigismund of Luxemburg and were obviously inspired by the king’s devotion to his personal patron: the altar in Körmöcbánya (Kremnica, Slovakia, 1391),28 the royal chapter church in Buda (1410–24), the Pauline monastery in Verőce (1414–33), and the churches and chapels in Niva (1422), Úszfalva (Uzovce, Slovakia, 1429), and Hásság (Haşag, Romania, 1446).29 St Sigismund gradually made his presence felt in liturgical writings as well. His feasts originating in Bohemian liturgical practice, i.e., the martyrdom of the saint (May 2) and the translatio of his relics (September 27), appear in several late-fourteenth-century or fifteenth-century missals with either Hungarian provenance or use.30 St Sigismund’s Life was known in Hungary by the early fifteenth century, when a Legenda aurea manuscript (copied in Italy in the second half of the fourteenth century) was augmented by two Hungarian users with several legends, including that of St Sigismund, the incipit of which is Tempore Tiberij . . .31 The votive mass pro febricitantibus is featured in two fifteenth-century missals32 and two orationes (Sancti Sigismundi martiris and Rex et martyr, Sigismunde...) appear in a prayer book written around the year 1460 in Southern Germany or Bohemia, though used in Upper Hungary.33 The final outcome of this slow process was the inclusion of St Sigismund among Hungary’s patron saints, as attested by Legende sanctorum regni Hungarie in lombardica historia non contente (Strasbourg, 1484–1487)34 and its subsequent editions published in Venice (1498 and 1512).35 In this collection of saints’ lives which are relevant for Hungary, though omitted by Legenda aurea, one can also read the vita of St Sigismund: he was naturalized at last and enjoyed the company of Hungary’s traditional patrons, i.e., the three sancti reges Hungariae—Stephen, Emeric, and Ladislas.36

Regarded as a zealous promoter of his patron’s cult,37 King Sigismund indeed tried to promote his namesake saint in Hungary. His actions are better understood when compared to the practices of veneration and promotion employed by Sigismund’s father, Charles IV of Luxemburg. Soon after moving his residence from Visegrád to Buda (1408), King Sigismund started the construction next to his new court of a royal chapter church, a project on which he spent many thousands of florins by the year 1410. This attracted the praise of Pope John XXIII in a letter issued on August 3, followed fifteen days later by another one authorizing the access of visitors to the church in Buda on certain Marian feasts.38 The construction of the chapter church was completed during the years 1419–24, as attested by accounts of visitors to the church, which received the double patronage of the Holy Virgin and St Sigismund.39 As noted by András Végh,40 there are too many similarities between King Sigismund’s religious foundation in Buda and that of Charles IV in Nuremberg (1355–58)41 not to notice whose model of devotion and artistic patronage the Hungarian king followed. Both churches were located outside, though close to the royal residence, on the site of a former Jewish quarter.42 As far as one can judge by the ground plan of the vanished church in Buda, they both displayed similar architectural features and sculptural decoration.43 Both fulfilled the function of court chapels and collegiate chapter churches.44 Most significantly, they enjoyed a similar double patronage, being placed first under the protection of the Holy Virgin and, second, under that of the founder’s patron saint, i.e., St Sigismund, for the church in Buda45 and St Wenceslas for the church in Nuremberg, the founder of which was Karolus, qui et Wenceslaus.46

King Sigismund understood the importance of relics in the promotion of a saint’s cult and, like his father, he endeavored to acquire St Sigismund’s relics in order to distribute them within his kingdom. A seventeenth-century copy of a document dated June 30, 1414 accounts for King Sigismund’s visit to Agaune with the explicit intention to acquire some of his patron’s relics and take them to Hungary.47 More precisely, to a chapel the king was going to build in Voarenza, a deserted place in the Diocese of Vác, which was found next to an island on the Danube, a location lying in the proximity of the royal palace in Visegrád and identified with Verőce. The chapel was to be dedicated to St Sigismund and entrusted to the care of Pauline monks.48 The document also offers relevant information on King Sigismund’s devotion to his patron saint and his intention to spread and ensure the continuity of the royal martyr’s cult across the kingdom.49 After referring to the relic-oriented visit of Charles IV to Agaune50 and to Sigismund’s desire to follow in the footsteps of his father,51 the document contains an account of the miraculous opening of the reliquary. This represented St Sigismund’s consent for his new and partial relocation of relics, i.e., a small bone, a piece of the saint’s arm, and a skull portion of one of the saint’s sons, which King Sigismund took away to Hungary.52 Although the document mentions only the church in Verőce, it is unlikely that the Pauline monastery was the exclusive recipient of St Sigismund’s relics, especially if one thinks that in the moment of the king’s pious visit and acquisition of relics, the church in Buda was being built and dedicated precisely to the Burgundian saint. It is unknown what relics the church in Buda possessed, but like the Nuremberg Frauenkirche, which had a side altar dedicated to St Wenceslas,53 it is highly possible that King Sigismund provided the secondary altar of his foundation with the relics of his personal and the church’s associated patron.54 The existence before 1375 in the Cathedral of the Holy Virgin and St Ladislas in Nagyvárad of an altar dedicated to St Sigismund makes one reflect upon the possibility that part of the saint’s relics were intended also for King Sigismund’s favorite cathedral. In any case, in 1424, the Cathedral in Nagyvárad housed St Sigismund’s relics, transferred temporarily from Prague by King Sigismund, who tried to protect them from the rage of the Hussites.55

Choosing Nagyvárad Cathedral for the temporary relocation of St Sigismund’s relics was not without motivation. This was the cult center and burial place of one of Hungary’s holy kings, St Ladislas, with whose cult Sigismund of Luxemburg became acquainted shortly after he arrived to the Hungarian court (1379) and for whom he maintained high devotion throughout his life.56 During his reign, King Sigismund was present in Nagyvárad on numerous occasions57 and, after the death of his wife, Queen Mary of Hungary, and her burial next to the tomb of St Ladislas (1395), the king directed his attention repeatedly toward the cathedral and his holy predecessor’s remains.58 In 1401 and 1434, King Sigismund requested papal indulgences for the pilgrims who visited the cathedral and venerated the holy king’s miracle-working relics.59 He took part himself in such a pilgrimage together with King Władysław II Jagiełło, spending fifteen days and celebrating Easter in Nagyvárad. Sigismund’s expression of piety toward St Ladislas came after his conclusion of a peace treaty with the Polish ruler (1412).60 After a fire in the early 1400s that destroyed the cathedral’s sacristy and melted down St Ladislas’ head reliquary, though left the relics unharmed, King Sigismund was likely involved in the commissioning of the holy king’s exquisite new reliquary, kept today at the Cathedral of Győr. He also supported the cathedral’s partial rebuilding in the years 1406–07 through the royal confirmation of privileges and donations.61 It is in one of these charters that King Sigismund entrusted his salvation to the intercession of St Ladislas and expressed his desire to be buried next to the holy king’s sepulcher in the Cathedral of Nagyvárad.62 He maintained his wish even after he became Holy Roman Emperor,63 a fact that serves to point out to the king’s utmost devotion for one of Hungary’s patrons. That St Ladislas was indeed important for King Sigismund is illustrated also by the king’s keeping of the golden florin with the holy knight’s figure on the reverse. In 1427, he also issued a silver ducat with the saint’s iconic image bearing a crown, crucifer orb, and battle axe.64 All these facts attest not only to King Sigismund’s personal piety toward one of Hungary’s patrons, but also to his understanding of St Ladislas as a powerful symbol of the Kingdom of Hungary and an efficient tool for political legitimizing and self-representation.

The possibility cannot be excluded, however, that King Sigismund also revered Hungary’s other holy kings, although except for a 1404 royal confirmation of privileges addressed to the Cathedral in Székesfehérvár (i.e., the cult center of St Stephen and St Emeric and traditional burial site of Hungarian kings), no other evidence points out to such devotion.65 Nevertheless, St Ladislas, the sacred protector par excellence of the Hungarian kingdom, was associated with the king’s personal patron, St Sigismund, portrayed under the physical appearance of his protégé in the murals of the Augustinian Church in Constance, which were commissioned and partly ideated by King Sigismund himself during his stay there for the council (1417).66 No longer identifiable in its entirety, the gallery of enthroned holy kings, princes, bishops, and female saints seems to reflect Sigismund’s personal piety for the two holy kings, endorsing also his political and dynastical claims.67 The association of the two holy kings makes one think of the double dedication to St Ladislas and St Sigismund of the Pauline monastery in Kysbathe (Gerchen), which Nicholas Zámbó de Mezőlak, former Castellan of Óbuda and Master of the Treasury (1382–84, 1385–88), founded prior to the years 1383–84,68 i.e., sometime after Sigismund’s stay at the Hungarian court (1379–81) and close to the time of his marriage to his betrothed, Queen Mary of Hungary (1385). Their marriage, threatened by Elizabeth of Bosnia’s intention to marry her daughter to Louis of Orléans, was personally supported by Nicholas Zámbó and others, who openly opposed the queen mother and renounced their allegiance to her (August 1384).69 The monastery’s double dedication to St Ladislas and St Sigismund by a dignitary of the royal court (and supporter of the future king, for that matter) antedates the actions of Sigismund of Luxemburg, but shows that others were aware as well of the benefits this sancta et fidelis societas (i.e., between the sacred protector of Sigismund’s adoptive country and his personal patron saint) could have in making a newcomer accepted as the new King of Hungary.

St Sigismund of Burgundy and the Holy Kings of Hungary in Religious Mural Painting

Several murals preserved in churches throughout medieval Hungary feature the country’s traditional patrons, i.e., St Stephen, St Emeric, and St Ladislas, atypically associated with a fourth holy king, whose identity is most likely that of St Sigismund of Burgundy, the king’s personal patron saint. A closer examination of these frescoes and the background of their commissioners is destined to suggest possible explanations for the way in which St Sigismund’s cult was transferred from the royal milieu to the aristocratic one. The collective representation of Hungary’s three holy kings was the consequence of their joint cult, which took shape around the middle of the fourteenth century in the royal milieu and gained popularity during the reigns of Louis the Great of Anjou (1342–82) and Sigismund of Luxemburg,70 when the veneration of sancti reges Hungariae spread considerably among the noblemen of the kingdom.71 By imitating the devotional practices of the royal court, the nobility also replicated the patterns of artistic patronage, decorating many of its churches with the image of sancti reges Hungariae. The veneration and subsequent commissioning of murals with their image functioned as a strong statement of the noble donor’s political allegiance. This allegiance could be directed either toward the king, as an expression of loyalty toward the ruler, who rewarded the nobleman generously for faithful service, or directly to the kingdom, whenever the king’s person was no longer considered suitable to represent it.72 However, the strong political component of these depictions did not exclude the personal veneration of the royal saints by the frescoes’ commissioners, many of them being named after or having their family members named after them.73

The collective depiction in mural painting of sancti reges Hungariae usually places in a single composition the three holy rulers from the House of Árpád:74 St Stephen (r. 1000/01–38), the founder of the Christian Kingdom of Hungary, who merited his sanctity for ruling as rex iustus and converting his people to Christianity; St Emeric (1000/07–31), the son of the former, a pious and chaste prince, whom was educated to become a virtuous Christian ruler, but died before succeeding his father; and St Ladislas (r. 1077–95), ideal ruler and knight, the country’s defender against pagan enemies, and athleta patriae.75 Their highly conventional and stereotypical portrayal shows from a frontal perspective the full, standing figures of the holy kings characterized by hieratical appearance, static attitudes, and emphatic gestures.76 The murals show with slight variation a similar picture: an old, white-bearded St Stephen with crown, scepter, and orb; a young, beardless St Emeric with orb and lily or lily-shaped scepter, the symbol of his chastity; and a mature, brown-bearded St Ladislas holding a battle axe, a reminder of his chivalric bravery.77 The different ages of the royal saints—old for St Stephen, mature for St Ladislas, and young for St Emeric—could be an influence of the Three Magi’s iconography, which similarly shows the wise men at the three ages of kingship.78 As the great number of preserved frescoes attests, this age differentiation is, in fact, not an attempt to individualize the three characters, but rather a standardized and uniform depiction. Either dressed in elegant court costumes or as full-armored knights, the three are depicted as kings, being equally invested with royal insignia (crown, scepter, and orb).79 Despite the great uniformity and repetitiveness of the murals, there was also room for variation and innovation. In some cases, the unity of the group was disrupted, the saints being placed on separate, though conceptually unifying wall surfaces (e.g., the pillars of the triumphal arch) on which the sancti reges Hungariae stood in relation to one another.80 In other cases, there were not the usual three, but four royal saints, whom were depicted either together, within a single composition, or formed a coherent iconographic unit despite their obvious spatial separation.

