A hagiography ( // ; from Ancient Greek ἅγιος , hagios 'holy',and -γραφία , -graphia 'writing') is a biography of a saint or an ecclesiastical leader, as well as, by extension, an adulatory and idealized biography of a founder, saint, monk, nun or icon in any of the world's religions. Early Christian hagiographies might consist of a biography or vita, a description of the saint's deeds or miracles (from Latin vita, life, which begins the title of most medieval biographies), an account of the saint's martyrdom (called a passio), or be a combination of these.
Christian hagiographies focus on the lives, and notably the miracles, ascribed to men and women canonized by the Roman Catholic church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodox churches, and the Church of the East. Other religious traditions such as Buddhism,Hinduism, Taoism, Islam, Sikhism and Jainism also create and maintain hagiographical texts (such as the Sikh Janamsakhis) concerning saints, gurus and other individuals believed to be imbued with sacred power.
Hagiographic works, especially those of the Middle Ages, can incorporate a record of institutional and local history, and evidence of popular cults, customs, and traditions.However, when referring to modern, non-ecclesiastical works, the term hagiography is often used as a pejorative reference to biographies and histories whose authors are perceived to be uncritical of or reverential toward their subject.
Hagiography constituted an important literary genre in the early Christian church, providing some informational history along with the more inspirational stories and legends. A hagiographic account of an individual saint could consist of a biography (vita), a description of the saint's deeds or miracles, an account of the saint's martyrdom (passio), or be a combination of these.
The genre of lives of the saints first came into being in the Roman Empire as legends about Christian martyrs were recorded. The dates of their deaths formed the basis of martyrologies. In the 4th century, there were three main types of catalogs of lives of the saints:
In Western Europe, hagiography was one of the more important vehicles for the study of inspirational history during the Middle Ages. The Golden Legend of Jacobus de Voragine compiled a great deal of medieval hagiographic material, with a strong emphasis on miracle tales. Lives were often written to promote the cult of local or national states, and in particular to develop pilgrimages to visit relics. The bronze Gniezno Doors of Gniezno Cathedral in Poland are the only Romanesque doors in Europe to feature the life of a saint. The life of Saint Adalbert of Prague, who is buried in the cathedral, is shown in 18 scenes, probably based on a lost illuminated copy of one of his Lives.
The Bollandist Society continues the study, academic assembly, appraisal and publication of materials relating to the lives of Christian saints. (See Acta Sanctorum .)
Many of the important hagiographical texts composed in medieval England were written in the vernacular dialect Anglo-Norman. With the introduction of Latin literature into England in the 7th and 8th centuries the genre of the life of the saint grew increasingly popular. When one contrasts it to the popular heroic poem, such as Beowulf , one finds that they share certain common features. In Beowulf, the titular character battles against Grendel and his mother, while the saint, such as Athanasius' Anthony (one of the original sources for the hagiographic motif) or the character of Guthlac, battles against figures no less substantial in a spiritual sense. Both genres then focus on the hero-warrior figure, but with the distinction that the saint is of a spiritual sort.
Imitation of the life of Christ was then the benchmark against which saints were measured, and imitation of the lives of saints was the benchmark against which the general population measured itself. In Anglo-Saxon and medieval England, hagiography became a literary genre par excellence for the teaching of a largely illiterate audience. Hagiography provided priests and theologians with classical handbooks in a form that allowed them the rhetorical tools necessary to present their faith through the example of the saints' lives.
Of all the English hagiographers no one was more prolific nor so aware of the importance of the genre as Abbot Ælfric of Eynsham. His work Lives of the Saintscontains set of sermons on saints' days, formerly observed by the English Church. The text comprises two prefaces, one in Latin and one in Old English, and 39 lives beginning on 25 December with the nativity of Christ and ending with three texts to which no saints' days are attached. The text spans the entire year and describes the lives of many saints, both English and continental, and hearkens back to some of the earliest saints of the early church.