On the southern wall of the sanctuary of Nicholas Apafi’s family church in Almakerék (Mălâncrav, Romania), painted either shortly before 1404/05 or in the 1420s,81 a unitarily conceived group of saints is surrounded by a decorative frame (Fig. 1). The standing figures with elegant postures and fashionable court costumes are: an old holy bishop with miter and crozier, identified either with St Gerard, St Nicholas, or St Adalbert;82 the mature, brown-bearded St Ladislas with crucifer orb and battle axe; the old, white-bearded St Stephen with scepter and crucifer orb; another mature, brown-bearded holy king with the same attributes as St Stephen; and the young, beardless St Emeric with blond, curly hair, holding an orb and originally a lily (now faded away).83 Because the accompanying inscriptions are no longer visible, it is difficult to ascertain the identity of the mature holy king placed between St Stephen and St Emeric and depicted with generic royal attributes.84 Anca Gogâltan identified him hypothetically as St Sigismund on the basis of the historical background of the frescoes, the donor’s attachment to the king, and the efforts of Sigismund of Luxemburg to promote the cult of his patron throughout the kingdom.85 St Sigismund was indeed depicted as a middle-aged holy king, dressed in royal garments, holding scepter and orb, and not having other distinguishing attributes.86

Four holy kings, two on each pillar and in superposed registers, seem to have faced each other originally on the pillars separating the nave from the southern aisle of the church in Csetnek (Štítnik, Slovakia), but currently only three of them are visible. The mural decoration of the church’s southern aisle was commissioned by Ladislas Csetneki during the 1420s, the decade in which the pillar frescoes were painted.87 The figures are poorly preserved and their individual identification is problematic, but one can notice a mixture of knightly, courtly, and royal elements in their costumes and attributes (Fig. 2). The saint on the eastern pillar’s upper register has chainmail under his tight tunic and holds an attribute with long handle (?) and shield. His counterpart on the western pillar is fully armored, wears a crown or ducal hat, props a shield and sword against the ground, and holds a similar, long-handled attribute with destroyed upper side, which could be either a spear, halberd, pollaxe, or banner. Below him (Fig. 3), a mature holy king in court costume and crown holds a crucifer orb and badly preserved attribute, probably a scepter. He has curly hair and beard covering only the lower part of his jaw. The representation facing him on the lower register of the eastern pillar was later replaced by the figure of a holy monk, but the partial detachment of the paint reveals that there was another, earlier saint painted there (Fig. 4). Several noticeable details suggest that this older figure represented a saint dressed in a red-brown vestment with a relatively large sleeve.88 His left arm was bent as for holding an attribute, probably a scepter or orb by analogy with his counterpart, who holds precisely these attributes. His halo, partially visible next to that of the holy monk, has the same color and outline as the halo of the saint facing him; both were placed under decorated, trefoil arches (Fig. 3–4). These features indicate that the two figures on the lower registers of the pillars are coeval, as they are with those on the upper registers. Faced with this evidence and given the dating of the murals, one can hypothesize that in Csetnek as well, the traditional, Hungarian royal trio was enriched with another holy king, although individual identification of the saints is no longer possible. However, the holy king’s curly hair and distinctively shaped beard (Fig. 3) recall the features of St Sigismund as they appear on the fresco in Constance and, implicitly, those of Sigismund of Luxemburg, whose facial traits were conferred often by medieval painters to the patron saint of the King of Hungary and Holy Roman Emperor.89

In the frescoes of the church in Lónya, either painted or commissioned by a certain mag(iste)r nicolaus in 1413,90 two holy kings were integrated to the sanctuary’s now-incomplete row of standing apostles (Fig. 5). Dressed in fashionable court costumes, the two standing figures with crown and crucifer orbs are identified by inscriptions: ·s(anctus)·dux/·emeri[c]us and ·s(anctus)·/rex/[s]tepha/nu[s]. Their facial features are damaged, though one clearly see that the former is brown-haired and holds a white lily, whereas the latter has white hair and beard, and holds a mace-like scepter. They are placed on the sanctuary’s southern wall, in the proximity of the pillar of the triumphal arch, where another partially preserved holy king is placed under a canopy (Fig. 5–6). This one has a similar crown, mantle, crucifer orb, and scepter with flower-shaped ending. His face is completely damaged, but the accompanying inscription identifies him as ·s(anctus)·/·sigism[undus]. The sanctuary’s 1413 decoration is now incompletely preserved and St Ladislas is missing; however, given his great popularity, it is unlikely that the holy knight was not depicted inside the church. The eastern and northern walls were decorated with standing apostles, the only place for the hypothetical depiction of St Ladislas being the triumphal arch’s northern pillar, i.e., as St Sigismund’s counterpart.91

In his Bohemian iconography, St Sigismund was depicted as a middle-aged holy king, dressed in royal garments and holding scepter and orb, though not having other distinguishing attributes. However, in the recently discovered murals of the church in Bádok (Bădeşti, Romania), which were painted around 1400 on the lower register of the nave’s northern wall,92 St Sigismund was depicted also under a knightly guise (Fig. 7). His partially preserved figure shows a full-armored knight holding a white shield decorated with a red cross in his right hand, whereas his left hand, bent in front of his chest, probably held an orb (now destroyed). The saint’s features are no longer preserved, his head having been intentionally damaged at some later point; however, the upper side of the damaged area has the shape of a crown, which the holy knight originally had on his head.93 If it were not for the accompanying inscription that clearly reads S(ANCTVS)·SIGIS/MVND(VS), this holy warrior would easily pass for St Ladislas due to his pronounced knightly appearance. It was probably the iconographic type of this popular Hungarian patron that the painter of the small rural church used when conceiving the appearance of the new saint, whose cult was only emerging in medieval Hungary.94 However, St Sigismund is depicted in Bádok as part of a series composed of St Catherine of Alexandria, St Helena, St John the Baptist, and the Madonna with Child, a sign that he was not exclusively associated with Hungary’s holy kings.95

As attested by the above-discussed murals, St Sigismund of Burgundy could be depicted either as a holy king or a holy knight and could be placed in the company of either sancti reges Hungariae or other popular saints. His image in these churches reflects his certain popularity at the turn of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. By looking at the donors of the frescoes whenever such information is available, one can hypothetically reconstruct the transfer of St Sigismund’s cult from the royal level to that of the nobility. Nicholas Apafi, the donor of the frescoes in Almakerék, was aule miles (1410–41), comes of Vranduk, Srebrenik, Dubočac (1414–18), and Biertan (1418–40), his presence being attested in Constance during King Sigismund’s stay for the council (1418). Sigismund then issued a series of charters granting privileges to Biertan and confirming some land possessions inherited by the wife of Nicholas, himself called fidelis noster dilectus egregius miles Nicolaus filius Apa de Almakerek and commended for his great bravery and remarkable assistance during the king’s military campaigns in Bosnia.96 Present then in Constance was also Ladislas Csetneki, the commissioner of the murals in Csetnek, who was an illustrious prelate holding throughout his career the ecclesiastical offices of Canon of Esztergom (from 1397), Provost of Budafelhévíz and Esztergom-Zöldmező (1408–24), governor of the Archdiocese of Esztergom (1420, 1439), comes of the royal chapel (1423), chancellor to the queen (1432–37), and Bishop of Nyitra (1439–48).97 Whereas almost no information has survived on the notables of Bádok (and Zsíp), it is known that the owners of Lónya belonged at the turn of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries to the kingdom’s lower nobility.98 One can also add to these figures that of Nicholas Zámbó de Mezőlak, Master of the Treasury and early supporter of Sigismund of Luxemburg, who dedicated his monastic foundation in Kysbathe (Gerchen) to both St Ladislas and St Sigismund, i.e., precisely to the patrons of the country and the future king. Consequently, the presence of St Sigismund in the company of the three sancti reges Hungariae was inspired by the high devotion of Sigismund of Luxemburg for both his personal patron and the kingdom’s holy protectors. This inspired, in turn, a similar piety among the country’s noblemen, who were either in close or distant connection with the king and belonged equally to the higher and lower levels of nobility.99 They emulated the devotional and artistic patterns of the royal court, illustrating in their churches the Hungarian-Bohemian sancta et fidelis societas and being aware of the utmost devotion of the king for St Sigismund. They sometimes made obvious the link between the ruler and his personal patron by lending the features of the former to the latter, as likely happened in Csetnek. That the cult of the Burgundian royal martyr and his representation in the company of Hungary’s holy kings were inspired by King Sigismund’s piety and were determined by the political transformations of the time is likewise obvious from the chronological distribution of the mural ensembles. This coincides exclusively with the reign of Sigismund of Luxemburg and endorses Péter Tóth’s opinion that patronus regis was, in fact, patronus regni at least as long as the king was reigning.100


The reputation of St Sigismund of Burgundy spread to Hungary shortly after the translatio of the saint’s relics to Prague, after which the piety of Hungarian pilgrims travelling abroad was immediately directed toward the new Bohemian patron. However, his cult started to take shape in Hungary only through the consistent efforts of Sigismund of Luxemburg to promote his personal patron throughout his kingdom, acquiring and distributing St Sigismund’s relics across Hungary and founding churches in his honor. It is precisely during the period coinciding with the reign of King Sigismund that the murals bearing representations of St Sigismund were painted: from the late 1300s to the 1420s. The king’s actions to promote his patron saint were meant to establish and ensure the solidity of St Sigismund’s new Hungarian cult and they show striking similarities with those undertaken by the king’s father, Charles IV of Luxemburg. This one managed in only five years to transform St Sigismund into one of his country’s sacred protectors by associating from the beginning the holy newcomer with Bohemia’s traditional patrons, especially St Wenceslas. No direct evidence of joint promotion by the Hungarian king of St Sigismund and the three holy kings has survived, although the king’s reverence for both his personal patron and St Ladislas is undeniable. His obvious emulation of his father’s efficient strategies for promoting the cults of saints makes it highly possible that King Sigismund attempted to establish, like his illustrious parent, a new sancta et fidelis societas within his kingdom, one that was meant to ensure the status of Hungarian patron for St Sigismund. Except for the temporary relocation of the royal martyr’s relics to the cult center of St Ladislas in Nagyvárad and their depiction in the Constance frescoes, there is no other sign of such an explicit association. The possibility cannot be excluded, however, that King Sigismund’s high devotion for the two royal saints made St Sigismund to be placed more than twice in St Ladislas’ holy and faithful companionship and, through him, in that of the other sancti reges Hungariae, the usual iconographic companions of St Ladislas. Only such a situation could make possible the iconographic association of St Sigismund with the holy kings of Hungary during King Sigismund’s reign and his later inclusion among the patron saints of the Hungarian Kingdom in Legende sanctorum regni hungarie in lombardica historia non contente.



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1 Klaniczay, Holy Rulers.

2 Kéry, Kaiser Sigismund, 41–52.

3 Tóth, “Patronus regis,” 80–96.

4 For Sigismund’s life and early cult, see: Folz, “Heiligen Könige,” 317–44; idem, Saints rois, 23–25; Paxton, “Power,” 95–110; idem, “Liturgy and Healing,” 23–43.

5 Ibid., 23–43.

6 Folz, “Heiligen Könige,” 340–341; Paxton, “Liturgy and Healing,” 26, 33.

7 For Charles’ passion for relics, see: Chadraba, “Devotio antiqua,” 51–69; Machilek, “Privatfrömmigkeit,” 87–101; Mengel, “Bones, Stones,” 263–372; Otavský, “Reliquien,” 129–41, 392–98. For his political propaganda through royal saints’ cult and associated works of art, see: Rosario, Art and Propaganda; Crossley, “Politics of Presentation,” 99–172.

8 Mengel, “Bones, Stones,” 327–28.

9 For the political significance of Charles’ sixth coronation, which made him the personal ruler of all the kingdoms of his empire, see: Machilek, “Privatfrömmigkeit,” 99; Hilsch, “Krönungen,” 111; Stoob, Kaiser Karl IV, 207–23.

10 Mengel, “Bones, Stones,” 332–36.

11 For Sigismund as Bohemian patron, see: Polc, “Zapomenutý patron,” 127–31; Mengel, “Remembering,” 17–32; Studničková, “Kult Sigismund,” 299–339.

12 Mengel, “Holy and Faithful,” 145–58.

13 “. . . Quis dubitet sanctissimum patronum nostrum Wenczeslaum apud Deum sanctum Sigismondum sibi obtinuisse in socium, qui adhuc positus in humanis sanctum sibi impetravit et vicum. O sancta et fidelis societas, que nullo potuit violari certamine, quaeque adunata corporibus pro delictis populorum staret et mente . . . ,” National Library of France, Paris, NAL 1510, published in “Miracula sancti Sigismondi,” 463.

14 For the cult of Wenceslas, see Klaniczay, Holy Rulers, 101–08, 163–67, 329–31, 347–48, with bibliography.

15 Mengel, “Holy and Faithful,” 148–50. For Wenceslas’ and Sigismund’s sancta et fidelis societas in art, see: Studničková, “Sancta et fidelis societas,” 446–53. The lines connecting St Sigismund’s and St Wenceslas’ chapels with the shrine of St Vitus and the planned tomb of St Adalbert formed the arms of a cross, which had the relics of the four Bohemian patrons at its ends, Homolka, “Ikonografie sv. Víta,” 566.

16 Mengel, “Bones, Stones,” 339–40.

17 “Miracula sancti Sigismondi,” 462–69. Mengel analyzes the 31 miracles that occurred just in the first four months after the transfer of the relics; see “Bones, Stones,” 352–70.

18 Both miracles attest to the familiarity of the cured ones with Sigismund’s specialized healing power, ibid., 357–58, 371. When Charles fell ill, his wife vowed to walk the distance of around 30 kilometers from Karlštejn to Prague to express her piety at St Sigismund’s shrine; she then donated a large amount of gold to be used for adorning the saint’s skull, Studničková, “Kult Sigismund,” 307–08.

19 Charles’ first son was named after the patron of Bohemia, St Wenceslas. For Charles’ naming practice, see: Machilek, “Privatfrömmigkeit,” 88–92; Klaniczay, Holy Rulers, 330–31.

20 Mengel, “Bones, Stones,” 341.

21 For these works, see: Schleif, “Hands,” 9–15; Piqué and Stulik, Conservation.

22 Tóth, “Patronus regis,” 80–96.

23 Ibid., 85.

24 Doc. no. 508, Wenzel, Codex diplom., 12: 642.

25 Podlaha and Šittler, Chrámový poklad, XXIX.

26 Bunyitay, Váradi káptalan, 74; the altar is mentioned again in 1423 and 1437, Balogh, Varadinum, 2: 36, 44, 278.

27 Doc. no. 121 (352), Tadra, “Cancellaria,” 101. For Sigismund’s Olomouc relics preceding the acquisitions of Charles IV, see Studničková, “Kult Sigismund,” 300–01.

28 Radocsay, Középkori táblaképei, 37.

29 Mező, Templomcím, 254; idem, Patrocíniumok, 496. For the double dedication to St Ladislas and St Sigismund of the monastery in Kysbathe/Gerchen (1383–84), see below.

30 Missals kept in the National Széchényi Library, Budapest. For May 2, see: Missale Ecclesiae Hungaricae saec. XIV, Clmae 395; Missale Posoniense (Codex “A”) saec. XIV, Clmae 214; Missale Ecclesiae Polonicae 1379, Clmae 451, Radó, Libri liturgici, 73–74, 77–79, 111–12. For Prague translatio, see: Missale Hungariae Superioris s. XIV, Clmae 93, ibid., 67–69.

31 University Library, Budapest, Iacobus de Voragine: Legenda Aurea. Legendae Sanctorum, Cod. Lat. 44, Mezey, Codices Latini, 65; Madas, “ Légende dorée,” 55–56.

32 Cathedral Library, Esztergom, Missale Posoniense (Codex “I”) saec. XV, LI 7, and National Széchényi Library, Budapest, Missale in usum Balth. Batthyány Capitanei de Kőszeg 1489, Nyelvemlékek 17, Radó, Libri liturgici, 126–32, 169–72.

33 University Library, Budapest, Orationes, Cod. Lat. 109, Tóth, Catalogus Codicum.

34 Prüss, Lege[n]de.

35 Madas, “Légende dorée,” 59–60.

36 The collection includes, in the calendar’s order, other saints and feasts relevant for medieval Hungary. For Sigismund’s vita, see Prüss, Lege[n]de, fols. 3r-4r.

37 Folz, “Heiligen Könige,” 338.

38 Doc. no. 553–54, Kumorovitz, Monumenta, 3: 287–88.

39 For the church’s history, see: idem, “Budai várkápolna,” 109–51; Végh, “Adatok,” 25–34.

40 Ibid., “Adatok,” 25–26.

41 For Nuremberg Frauenkirche, see: Bräutigam, “Nürnberger Frauenkirche,” 170–97; Crossley, “Our Lady,” 64–80.

42 For the Nuremberg Jewish quarter, see: Maué, “Nuremberg’s,” 34–35. For the Jewish quarter in Buda, see: Feld, “Beszámoló,” 35–49; Kárpáti, “Szent Zsigmond,” 205–40.

43 Végh, “Adatok,” 25–26. For the church’s fragmentary sculptures, see: Gergely Buzás and István Feld, A budai Szent Zsigmond templom és gótikus szobrai.

44 Végh, “Adatok,” 25–34; Kumorovitz, “Budai várkápolna,” 109–51.

45 Ibid., 113–21.

46 Charles was named Wenceslas at birth (1316), but was re-Christened Charles during his confirmation (1323) by his uncle, Charles IV the Fair of France, at whose court Charles was educated, Schneider, “Karolus,” 365–87. For the cult of Wenceslas in Nuremberg, see: Srovnal, “Kult svatého Václava,” 233–48.

47 Copiae Henrici Macognini de Petra canonici Agaunensis anno 1634–35, bookcase no. 19, fols. 36/33r-38/35r, Historical Archives of the Abbey of Saint-Maurice d’Agaune, text published in Tóth, “Patronus regis,” 94–96.

48 Ibid., 95. For identifying its location, see: Laszlovszky, “Royal Palace,” 213–18.

49 Tóth, “Patronus regis,” 92.

50 “…sed duci petivit devotissime et ardenter ad ecclesiam dicti Sancti Sigismondi, ob cuius reverentiam sic vocatur, quem sanctum visitaverat inclytae memoriae dictus eius genitor, unde caput exportavit, qui dum rediret ad partes sui Regni Boemiae invenit foelicissimam augustam quae enixerat et peperat praelibatum eius inclytum genitum, quem vocari voluit Sigismondum ob reverentiam Sancti antedicti.” Ibid., 94.

51 “…praefatus vero dominus dominus noster foelix accedens ad praelibati foelicissimae memoriae Augusti sui genitoris devotionem, et volens et ardenter cupiens ex causis praemissis, in exaltationem nominis Sancti Sigismondi, devotionem et statum ecclesiae augmentum, ut de eiusdem sancti devotissimis orationibus apud Altissimum sit protinus gaudens…,” ibid., 95.

52 Ibid., 95–96.

53 Végh, “Adatok,” 26–27.

54 After attending the evening service in the royal chapter’s church on January 5, 1501, Polish Duke Sigismund Jagiełło was allowed to venerate its relics, though the reference is generic, Divéky, Zsigmond, 85.

55 Information occurring in a late-fifteenth-century source, Veit Arnpeck’s Chronica Baioariorum (1491–95), Leidinger, Veit Arnpeck, 200. This isolated occurrence led to assumptions that the relics either returned afterward to Prague, Végh, “Adatok,” 27, or have never been to Nagyvárad, Tóth, “Patronus regis,” 88.

56 For Sigismund’s veneration of St Ladislas, see: Kerny, “Szent László,” 355; eadem, “Begräbnis,” 475–76; Szakács, “Saints of the Knights,” 319–20.

57 Sigismund’s presence in Nagyvárad is recorded fifteen times between 1387 and 1426, Engel, “Utazó király,” 70–71.

58 Nagyvárad Cathedral as Mary’s burial site appears first in a 1401 royal donation charter, doc. no. I, Fejér, Codex diplomaticvs, 4: 54–55.

59 For the 1401 papal letters following Sigismund’s request, see Monumenta Vaticana, 1: 347–48, 367, 373. For the 1434 papal indulgences, see Lukcsics, Monumenta Hungariae Italica, 2: 333, 347.

60 Gleditschivs and Weidmann, Ioannis Dłvgossi, 327; docs. nos. CL-CLII, Fejér, Codex diplomaticvs, 5: 343–44.

61 For the Győr reliquary, its debated dating and its bibliography, see: Cat. no. 4.91, in Takács, Sigismundus, 378–82; László, “Szent László,” 157–209. For the 1406 confirmations, see docs. nos. CCXXXIII–CCXXXV, Fejér, Codex diplomaticvs, 4: 518–28; for the 1407 donations, see doc. no. CCXCII, ibid., 613–14. See also: Bunyitay, Váradi püspökség, 1: 227; Balogh, Varadinum, 2:42–43.

62 Doc. no. CCXXXIII, Fejér, Codex diplomaticvs, 4:519–20.

63 For Sigismund’s burial, see: Kerny, “Begräbnis,” 475–79; idem, “Zsigmond halála,” 143–59.

64 Cat. nos. 572–74, 584–85, Huszár, Münzkatalog, 93–95.

65 For this document, see: ELTE Egyetemi Könyvtár.

66 For these frescoes, see: Kéry, Kaiser Sigismund, 44–46; Cat. no. 2.12, in Takács, Sigismundus, 161–62.

67 Gramm, “Kaiser Sigismund,” 391–406, reports also that the Austrian and Hungarian coat of arms appeared once and twice, respectively, next to the painted figures; it is possible, therefore, that another Hungarian holy king was included initially in the series of saints, but this can no longer be identified.

68 Molnár, “Zöld Kódex,” 219–20; Documenta Artis Paulinorum, 2:209, and 3:31–35. For Nicholas Zámbó’s career, see Incze, “My Kingdom in Pledge,” 31–34.

69 Engel, Realm of St Stephen, 196–97.

70 Năstăsoiu, “Sancti reges,” 26–30; idem, “Political Aspects,” 94–100.

71 Klaniczay, “Noblesse,” 511–26; Szakács, “Saints of the Knights,” 319–30.

72 The powerful symbol of St Ladislas was used against the king in 1402, when the Hungarian aristocracy conspired against Sigismund of Luxemburg and swore an oath on the saint’s relics; the anti-Sigismund coalition supported the claim of Ladislas of Naples to the Hungarian throne. Doc. no. 401, Ipolyi, Codex Diplomaticus, 7: 439–40; Bunyitay, Váradi püspökség, 1: 221.