There are two known instances where saint's lives were adapted into vernacular plays in Britain. These are the Cornish-language works Beunans Meriasek and Beunans Ke , about the lives of Saints Meriasek and Kea, respectively.
Other examples of hagiographies from England include:
Ireland is notable in its rich hagiographical tradition, and for the large amount of material which was produced during the Middle Ages. Irish hagiographers wrote primarily in Latin while some of the later saint's lives were written in the hagiographer's native vernacular Irish. Of particular note are the lives of St. Patrick, St. Columba (Latin)/Colum Cille (Irish) and St. Brigit/Brigid—Ireland's three patron saints. The earliest extant Life was written by Cogitosus. Additionally, several Irish calendars relating to the feastdays of Christian saints (sometimes called martyrologies or feastologies) contained abbreviated synopses of saint's lives, which were compiled from many different sources. Notable examples include the Martyrology of Tallaght and the Félire Óengusso. Such hagiographical calendars were important in establishing lists of native Irish saints, in imitation of continental calendars.
In the 10th century, a Byzantine monk Simeon Metaphrastes was the first one to change the genre of lives of the saints into something different, giving it a moralizing and panegyrical character. His catalog of lives of the saints became the standard for all of the Western and Eastern hagiographers, who would create relative biographies and images of the ideal saints by gradually departing from the real facts of their lives. Over the years, the genre of lives of the saints had absorbed a number of narrative plots and poetic images (often, of pre-Christian origin, such as dragon fighting etc.), mediaeval parables, short stories and anecdotes.
The genre of lives of the saints was introduced in the Slavic world in the Bulgarian Empire in the late 9th and early 10th century, where the first original hagiographies were produced on Cyril and Methodius, Clement of Ohrid and Naum of Preslav. Eventually the Bulgarians brought this genre to Kievan Rus' together with writing and also in translations from the Greek language. In the 11th century, the Rus' began to compile the original life stories of the first Rus'ian saints, e.g. Boris and Gleb, Theodosius Pechersky etc. In the 16th century, Metropolitan Macarius expanded the list of the Rus'ian saints and supervised the compiling process of their life stories. They would all be compiled in the so-called Velikiye chet'yi-minei catalog (Великие Четьи-Минеи, or Great Menaion Reader), consisting of 12 volumes in accordance with each month of the year. They were revised and expanded by St. Dimitry of Rostov in 1684–1705.
Today, the works in the genre of lives of the saints represent a valuable historical source and reflection of different social ideas, world outlook and aesthetic concepts of the past.
The Oriental Orthodox Churches also have their own hagiographic traditions. For instance, Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church hagiographies in the Ge'ez language are known as gadl (Saint's Life).There are some 200 hagiographies about indigenous saints. They are among the most important Medieval Ethiopian written sources, and some have accurate historical information. They are written by the disciples of the saints. Some were written a long time after the death of a saint, but others were written not long after the saint's demise. Fragments from an Old Nubian hagiography of Saint Michael are extant.
Hagiography in Islam began in the Arabic language with biographical writing about the Prophet Muhammad in the 8th century CE, a tradition known as sīra . From about the 10th century CE, a genre generally known as manāqib also emerged, which comprised biographies of the imams (madhāhib) who founded different schools of Islamic thought ( madhhab ) about shariʿa , and of Ṣūfī saints. Over time, hagiography about Ṣūfīs and their miracles came to predominate in the genre of manāqib.
Likewise influenced by early Islamic research into hadiths and other biographical information about the Prophet, Persian scholars began writing Persian hagiography, again mainly of Sūfī saints, in the eleventh century CE.
The Islamicisation of the Turkish regions led to the development of Turkish biographies of saints, beginning in the 13th century CE and gaining pace around the 16th. Production remained dynamic and kept pace with scholarly developments in historical biographical writing until 1925, when Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (d. 1938) placed an interdiction on Ṣūfī brotherhoods. As Turkey relaxed legal restrictions on Islamic practice in the 1950s and the 1980s, Ṣūfīs returned to publishing hagiography, a trend which continues in the 21st century.