73 Such cases are discussed in Năstăsoiu, “Sancti reges,” 49, 55, 63, 68.

74 For this iconography, see: Poszler, “Árpád-házi szent,” 170–87; Gogâltan, “Holy Kings,” 103–21; Kerny, “Magyar szent XIII.–XVII.,” 80–123; Năstăsoiu, “Sancti reges;” idem, “Political Aspects,” 93–119. For other studies, see below.

75 For their cults, see Klaniczay, Holy Rulers, 114–294.

76 Năstăsoiu, “Political Aspects,” 101.

77 There is the tendency to place St Stephen centrally, but there are also exceptions, idem, “Sancti reges,” 74, 77, 88.

78 Marosi, “XIV–XV. századi,” 34–36; Kerny, “Magyar szent XIV,” 75–76.

79 Năstăsoiu, “Sancti reges,” 45–65, 72–93; idem, “Political Aspects,” 100–19.

80 Idem, “Sancti reges,” 55–62, 75, 80, 84, 89, 91–92; idem, “Political Aspects,” 107–14.

81 For the church’s bibliography up to 2000, see Gogâltan, “Church in Mălâncrav,” 305–13. For the Apafis’ artistic patronage, see: eadem, “Patronage;” eadem and Sallay, “Church of Mălâncrav,” 2:181–210. For the murals’ recent overview, see: Jenei, “Peintures murales,” 47–76.

82 For the complex issue of the holy bishop’s identity, see: Năstăsoiu, “Holy Bishop.”

83 Gogâltan, “Holy Kings,” 114.

84 Identified initially with St Louis IX of France, Drăguţ, “Mălîncrav,” 87–88; idem, “Mediaş,” 13–14. The Transylvanian analogies upon which he relied (Beszterce, Medgyes, Marosszentkirály, Marosszentanna, and Szék) are, in fact, holy kings, whom are difficult to identify in absence of inscriptions and personal attributes. An exception is the holy king in Szék, who holds a ring and raven, the attributes of St Oswald, King of Northumbria, who appears also in the recently uncovered murals in Szászivánfalva that were executed by the same workshop that produced the sanctuary frescoes in Almakerék; however, the fourth holy king in Almakerék cannot be St Oswald, due to his lack of personal attributes.

85 Gogâltan, “Holy Kings,” 117–21.

86 Studničková, “Kult Sigismund,” 299–39; idem, “Kult Zikmunda,” 283–23; idem, “Sancta et fidelis,” 446–53.

87 For the murals’ dating and commissioner, see: Dvořáková, Stredoveká mal’ba, 154–60; Prokopp, Középkori freskók, 31–40; Togner, “Nástenné maľby,” 687–89.

88 Detail encountered in the court costume of the saint facing him; the military costumes in the upper registers are tight.

89 Sigismund of Luxemburg was identified visually with his personal patron, the emperor’s iconography crossing often the borderline between the sacred and profane, between religious piety and personal representation, Kéry, Kaiser Sigismund, 41–52. For other examples, see: Marosi, “Zsigmond-portrék,” 133–41; idem, “Saints at Home,” 197–98; Szabó, “Emperor Sigismund,” 24–31, 85; Tátrai, “Darstellung Sigismunds,” 143–52; Cat. no. 2.12, in Takács, Sigismundus, 161–62.

90 Lángi, “Előzetes beszámoló,” 357–74; Jékely and Lángi, Falfestészeti emlékek, 184–213, 457.

91 Năstăsoiu, “Sancti reges,” 57–58, 69, 80; idem, “Political Aspects,” 114. The corresponding layer of paint fell down in this area, making visible the sanctuary’s earlier decoration; although incompletely preserved, the northern wall’s decoration seems to have consisted entirely of standing apostles.

92 Jékely and Kiss, Középkori falképek, 8–25; Jékely, “Bádok falképei,” 194–208; idem, “Ateliers,” 32–37.

93 A similar, crown-shaped damage on the head of the neighboring St Catherine supports the idea of intentional destruction, for whatever reasons.

94 Marosi, “Saints at Home,” 194–98. Doubting that the painting was executed immediately after 1387, he proposed a dating one quarter of a century later; the figure’s knightly appearance, however, could equally indicate an earlier dating to a period when painters were not very familiar with the new saint’s iconography, copying thus that of St Ladislas. As shown earlier, St Sigismund’s cult made its presence felt in Hungary in the 1370s–1380s; subsequently, the dating of the frescoes before 1400 is highly possible.

95 Another fragmentarily preserved example can be added hypothetically to this list. In the early- fifteenth-century murals of the church in Zsíp, the holy kings on the pillars of the triumphal arch are probably St Ladislas and St Emeric (northern pillar) and another mature holy king with dark hair (southern pillar), a detail which does not fit the iconography of the old, white-haired St Stephen. The paint layer corresponding to St Ladislas’ pendant is completely lost, but iconographic analogies (Zsigra, Tornaszentandrás, Poprád, and possibly Csécs) suggest that St Ladislas could be faced by St Stephen, whereas St Emeric’s pendant, the dark-haired holy king, could be St Sigismund. For a discussion of this case, see Năstăsoiu, “Sancti reges,” 57–58, 60–61, 69, 93; idem, “Political Aspects,” 110–11, 114, 116–17, 119.

96 For Nicholas’ activity, see Gogâltan and Sallay, “Church of Mălâncrav,” 181–86; for the 1418 documents, see doc. no. 1835–37, Gündisch, Urkundenbuch, 63–67.

97 For overviews of his career, see: Prokopp, Középkori freskok, 31–33; Szakács, “Saints of the Knights,” 325; Jékely, “Regions,” 163.

98 Nagy, Magyarország családai, 7: 156–68; Karácsonyi, Ersten Lónyay. See also doc. no. 125, 130, 136–37, 147, 159–61, Neumann, Bereg megye, 63–65, 68, 72.

99 For Hungarian nobility’s devotion for the sancti reges Hungariae, see: Klaniczay, “Noblesse,” 511–26; Szakács, “Saints of the Knights,” 319–30; Fedeles, “Várad kegyhelye,” 163–82.

100 Tóth, “Patronus regis,” 80–96.


Fig. 1 – Holy bishop, St Ladislas, St Stephen, St Sigismund, and St Emeric, either before 1404/5 or 1420s, fresco, middle register of the sanctuary’s southern wall, Lutheran Church in Almakerék (Mălâncrav, Romania)

Fig. 2 – Holy kings, 1420s, fresco, eastern and western pillars of the southern aisle, Lutheran Church in Csetnek (Štítnik, Slovakia)


Fig. 3 – St Sigismund, 1420s, fresco, lower register of the western pillar, Lutheran Church in Štítnik (Slovakia)


Fig. 4 – Drawing with succession of paint layers: (I) holy-king layer, (II) holy-monk layer; lower register of the eastern pillar, Lutheran Church in Štítnik (Slovakia)

Fig. 6 – St Sigismund, 1413, fresco, southern pillar of the triumphal arch, Calvinist Church in Lónya (Hungary)


Fig. 5 – St Emeric and St Stephen (southern wall), and St Sigismund (southern pillar), 1413, fresco, southern wall of the sanctuary, Calvinist Church in Lónya (Hungary)


Fig. 7 – St Sigismund, c. 1400, fresco, lower register of the nave’s northern wall, Calvinist Church in Bádok (Romania)


Volume 5 Issue 3 CONTENTS


Jerome Comes Home: The Cult of Saint Jerome in Late Medieval Dalmatia

Ines Ivić

Central European University, Department of Medieval Studies


In present day Croatia, St Jerome is considered a national saint, the outcome of a long period of appropriation beginning in the Middle Ages. The spread of his cult in medieval Dalmatia can be traced to the fifteenth century, when Jerome became a synonym for Dalmatia and the Dalmatians. This article discusses the historical circumstances which led to the formation of the common Dalmatian identity: establishment of the Venetian government after 1409, changes in the social structure in the Dalmatian communes and the rise of humanism there. This research focuses on the first two towns to adopt official celebrations of Jerome’s feast, Dubrovnik and Trogir. They still hold the largest numbers of artistic representations of the saint. We take the perspective of the private and public veneration expressed in these artworks.
Keywords: St Jerome, regional cult, Late Middle Ages, Dalmatia


St Jerome (345?–420) occupies a special place in the pantheon of saints. He was a trilingual Biblical scholar, ferocious Catholic controversialist, zealous moralist and belligerent defender of the ascetic life. Today, this universal saint is also unofficially considered the national saint of Croatia. The national denomination is a result of a long process that started in Dalmatia with the development of a regional cult that formed out of different traditions. Local Glagolitic tradition, first documented in the thirteenth century, praised Jerome for his regional origins, his invention of the Glagolitic script and his translation of the Bible into Slavonic, while the imported humanist tradition praised his intellectual deeds and ascetic way of life.

This article will discuss the formation of the regional cult in Dalmatia through the intertwining of these traditions. Manifestations of the traditions are preserved in artworks and literary productions which also testify to the popularity of the saint. The cult in medieval Dalmatia has been discussed only sporadically in previous historiography and poses many questions for research. Among the most important is Jerome’s role in the formation of regional and ethnic identity in Dalmatia. Since this question has been treated before, especially through Slavic confraternities named after St Jerome that were active outside the homeland,1 I will focus on an aspect that has not yet been discussed: the historical and political context in which the cult emerged in Dubrovnik (Ragusa) and Trogir (Traù), among the first cities to celebrate the cult officially. An analysis of artworks and archival documents reveals how the cult was imbued with strong political and ethnic characteristics and was induced by the establishment of the Venetian government in Dalmatia after 1409. The discussion takes the perspective of public and private veneration of the saint.

There is a vast scholarship on Jerome’s life. Although the most relevant books were published some decades ago, they still represent the starting point for discussing Jerome’s cult in Europe.2 Among the recent works I would highlight is a collection of essays on Jerome’s written legacy, edited by Andrew Cain and Josef Lössl, giving an extensive bibliography on Jerome.3 Unfortunately, none of these works contain references to veneration of Jerome in Dalmatia, which would be an important contribution to scholarship, considering the strong cultural, religious and political connection between the two shores of the Adriatic Sea. A recently published book by Julia Verkholantsev deals with the Slavic identity of the saint in Dalmatia and among other Slavs, covering the manifestations of the cult in Bohemia, Poland and Silesia.4 This work represents an excellent starting point in the research of Jerome’s Dalmatian identity, since it discusses the local Slavic tradition of worship based on the belief that Jerome was the inventor of the Glagolitic script. A similar topic was also discussed by John Fine, one of the first scholars to sketch out how Jerome became a Slavic saint.5

In Croatian historiography, writing on St Jerome can be separated into three groups. In the first, Jerome appears in the light of the Glagolitic tradition and the attribution of the invention of the Glagolitic letters. Work in the second group focuses on the artistic features of a series of reliefs representing St Jerome in the cave by Andria Alessi and Niccolò Fiorentino.6 In the last group, Jerome is mentioned in the context of writing by humanists, mostly focusing on Marko Marulić.7 So far no study has united all known aspects of the cult of the saint or interpreted it through the perspective of historical, cultural and artistic contexts. Before getting to Quattrocento Dalmatia, however, I will briefly provide a survey of the evolution of Jerome’s cult from Bethlehem through Italy to Dalmatia.

From Bethlehem to Italy

The cult of St Jerome was present in Western Europe by the middle of the ninth century, when the first lives of the saint, Hieronymus noster and Plerosque nimirum, were written independently.8 The Legenda Aurea, by Jacobus de Voragine (1230–99) contributed to his popularity and became the main literary source for visual representations, as in the fresco cycle by Vittore Carpaccio in the Scuola de San Giorgio degli Schiavoni in Venice.9

The thirteenth century saw a veritable rebirth of Jerome’s cult in the Western church, after Jerome’s relics were translated to the Roman basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. The translation is described in Translatio corpori beati Hieronymi written around 1290. It relates that Jerome appeared in the dream of a monk and expressed a wish that his body be moved to the Roman basilica, as Bethlehem was under the rule of Arabs. The process of re-evaluation of the saint’s deeds begun in the fourteenth century with Giovanni d’Andrea, a canon from Bologna and professor of law at the University of Bologna, who wrote a book Hieronymianus or De Laudibus de Sancti Hieronymi, which contains Jerome’s own work and writing on Jerome by other authors.10 Another contributor to the emergence of the cult in Italy was Pier Paolo Vergerio the Elder (1370–1444), a canon lawyer born in Capodistria in today’s Slovenia. Vergerio’s family worshipped St Jerome to express gratitude for the family’s rescue during several ambushes in 1380, which they believed was Jerome’s deed. Vergerio vowed that “as long as I live, I will review the praises and excellent merits of Jerome in the speech before an assembly of the best citizens”.11 The humanists who accepted Jerome as a patron praised him particularly for his intellectual work and his translations of Holy Scriptures. Furthermore, he was seen as a perfect example of living a moral life that followed the sacred teachings. For Vergerio, Jerome’s life “serves as an example of ethical conduct”.12 The eremitical aspect of Jerome’s life came into sharper focus in the fifteenth century along with the blooming of the Franciscan Observant movement and the foundation of different congregations of the eremitical brothers imitating Jerome’s lifestyle.13 After being disseminated through multiple channels, Jerome’s cult was accepted in most of the Western Church by the end of the fifteenth century.

Rivalizing for the Birthplace of the Saint

Before the humanist version took shape in the fifteenth century, the cult of St Jerome was well established in Dalmatia, mostly among the closed monastic communities. It developed out of the statement in the last chapter of Jerome’s work De viris illustribus that he was born in Stridon, situated somewhere on the border of the Roman provinces of Pannonia and Dalmatia, territory of the present day Croatia.14 Jerome probably never imagined that a single sentence in his book would cause a centuries-long dispute over the exact location of his place of birth. The town he mentions was a small oppidum, and lack of archaeological and historical evidence makes it hard for historians to reach definite conclusions regarding its location. Stridon has been identified with places near Aquileia, Italy, with Zrenj, Štrigova, with the surroundings of Skradin in Croatia, and even with Grahovo polje in Bosnia. These appropriations of the saint’s birthplace have never resulted in a strong local cult in the towns involved. For the present account, the most relevant explanations are the “Istrian” and “Dalmatian” theories, which emerged in the fifteenth century and directly fed the dispute between the Dalmatian and the Italian humanists.15

The Istrian theory locates the saint’s birthplace to the site of present-day Zrenj (Sdrigna), a village in northern Istria. In the Middle Ages, the habitants of Istria believed that Jerome was born somewhere within their peninsula, a belief that is evident in the presence of Jerome’s cult in liturgical books and churches consecrated to him. This explanation was popularized by Flavio Biondo (1392–1463) and Jacopo Filippo Foresti, also known as Jacopo di Bergamo (1434–1520), in the Late Middle Ages. In his Italia Illustrata, published in 1474, describing the region of Istria, Biondo names St Jerome and Pier Paolo Vergerio the Elder as the most prominent people from the region. He classifies Istria as an Italian province, concluding that Jerome could not be anything else but Italian, since, in his opinion, Istria had been a Roman province even before the time of Emperor Augustus.16 Jacopo di Bergamo, Biondo’s student, accepted his teacher’s opinion and so did many others in subsequent centuries.17

The Dalmatian hypothesis developed from the commonly accepted idea of the saint’s regional origin. This is evident, for example, in the official decision to adopt the feast of St Jerome in Trogir in 1454 on the grounds of his Dalmatian origin.18 Marko Marulić (Marcus Marulus, 1450–1524) was probably the first proponent of this hypothesis. He was the first to infer from written sources that Stridon was located somewhere near Skradin.19 Most of the representatives of this theory agreed only that Stridon was in Dalmatia, but could not reach a consensus concerning the precise place.20 This is the explanation that still features most commonly in Croatian and international historiography.

St Jerome as the Inventor of Glagolitic Letters

In medieval Croatia, St Jerome was considered as the inventor of Glagolitic letters and Slavic liturgy. There is no historical foundation for this idea, however. Jerome lived long before Slavs came to the territory of Dalmatia and was thus unlikely to have spoken Slavonic or to have invented Glagolitic letters. The earliest written record of the belief that Jerome was the inventor of the Glagolitic script is contained in Pope Innocent IV’s answer to a request by the Bishop of Senj in 1248 defending the use of Slavonic liturgy and Glagolitic letters in his diocese.21 The pope’s answer granted the clergy permission to continue their tradition, and confirmed the legitimacy of the Slavonic tradition, invoking the authority of the great church father. 22 Although the pope’s answer mentions “Slavic lands” in which these letters may be used, this approval should be seen as applying to the diocese of Senj alone, and not to the whole territory inhabited by Slavs.23

Croatian historiography traditionally accepts that the legend of Jerome inventing Glagolitic letters derived from the fear of accusations of heresy arising from disputes on the use of Slavonic language and liturgy. These disputes were discussed at the Church Councils of Split in 925 and 1060. This argument was also supported by the fact that St Cyril, the actual inventor of Glagolitic letters, was not venerated by the Glagolitic communities and his brother Methodius was considered a heretic.24 John Fine argues that Jerome was used by the Glagolites as “the ancient heritage” to justify their tradition each time they were attacked by Latinists.25 On the other hand, Julia Verkholantsev argues that even though Glagolites used the Slavonic language, they were following western monastic rules and had common practices with the Latin ecclesiastical communities. With this in mind, acceptance of St Jerome as their patron was a way to prove their loyalty to the Western Church.26 Furthermore, she discusses the possibility that the roots of this misbelief could be found among the Latin clergy, and the explanation was promoted as one of the ways of incorporating Glagolitic communities into the Western Church.27

Vesna Badurina Stipčević has made a detailed analysis of the Glagolitic liturgical books that contain references to the saint. She has published a list of breviaries, dating from between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries, containing the officium of St Jerome on his feast day, September 30.28 The officium was composed of three parts: a hymn to Jerome, his life, and an excerpt from his letter to Eustochium. Jerome’s life is described from his birth in Stridon until his death in Bethlehem. Since most of the breviaries were used in monastic communities, it is not surprising that his officium included the passage of his letter to Eustochium where he described his penitent life in the desert, fasting, fighting bodily temptations, and surrounded by wild animals.

Other Glagolitic liturgical books referring to St Jerome are missals. A mass in honor of St Jerome is preserved only in missals from the northern parts of the Adriatic basin, Kvarner and Istria. The full mass can be found in the oldest surviving Croatian Glagolitic missal written in 1371 in Omišalj. Today, it is kept in the Vatican library and known as Borgo Illirico IV.29 Another missal is the First Beram Missal 162, now held in the National Library of Slovenia in Ljubljana.30 The first printed book in Croatia, the Missale Romanum Glagolitice, published in 1483, was published in the Croatian recension of Church Slavonic, based on the manuscript Missal of Duke Novak written in 1368. In the calendar of the editio princeps, May 9 was marked as the feast of the Translation of St Jerome (Prenesenie svetago Eronima), but this is not contained in any other Glagolitic calendar. Marija Pantelić proved that the Missal of Duke Novak was edited for printing by Glagolitic monks in Istria.31 According to her, the celebration of the translation of Jerome’s relics to the Roman church of Santa Maria Maggiore was connected to the rising popularity of the idea of the saint’s Istrian origin promoted by Flavio Biondo. In 1464, Pope Pius II officially proclaimed this date as the feast of the Translatio. Interestingly, Pius II had previously been Bishop of Trieste and was certainly familiar with the widely-held belief in his bishopric that the village of Zrenj was Stridon. The bishop of Ravenna, Superantio, wrote in the fourteenth century that Zrenj contained a very simple church in honor of the Jerome, standing above the grave of the saint’s parents.32 The inclusion of the feast in the calendar is an expression of this Istrian tradition and the respect paid by the Istrian redactors of the text to their former bishop. The Istrian influence is reflected in other feasts specific to the region that cannot be found in other calendars: St Lazarus and St Servulus, martyrs from Trieste.33 Marija Pantelić also suggests that the celebration of the translation of the saint’s relics can be seen in another tradition. The Glagolitic First Beram Breviary 161, written in 1396 and today held in the National Library in Ljubljana, has a special officium on the date of the translation. However, the distinctive feature of this officium is an alternative hagiographical view of the translation of Jerome’s relics, attributing it to St Helen, who apparently had sent a piece of Jerome’s clothes to her son with a request to build a church consecrated to him in Constantinople.34 It is not yet known whether the cult existed in Byzantium or what could have been the source for this officium.

The surviving breviaries give a clue to the geographical origins of the cult. Most were used in the northern parts of Croatia, the Kvarner and Istria. The only Dalmatian Glagolitic breviary that contains the officium of St Jerome is the fourteenth-century Pašman Breviary, made in the Benedictine monastery of St Cosmas and Damian in Tkon, on the island of Pašman. The saint’s officium in the Pašman Breviary can be seen as the reflection of a strong Glagolitic tradition in the Zadar (Zara) region, but it does not indicate the celebration of the saint in the Dalmatian cities which would later become the centers of the humanist cult: Trogir, Split and Dubrovnik. The breviaries all attest to the continuation of Jerome’s cult in medieval Croatia and in Venetian and Habsburg Istria, medieval political entities which were not a part of medieval Croatian kingdom, but there is insufficient historical evidence to say the same for medieval Dalmatia. Regardless the political non-unity of the Croatian lands, it is evident that the saint was venerated in areas where the population was predominantly Slavic. It is reasonable to assume that other breviaries from Dalmatia, now lost, contained the same office. All the more so because the monastery in Tkon had a scriptorium in which Glagolitic books were produced for the whole region of Dalmatia. Future research into the origin of Jerome’s cult among the Glagolites, especially in Istria, should consider the comparative analysis of the Missal of Duke Novak and the editio princeps made by Marija Pantelić, which confirmed the exchange of the Glagolitic texts from Zadar, through Lika and Krbava, to Istria.35 This would reveal Dalmatia’s place in the wider cultural context, and permit the conclusion that the existence of the cult in Istria also implies its existence in Dalmatia. The enduring Glagolitic tradition in the region also lends support to this claim.

The non-liturgical Glagolitic codex Petris Miscellany from 1468 contains 162 different texts, mostly apocrypha and hagiographic legends, including the legend of Jerome, which refers to him as Jerome the Croat (Jeronim Hrvatin) and emphasizes his Slavic origin.36 For Petar Runje, one of the pioneers of Glagolitic research in Croatia, this is proof that “in the fifteenth century, among the Croats, there existed a notion of Jerome being Croatian”.37 In my opinion, this is a hasty conclusion based on an unwarranted generalization, since most of the other sources refer to Jerome as Dalmatian, Illyrian or Slav. Although Jerome may seem to have acquired Croatian national attributes in the fifteenth century and the modes of his appearance in the subsequent sources are clues to the formation of the Croatian nation, I believe that the explanation for the term Hrvatin should rather be sought in the original from which the text was translated. Stjepan Ivišić argues that Jerome’s legend in the Petris Miscellany, together with some other texts, was translated from the fourteenth century Czech passionale collection of saints’ legends.38 It is possible that Jerome was referred to as Croatian in the Czech original, not necessarily containing ethnic but rather geographical attribution, and that the translator was only following the original text and not exclusively emphasizing the national designation.39

The example of Juraj Slovinac (George of Slavonia; Georgius de Sclavonia, 1355/60–1416), theologian and professor at the Sorbonne, proves the general acceptance of the idea that Jerome was the inventor of Glagolitic script. In his copy of Jerome’s Latin commentaries on the Psalms, where Jerome explains that he translated psalms into vernacular language, Juraj made a marginal note claiming that Jerome was a translator of the psalms “in linguam sclavonicam”.40 There are similar testimonies in the travel itineraries of western pilgrims who visited Dalmatia on their way to the Holy Land. One of them was the Swiss Dominican Felix Fabri (1441/43–1502), who stopped in several cities on the Dalmatian coast, observing their religious and social practices.41 He reported that in most Dalmatian cities, the mass was held in the Slavonic language and some churches did not even possess the liturgical books in Latin.42 In conversation with the local people, he was informed that Jerome invented letters for his compatriots that were different from Greek and Latin script, and that he used them to transliterate and translate the Bible and the Book of Hours into the vernacular language that was later called Slavonic. Georges Lengherand, Mayor of Mons, stopped in Dalmatia and Istria during his journey to Jerusalem in 1485/86. He described a Slavonic mass he attended while he was in Istria, one which, he was told, had been composed in Slavonic by the saint himself.43

The Cult in Dubrovnik

Having extended beyond the strictly monastic communities by the fifteenth century, Jerome’s cult appeared with its distinctive features in all major cities in Dalmatia, from Zadar to Dubrovnik, by the end of the century. The intensive exchange of goods and knowledge between the two shores of the Adriatic contributed to the development and expansion of the humanist cult of St Jerome in Dalmatia. This humanist cult, however, was only an upgrade of existing forms of worship deriving from the Glagolitic tradition. The official introduction of the saint’s feast day in the towns of Dubrovnik and Trogir in the middle of the fifteenth century was due to a strong local tradition.

It is hard to find evidence of the cult in Dubrovnik before its official proclamation, but manifestations of the cult may have been lost in the Great Earthquake that struck the city in 1667, destroying much of it. Still, the archival material helps us to reconstruct the saint’s importance and the manifestations of his cult. In 1445, his celebration day was incorporated into the official state calendar of the Republic of Ragusa.44 This was the first official recognition of the cult in a Dalmatian city. The proclamation reflected an established practice in Dalmatia, as can be read from the text of the decision: Jerome was to be “worshipped by us and the other Dalmatians of whose nation he was”.45 This statement indisputably proves the wide recognition and acceptance of the idea of his origin among people living in Dalmatian territory.

After the half century of independence gained through skillful diplomatic negotiation and set into the Treaty of Zadar of 1358, the Republic of Ragusa felt a constant threat from the proximity of its biggest rival, Venice, especially after the establishment of the Venetian rule over Dalmatia after 1409. In order to weaken Venetian pressure and influence, the Republic’s authorities insisted on the introduction of the Observant reform in the Franciscan monasteries on the Ragusan territory. This was to prevent the Serenissima from reinforcing its position through the Dalmatian Franciscans, who were mostly Conventuals and suspected of attachment to Venice.46 The Republic of Ragusa was reluctant to separate its Dominican monasteries from the Hungarian province and opposed their union with the Dalmatian monasteries in an independent province. The Republic was similarly afraid that Venice could use monastic orders other than the Franciscans to reinforce its position in Dubrovnik. This ultimately led to the establishment of an independent Dominican congregation of Dubrovnik in 1486.47

Dubrovnik was not politically integrated with the other Dalmatian communes. It recognized the jurisdiction of the Hungarian king while the rest of Dalmatia was under the Venetian government. Ragusa’s Dalmatian identity was based on common language and territorial contiguity rather than political status. Another factor was ethnic affiliation. It is notable that during the fifteenth century the Republic of Ragusa emphasized its Dalmatian ethnicity in strenuous efforts to prove that it did not belong to Italian ethnicity.

In 1444, the Ragusan citizens in Barcelona were forced to pay the “Italian” tax. The Republic of Ragusa sent a letter to the authorities in Barcelona in 1446 explicitly stating that “…it is clear to the nations of the whole world…that Ragusans are not Italians…quite the contrary, that both judging by their language and by criteria of place, they are Dalmatians”.48 In this context, the veneration of St Jerome in Dubrovnik clearly bears political connotations: worship of the saint expressed a common—Dalmatian—ethnic affiliation. The political connotations and aspirations it reflected can be interpreted as expressions of otherness and togetherness: otherness through differentiation from Italy on the ethnic level, as part of efforts to prevent the constantly-feared re-establishment of Venetian government over Dubrovnik, and togetherness through the expression of the cultural, linguistic and historical sphere shared by Dubrovnik and other Dalmatian cities.

Not much is known of what the official celebration looked like in Dubrovnik, or whether a chapel or an altar dedicated to the saint was set up under the official patronage of the government. There survive artworks commissioned by the local government, however, which manifest the official veneration of St Jerome. The firmest evidence is a representation of the saint in the hall of the Great Council, unfortunately destroyed in the great earthquake of 1667. Nikola Božidarević (Nicholas of Ragusa, c. 1460–1518) was commissioned to produce the image of St Jerome dressed in a cardinal’s robe in 1510.49 It matched the height and form of an existing figure of St John the Baptist in the same hall. The pairing of these two saints was due to their penitential character, and emphasized their eremitical and ascetic nature, as in the same iconographic representation by the Petrović brothers on the portal of the Franciscan church in Dubrovnik. The catalogue entry of the exhibition The Golden Age of Dubrovnik explains that the figure of St John the Baptist represents “the firmness of Christianity in the period of the onslaughts of the Turks,” while the figure of St Jerome represents “the cultural and spiritual unity with Dalmatians under the Venetian occupation”.50 Although I agree with the interpretation of the figure of St Jerome as the symbol of the unity with the other Dalmatian cities, I see it as a secondary layer of the statues’ symbolic meaning. The author misses the primary iconographical interpretation of this type: the pairing of the saints by virtue of their ascetic nature. Knowing the postulates for which Observant Franciscans were striving, the choice of these two figures for the portal of the Franciscan church is not at all surprising.

We can identify some members of high society as the main promoters of the cult and of the official policy. Archival documents and surviving artworks suggest that two aristocratic families, the Gradi (Gradić) and the Gozze (Gučetić), were to a great extent responsible for the implementation and the dispersion of the cult in late medieval Dubrovnik. Members of the Gozze family, one of the oldest noble lines in Dubrovnik, made many contributions to life in the Republic of Ragusa.51 An example of Gozze devotion is an altarpiece commissioned in 1488 by Bartol Gozze, a highly positioned member of the family who was appointed rector several times and served the Republic in several diplomatic functions, including visits to the kings of Hungary and Aragon, and to Pope Nicholas V. Among the six figures in the altarpiece he ordered for the family’s chapel of St Bartholomew on the island of Lokrum, is St Jerome, depicted as a hermit and holding in his hand a large piece of stone.52 The chapel which the family built for their summer house in Trsteno in the sixteenth century was consecrated to St Jerome.53 The family also possessed a stone carved relief depicting St Jerome, made in the second half of the fifteenth century by Niccolò Fiorentino and decorated with the family’s coat of arms.54 Not much is known about the provenance and purpose of this relief, but it certainly proves the family’s special devotion to the saint.

The Gradi (Gradić) family financed the construction of a Franciscan church in Slano near Dubrovnik in 1420 and dedicated it to St Jerome, as is written on the dedicatory inscription on the façade of the church.55 Also demonstrating the family’s influence and wealth was its patronage of the altars in the cathedral and the Dominican church, for which they commissioned some of the finest examples of Gothic painting in medieval Croatia. In 1494, Jerome (Jeronim) Gradi signed a contract with Božidar Vlatković and his son Nikola Božidarević (Nicholas of Ragusa) in the name of his brothers and himself for an altarpiece for the family’s chapel in the Dominican church. The triptych was to have three figures: St Matthew the Apostle, St Jerome as a hermit in the desert and St Stephen the Martyr together with the Virgin Mary.56 The choice of saints was not accidental. Jerome, Matthew, and Stephen were namesakes of the Gradi brothers, in whose name Jerome concluded an agreement with the painters.57 The Gradi family’s palace in the sexteria of St Peter, was one of the oldest in the city. Similar to the Gozze family, they built the family chapel in their garden and consecrated it to St Jerome.

Trogir as the Cradle of Devotion

In 1455, Trogir included the feast day of St Jerome in its official calendar of celebrations. In the text of the decision, Jerome is named as gloriosissimus doctor as was common from the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries.58 The text states that Jerome was to be worshipped for his devoted and hard life (a reference to the ascetic aspect of his nature), for his explanation of the Holy Scripture, and for his innumerable miracles during his life and after his death. Most of all, the text repeats a same statement from its Dubrovnik counterpart, pointing out that he was venerated by Dalmatians because of his regional origin.59 Besides the influence of the local tradition, the origins of the cult in Trogir may be analyzed from the perspective of the rising humanist culture in the city and the popularization of the Renaissance style in the middle of the fifteenth century. With the appointment of Bishop Giacomo Torlon (1452–83), a theologian from Ancona, the city began its renovatio urbis, during which it was completely transformed with renaissance artworks.60 Bishop Torlon surrounded himself with a circle of excellent artists that included Andrija Aleši (Andrea Alessi, 1425–1505), Nikola Firentinac (Niccolò di Giovanni Fiorentino, 1418–1506) and Ivan Duknović (Ioannes Dalmata, 1440–1514), and intellectuals including Koriolan Cipiko (1425–93). The latter, together with the bishop, was one of the key Renaissance figures in the city. He served as the operarius of the cathedral and was one of the most outstanding individuals responsible for the construction of the Renaissance chapel of St John in the cathedral church. Considering the impact the bishop had in the city, he was perhaps the most instrumental, together with the intellectual elite, in spreading the veneration of St Jerome in Trogir. The seventeenth-century history of Trogir, Storia della città di Traù by Paolo Andreis (1610–86), states that the cult officially started under Bishop Torlon at the beginning of the rule of Rector Giovanni Alberto. He calls the saint the greatest adornment of the Church, and thus the greatest adornment of the Illyrian people.61 In Trogir, the cult of St Jerome was strongly connected to the cathedral church of St Lawrence. Among the most famous representations of the saint in Dalmatia is the relief (1460–67) by Andrija Aleši (1425–1505) above the altar in the baptistery depicting St Jerome in the cave, surrounded with books, dressed as a hermit and with a lion lying under his legs. In 1489, the doors of the cathedral organ were decorated by Gentile Bellini with the figures of St Jerome and St John the Baptist.62 At first sight, this representation of St Jerome does not seem to depart from the standard iconography that emerged from Giovanni Bellini’s paintings of the saint, a combination of two iconographical types: the northern depiction of the saint as a scholar in the study and the Tuscan representation of a penitent hermit in the desert in front of the cave.63 What deserves our attention is an open book in front of the saint, filled with what look like Glagolitic letters. Some of the letters are legible and interpretable, and clearly Glagolitic, while others seem to be the master’s interpretation, only resembling Glagolitic forms. What is even more interesting is that the letters of the initial paragraph are written in Latin script. Regardless of the details displayed, we can clearly discern an intention to represent the saint as the inventor of Glagolitic letters. This proves the strength of the Glagolitic tradition in the town and identifies the origins of the official veneration.64 Another depiction of St Jerome can be found on a stone triptych in the Dominican church together with St Lawrence and St John of Trogir, made by Niccolò Fiorentino.65 The appearance of the city’s patron saints on the triptych are the grounds for Bužančić’s proposition that it was commissioned by the local authorities.66

Humanism made a deep mark on Trogir in the second half of the fifteenth century. Its pioneer in the city was Petar Cipiko (1390–1440), father of Koriolan, who had a great passion for collecting and transcribing the works of ancient authors. He maintained a friendship with Italian and other Dalmatian humanists, especially Juraj Benja (Georgius Begna) of Zadar, from whom he received the gift of a codex in which he continued to transcribe other texts, including sections of Jerome’s work.67 The name Jerome (Jeronim or Jerolim) was common among the descendants of the Cipiko family, no doubt indicating special devotion to the saint.68 Pavao Andreis mentions the altar of St Jerome in the church of St Peter, commissioned by the descendants of Hektor Cipiko (1482–1553), probably in the second half of the sixteenth century.69 The choice of Jerome as the patron of the altar is not surprising, because Hektor’s father and son were both called Jerome, and it was most probably the latter who commissioned the altar. A piece of irrefutable evidence for the family’s particular devotion is a statue of St Jerome dressed in a cardinal’s robe, made in the second half of the fifteenth century and now kept in the Museum of Fine Arts in Split. It bears a devotional inscription stating that it was commissioned “out of the devotion to St Jerome of Stridon and in the memory of the brave father, Alvise Cipiko, son of Jerome”.70

Joško Belamarić has noted that the statue of St John the Evangelist made by Ivan Duknović for the chapel of St John in Trogir in 1482 is strongly reminiscent of the facial characteristics of Alvise Cipiko (1456–1504).71 The Renaissance enthusiasm for identifying portraits, so-called portraits travestis, had the purpose of praising the moral virtues of the person portrayed. Koriolan Cipiko commissioned the statue of St Jerome in order to present his son as the successor of the saint in terms of moral and spiritual values. This statue fits a similar hypothesis as that proposed by Belamarić for the statue of St John the Evangelist, in that it portrays characteristics of members of the Cipiko family. It was made by Tripun Bokanić for the chapel of the castle built by Koriolan in Kaštel Stari, near Trogir. Bokanić’s workshop participated in the construction of the cathedral’s bell tower, under contract to Alvise Cipiko (1515–1606), procurator of the cathedral.72 Belamarić also explains that Jerome’s statue had a memorial as well as an ex voto purpose, since Alvise lost three of his four sons, the surviving son also being called Jerome. Thus, in addition to erecting a kind of private shrine in the memory of his father, we can understand, given his unfortunate destiny and the unstable times at the beginning of the seventeenth century, that he also intended the statue as a votive offering.

We should also mention that a chapel dedicated to St Jerome, built between 1438 and 1446, is one of the oldest annexes to the cathedral church. In 1438, Nikolota Sobota, widow of Nikola Sobota, got permission from the cathedral chapter to build a chapel and endow it with the necessary liturgical appurtenances.73 An altar consecrated to St Jerome was placed inside the chapel. The chapel is one of the earliest examples of the cult of St Jerome and is also important in being one of the earliest private chapels of this type.

The Benedictine church of St John the Baptist also had an altar consecrated to St Jerome. A polyptych made for this altar by Blaž Jurjev Trogiranin (Biagio di Giorgio da Traù, c. 1390–1450) in 1435 was later moved to the chapel of St Jerome in the cathedral.74 In the center of the composition was the figure of the Virgin Mary with figures of saints including St Jerome in his cardinal robe and a model of the church in his hand. In addition to the altar in the church of St Peter, Pavao Andreis mentioned an altar to St Jerome in the church of the Virgin Mary on the main square. It was made of marble and featured a sculpture. Andreis also transcribed the dedicational inscription where the donators are mentioned. According to Danko Zelić, they cannot be identified but they certainly did not belong to any of the noble families in Trogir.75 Not much is known about this altar, since the church was demolished in the nineteenth century.

St Jerome between the Venetian Republic and the Hungarian Kingdom

Why was it that these two cities, more than any others, gave such prominence to the worship of St Jerome, and why should they be considered the focal point of the humanist cult of St Jerome? The strong influence of Italian humanism offers an easy explanation, but the promotion of the saint through the visual arts provides evidence of a wider historical context. Furthermore, the Glagolitic cult persisted alongside the humanist cult and certainly contributed more to the proclamation of the official veneration of Jerome in Dubrovnik and Trogir. The saint’s regional identity emerged as the Glagolitic tradition became interwoven with the humanist cult, and is best expressed in the Trogir decision to make his celebration official, the text of which gives emphasis to both of these factors.

In my opinion, the development of the cult in Dubrovnik and Trogir is also connected to the establishment of Venetian authority on the Eastern Adriatic coast after 1409. While the Hungarian kingdom was preoccupied with internal struggles for possession of the throne between Sigismund of Luxemburg (1387–1437) and Ladislas of Naples, the Venetian Republic took the advantage and bought the rights on Dalmatia from Ladislas of Naples in 1409. Most of the communes did not accept the fact that they had been sold, and the Venetian government had difficulty in implementing its rule in Nin, Šibenik, Split and Trogir. In other cities such as Zadar, which accepted the new ruler in 1409, all the noble families close to the Hungarian king were forced to leave the city.76 The establishment of Venetian rule in Trogir did not go as easily as expected, and Trogir did not surrender until 1420. Venice quickly unified the legal system in the newly conquered lands, depriving many medieval communes of their privileges and autonomy.77

Tomislav Raukar argues that the question of which state held authority over the medieval communes was of less importance to them than the nature of their relations with that state.78 During the reign of Louis I of Hungary (1342–82), some Dalmatian communes despite having restricted political autonomy – became economically stronger and developed trading relations with the hinterland and with Italian cities, especially those on the opposite side of the Adriatic. After 1409, the economic development of the Dalmatian communes began to stagnate and, in some cases, even to decline. The reason for this was that the Republic of Venice, having incorporated the communes in its centralized economic and trading system, tried to limit trade on the Eastern Adriatic shore, mostly through high taxes and the obligation to export all surplus goods to Venice.79

Not all social strata accepted the new rulers equally. The peasants were not much concerned who their ruler was, and commoners in general accepted the new ruler in the hope that he might extend their rights. It is not possible to give a definite answer, however, to the question of whether the highest layer of the society, the nobility, supported or opposed Venetian rule. This question deserves a separate study, which would shed light on aristocratic participation in the formation of regional identity. Dissatisfaction with Venetian rule could have arisen from the local aristocracy’s exclusion from local government in general, as in Trogir, where the council rarely met and was not responsible for actual decisions, which were mostly made by the rector, a Venetian appointee.80 On the other hand, the example of the Cipiko family demonstrates how some aristocratic families took advantage of the situation and retained their role in local government by supporting the new ruler. Petar Cipiko was one of the noblemen who accepted Venetian rule and served for them in many communal, as well as military, positions. Petar was proud of his classical education and erudition, so much so that he even gave his descendants classical names. His son Koriolan was named after the Roman hero who came to the side of the Volscians, the enemies of Rome. Ivo Babić assumes that by this analogy, Petar found a justification supporting Venetian rule.81 Members of families who resisted Venetian rule were forced to leave the city or were forcibly taken to Venice as hostages, as a pledge to keep the peace in the communes. In Trogir, most of the Venetian opponents were expelled from the city, including the captain and the bishop, who was close to the Hungarian King Sigismund.82 The same occurred in Zadar, from where some people spent as much as 20 years as prisoners in Venice.83

Of relevance here is to mention possible reasons of the dissatisfaction that arose in the communes between Rab and Trogir. They objected to their revenues going directly to the state treasury, while the income of some communes such as Split and Hvar remained in the charge of the local authorities.84 Loss of autonomy also showed up in the Venetian review of all municipal statutes, and the requirement for the senate in the Venice to approve the election of the city’s rector and bishop. Furthermore, many decisions could not be brought without the permission of the rector or, in some cases, of the doge.85

The period of consolidation of Venetian government in Dalmatia was fruitful for the cult of St Jerome. Before the Venetians established control, expressions of identity were limited to the communes, since they represented politically and economically closed communities. Micro-identity based on local characteristics began to lose its importance after the Dalmatian cities were taken into the unified Venetian legal and administration system, since this identity had mostly been carried by members of the local aristocracy. As a consequence, at the beginning of the fifteenth century and afterwards, Dalmatia was administratively isolated from medieval Croatia. Given the negative economic transformation in Dalmatian towns, the standardization of their legal and administrative systems and the Venetian neglect of the towns and their privileges, the emergence of dissatisfaction is not surprising.

The presence of Jerome’s figure can also be interpreted as emphasizing the tradition and the privileges that Dalmatian cities had held for a long time under the Hungarian kings. Veneration of the saint through official celebrations highlights his regional and ethnic Dalmatian identity, engendering a sense of common identity among the inhabitants of the Dalmatian communes and their affiliation to the same cultural sphere and customs. The official decisions of Dubrovnik and Trogir to venerate the saint makes this identity explicit by describing Jerome as Dalmatian. Zdenka Janeković Römer explains how Dubrovnik maintained the expression of its geographical, ethnic and cultural bonds with Dalmatia even after being politically cut off from the other Dalmatian cities. Dalmatians had special status among non-Ragusan citizens, permitting them to work in Dubrovnik and have dual citizenship. 86

In Trogir, nostalgia for the better times enjoyed by the commune under the Hungarian kings is manifested on a stone triptych, originally part of the altar of the Virgin Mary in the cathedral church of St Lawrence in Trogir and today kept in the Museum of Sacred Art. The altar was under the patronage of the local noble families Borgoforte and Dragač, who were also known for their humanist activities.87 The triptych features the Virgin Mary with the Child in the middle and the figures of St Ladislas and St Jerome on the two sides. Radoslav Bužančić argues that the presence of the Hungarian saint is connected with the Ottoman wars after 1470; accordingly, he dates the polyptych to the early 1470s.88

I am more inclined to agree with Maja Cepetić, however, who proposed that the presence of St Ladislas, King of Hungary, indicates a propaganda in favor of the Hungarian king and kingdom in the period of consolidation of Venetian rule.89 The special bond between Trogir and the Hungarian kingdom lies in the fact that Trogir enjoyed almost uninterrupted autonomy in the Hungarian kingdom from 1107 onwards and resisted accepting Venetian rule and losing its privileges after 1420. The figure of St Ladislas is also known to have appeared on golden florins minted during the reigns of Louis the Great and Sigismund of Luxemburg. He continued to be the most popular patron saint in Hungary during the Angevin and Luxemburg dynasties.90 Here I would mention another example of the special bond between Trogir and the Hungarian rulers, which indeed precedes the period discussed here but provides more evidence of the town’s preference for Hungarian rule. On the main façade of the cathedral church, above the rose window, is a relief of the Angevin dynasty.91 It was probably installed in the second half of the fourteenth century, after the re-establishment of Hungarian rule after the Venetians had controlled it for a short period (1332–58). It was a response to Louis the Great confirming the city’s rights and privileges, but is also related to the royal family’s financial contribution to the construction of the cathedral. Representations of the Hungarian saint in Trogir should be interpreted less as nostalgic longing for Hungarian rule than as fondness for the civic and legal privileges which the commune received during the reign of King Coloman (1095–1116). For several centuries thereafter, these privileges underpinned the commune’s judicial system and formed the basis for its local autonomy.92

Another critical factor that strengthened regional and ethnic identity was the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans, which caused mass migration to the southern parts of Dalmatia, and subsequently to Italian cities. A good example of regional identity and the expression of otherness within the Venetian Republic is the formation of the confraternities outside the territory of Dalmatia, the Confraternita degli Schiavoni. The term Schiavone was a Venetian expression used for all the people coming from the Eastern Adriatic shore under their rule. The confraternities were founded mostly in cities which traded with Dalmatian cities, and they were mostly dedicated to St Jerome.93


The cult of St Jerome in Dalmatia represents a broad, largely non-researched and important topic in the discussion on the formation of regional, ethnic and national identities. From the middle of the fifteenth century, the cult of the saint became an expression of a common identity based on historical, linguistic and ethnic characteristics, mostly referred to as Dalmatian, Slavic or Illyrian. The interweaving of these identities, and differences between the meanings of “Slavic”, “Dalmatian”, and “Illyrian” are highly complex questions which I will leave for a separate and detailed discussion.

The devotion to the saint that emerged among the Glagolitic monastic communities, as earliest evidenced in the thirteenth century, started to be propagated by ecclesiastical and intellectual elites in the fifteenth century. Generally praised for his religious and intellectual deeds, Jerome was worshipped in Dalmatia primarily because of his regional origin and his alleged invention of Glagolitic letters. As expressed in the official statements of veneration in Dubrovnik and Trogir, the connotations of his cult were more political than religious. Although Jerome’s cult was present in Dalmatia before the fifteenth century, there is no evidence that it was present throughout the region or that worshipping him was considered an expression of the regional identity of his devotees.

St Jerome became particularly important in the fifteenth century. Humanist ideas from Italy and the development of intellectual circles on the Dalmatian coast enriched and transformed the Glagolitic tradition into a regional cult in the middle of the fifteenth century. Although the regional cult of St Jerome grew out of a local tradition unconnected to the ideas of Italian humanism, it was only the writings of Dalmatian humanists that raised it to an expression of common identity, and this will be presented in a separated study. The rise of Jerome’s cult in Dalmatia in the fifteenth century was closely related to the complex political situation and changes in social structure ensuing from the establishment of Venetian rule, the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans and the resulting mass migrations. Further clarification of the story of the Dalmatian Jerome requires detailed iconographic analysis of artworks in Dalmatia, examination of the migration processes and the activities of the Schiavoni confraternities, and detailed comparative study of how the proto-nationalist ideas which developed from Italian humanism influenced the emergence of ethnic identity.



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1 After the establishment of the Venetian government in Dalmatia, the term schiavone was generally accepted as the name for people coming from the Eastern Adriatic Shore, from Istria to Boka Kotorska bay. I will use the term Slavic in this text instead. On the formation of the common identity through Slavic confraternities and their activities, see: Blažević, Ilirizam prije ilirizma. The current project “Visualizing Nationhood: the Schiavoni/Illyrian Confraternities and Colleges in Italy and the Artistic Exchange with South East Europe (15th–18th c.)” led by dr.sc. Jasenka Gudelj will bring new insights on the process of the formation of the proto-national identity.

2 Rice, Saint Jerome in the Renaissance; Russo, Saint Jérôme en Italie; Kelly, Jerome; Ridderbos, Saint and Symbol.

3 Lössl and Cain, Jerome of Stridon.

4 Verkholantsev, The Slavic Letters.

5 Fine, “The Slavic Saint Jerome.”

6 See the works by Cvito Fisković, Ivo Petricioli, Anne Markham Shultz, and Samo Štefanac.

7 See the works published by Darko Novaković, Josip Bratulić, Bratislav Lučin, Vinko Grubišić, Branimir Glavičić, and Iva Kurelac.

8 Rice, Saint Jerome in the Renaissance, 23.

9 Čoralić, “Kardinal Bessarion i Hrvati,” 153. Iconographic representation was also influenced by Jerominus vita et transitus published in 1485 in Venice.

10 Rice, Saint Jerome in the Renaissance, 64. His book was a compilation consisting of earlier written lives, evidences of his miracles, testimonies of his glory and a selection of Jerome’s work.

11 Vergerio, “Sermones Decem,” Sermon 5, 177; McManamon, “Pier Paolo Vergerio,” 354.

12 Vergerio, “Sermones Decem,” 169.

13 Rice, Saint Jerome in the Renaissance, 69.

14 Jerome, On Illustrious Men, 167.

15 Bulić, Stridon. Besides the theories mentioned, Bulić added two more sections: Hungarian theory and individual explanations.

16 Biondo, Roma ristavrata et Italia illustrata, 196.

17 Bulić, Stridon, 25–27. Frane Bulić gives the names of Biondo’s supporters, who included Pier Paolo Vergerio the Elder, Pio de Rubeis, Irineo della Croce, Filippo Tomasini.

18 Strohal, Statut i reformacije, chap. 64.

19 Novaković, “Novi Marulić.”

20 Bulić, Stridon, 27–31. Among them were Vinko Pribojević, Tomko Marnavić, Sebastiano Dolci, Ignjat Đorić and Daniele Farlati.

21 Badurina Stipčević, “Legenda o Jeronimu,” 19; Glavičić, “Pismo pape Inocenta IV”; Fine, “The Slavic Saint Jerome,” 103.

22 Verkholantsev, The Slavic Letters, 44.

23 Ibid.

24 Ibid., 49–53. These pages give a detailed analysis of the absence of the cult of saints in Dalmatia.

25 Fine, “The Slavic Saint Jerome,” 104.

26 Verkholantsev, The Slavic Letters, 59.

27 Ibid., 62.

28 Badurina Stipčević, “Legenda o Jeronimu,” 22.

29 Pantelić, “Odraz sredine,” 326.

30 Idem, “Kulturno-povijesni značaj,” 239; Idem, “Odraz sredine,” 236.

31 Idem, “Prvotisak glagoljskog misala,” 39.

32 Idem, “Kulturno-povijesni značaj,” 240.

33 Idem, “Prvotisak glagoljskog misala,” 46.

34 Idem, “Kulturno-povijesni značaj,” 241.

35 Idem, “Prvotisak glagoljskog misala,” 77.

36 Badurina Stipčević, “Legenda o svetom Jeronimu,” 341.

37 Runje, “Sv. Jeronim i glagoljica u Hrvata,” 111.

38 Ivšić, “Dosad nepoznati hrvatski glagoljski prijevodi.”

39 Verkholantsev, The Slavic Letters, 63–115.

40 Novak, “Juraj Slovinac,” 26; Fine, “The Slavic Saint Jerome,” 103.

41 The analysis and Croatian translation of Fabri’s text which relates to Dalmatian cities (Evagatorium, III: 264–356) can be found in: Krasić, “Opis hrvatske jadranske obale”.

42 Ibid., 154, 194.

43 Lengherand, Voyage de Georges Lengherand, 88.

44 Lonza, Kazalište vlasti, 257.

45 Nedeljković, Liber Viridis, 320, “a nobis ac ceteris Dalmaticis de quorum natione fuit”.

46 Škunca, Franjevačka renesansa, 59.

47 Vojnović, “Crkva i država,” 54.

48 Kunčević, “Civic and Ethnic Discourses,” 159; Radonić, Dubrovačka akta i povelje, 492–93;

49 Tadić, Građa o slikarskoj školi, chap. 841. Državni arhiv u Dubrovniku [State Archives in Dubrovnik](hereafter DAD), Div.Not. 89, f 33. “pro sala Maioris Consilli unam figuram sancti Hieronymi in vestibus cardinalium, segundum designum per eum factum et eis presentatum in tela ad telarium de altitudine, forma et qualidade figure Sancti Johannis Baptiste existentis in dicta sala”.

50 Prelog, Zlatno doba Dubrovnika, 341.

51 More information about the Gozze and Gradi families can be found in: Vekarić, Vlastela Grada Dubrovnika.

52 Tadić, Građa o slikarskoj školi, chap. 640. DAD. Div. Not. 67, f.49. “…sanctus Hieronymus in heremo cum saxo in manu”.

53 Majer Jurišić and Šurina, Trsteno. Ljetnikovac Gučetić.

54 Štefanac, “Osservazioni sui rilievi,” 116.

55 Lonza, Kazalište vlasti, 257.

56 Tadić, Građa o slikarskoj školi, chap. 674. DAD. Div.not. 73. f. 173v. “...unam iconam ponendam in ecclesia Sancti Dominici ad altare ipsorum nobilium de Gradi, secundum designum datum ipsis Boxidaro et Nicole, videlicet cum tribus figuris: sancti Mathei apostoli, sancti Hieronymi in deserto seu heremo et sancti Stephani…”; Belamarić, “Nikola Božidarević,” 130.

57 Ibid.

58 Rice, Saint Jerome in the Renaissance, 50.

59 Strohal, Statut i reformacije, 259–60. “...suis exigentibus meritis et exemplis devotissimus, tum propter eius beate vite asperitatem…tum propter laborum intollerabilium circa expositionem sacrarum scripturarum, assiduitatem, tum etiam propter miraculorum innumerabilium, quibus perfulsicf(?) in vita et post mortem claritatem.…ipsum beatissimum sanctum a quorum provincia originem habuit.”

60 Benyovsky Latin, “Razvoj srednjovjekovne operarije,“ 16.

61 Andreis, Storia della città di Traù, 163. “Successe Conte il Dottor Giovanni Alberto, nei principi della cui reggenza fu preso dal Consiglio di solennizzar la festa del Dottor S. Girolamo, fregio come principale di santa chiesa, così decoro eterno del popolo Illirico”.

62 Tomić, Trogirska slikarska baština, 12.

63 Belting, “St Jerome in Venice.“

64 Fučić, “Glagoljica i dalmatinski spomenici”. An another example of the use of Glagolitic script in Trogir is on the polyptych made by Blaž Jurjev Trogiranin for the altar of St Jerome in the Benedictine church of St John. The note is not easy to read, and it was most likely to be some private inscription related to the execution of the work. Still, it demonstrates the use of the Glagolitic script in Trogir in that period.

65 Pelc, Renesansa, 296.

66 Bužančić, “Gospin oltar,” 43.

67 Lučin, “Kodeks Petra Cipika iz 1436,” 66.

68 The Cipico genealogy can be found in: Lučin, “Petronije,” 166.

69 Zelić, “Chiese in Trau,“ 94.

70 Belamarić, “Nota za Tripuna Bokanića,“ 463.

71 Idem, “Duknovićev sv. Ivan Evanđelist.”

72 Idem, “Nota za Tripuna Bokanića,” 466. This Alvise Cipiko, who commissioned the statue of St Jerome in the memory of his father, is not the same Alvise as was portrayed in the statue of St John the Evangelist. He was Koriolan’s grandson from his youngest son, Jerome, and nephew of Alvise Cipiko the Elder.

73 Zelić, “Nekoliko priloga,“ 68.

74 Fisković, “Poliptih Blaža Jurjeva.“

75 Zelić, “Chiese in Trau,” 94. See a footnote number 137; Bužančić, “Gospin oltar,” 43.

76 Ibid., 28.

77 More about the political situation in Trogir on the turn of the century in: Janeković-Römer, “Grad i građani“.

78 Raukar, “O nekim problemima,” 534.

79 Ibid., 537.

80 Janeković-Römer, “Grad i građani,” 223.

81 Babić, “Oporuke Pelegrine, Petra i Koriolana Cipika,” 31.

82 Benyovsky, Srednjovjekovni Trogir, 208.

83 Šunjić, Dalmacija u XV. stoljeću, 338.

84 Raukar, “O nekim problemima,” 539.

85 Novak, Autonomija dalmatinskih komuna, 82–83.

86 Janeković-Römer, “Građani, stanovnici,” 325.

87 Pelc, Renesansa, 296.

88 Bužančić, “Gospin oltar,” 44.

89 Cepetić, “The Cult of St Ladislas,” 315.

90 Ibid.; Klaniczay, Holy Rulers, 365.

91 Babić, “Anžuvinski grbovi,“ 39.

92 Novak, Autonomija dalmatinskih komuna, 11.

93 The Slavic confraternity in Venice consecrated to St George and Triphon was founded in 1451. The next year, the confraternity of St Jerome was established in Udine, to be followed by the one in Rome in 1453. More on this in the works by Lovorka Čoralić and Marino Mann.