In religious belief, a saint is a person who is recognized as having an exceptional degree of holiness, likeness, or closeness to God. However, the use of the term saint depends on the context and denomination. In Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, Oriental Orthodox, and Lutheran doctrine, all of their faithful deceased in Heaven are considered to be saints, but some are considered worthy of greater honor or emulation. Official ecclesiastical recognition, and consequently a public cult of veneration, is conferred on some denominational saints through the process of canonization in the Catholic Church or glorification in the Eastern Orthodox Church after their approval.
Veneration, or veneration of saints, is the act of honoring a saint, a person who has been identified as having a high degree of sanctity or holiness. Angels are shown similar veneration in many religions. Etymologically, "to venerate" derives from the Latin verb, venerare, meaning 'to regard with reverence and respect'. Veneration of saints is practiced, formally or informally, by adherents of some branches of all major religions, including Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism and Jainism.
The Golden Legend is a collection of hagiographies by Jacobus de Voragine that was widely read in late medieval Europe. More than a thousand manuscripts of the text have survived. It was likely compiled around the years 1259–1266, although the text was added to over the centuries.
A wali, the Arabic word which has been variously translated "master", "authority", "custodian", "protector", is most commonly used by Muslims to indicate an Islamic saint, otherwise referred to by the more literal "friend of God".
Saint Brigid of Kildare or Brigid of Ireland is the patroness saint of Ireland, and one of its three national saints along with Patrick and Columba. According to medieval Irish hagiographies, she was an abbess who founded several convents of nuns, most notably that of Kildare, which was one of the most important in Ireland. There are few historical facts about her, and early hagiographies are mainly anecdotes and miracle tales, some of which are rooted in pagan folklore. She is patroness of many things, including poetry, learning, healing, protection, blacksmithing, livestock and dairy production. The saint shares her name with a Celtic goddess. Brigid's feast day is 1 February, which was originally a pre-Christian festival called Imbolc, marking the beginning of spring. From 2023 it will be a public holiday in the Republic of Ireland, the first named after a woman. This feast day is shared by Dar Lugdach, who tradition says was her student, close companion, and successor.
Old Rus' literature or Old Ruthenian literature is a collection of literary works of Old Rus' authors, which includes all the works of ancient Rus' theologians, historians, philosophers, translators, etc., and written in Old East Slavic. It is a general term that unites the common literary heritage of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine of the ancient period. In terms of genre construction, it has a number of differences from medieval European literature. The greatest influence on the literature of ancient Rus' was exerted by old Polish and old Serbian literature.
Breage or Breaca is a saint venerated in Cornwall and South West England. According to her late hagiography, she was an Irish nun of the 5th or 6th century who founded a church in Cornwall. The village and civil parish of Breage in Cornwall are named after her, and the local Breage Parish Church is dedicated to her. She is a saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church and Catholic Church.
Symeon, called Metaphrastes or the Metaphrast, was a Byzantine writer and official. He is regarded as a saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church and his feast day falls on 9 or 28 November. He is best known for his 10-volume Greek menologion, or collection of saints' lives.
Adomnán or Adamnán of Iona, also known as Eunan, was an abbot of Iona Abbey (r. 679–704), hagiographer, statesman, canon jurist, and saint. He was the author of the Life of Columba, probably written between 697 and 700. This biography is by far the most important surviving work written in early-medieval Scotland, and is a vital source for our knowledge of the Picts, and an insight into the life of Iona and the early-medieval Gaelic monk.
Acts of the Martyrs are accounts of the suffering and death of a Christian martyr or group of martyrs. These accounts were collected and used in church liturgies from early times, as attested by Saint Augustine.
A number of Latin works on the Life of Muhammad were written during the 11th to 13th centuries.
Ciarán of Saigir, also known as Ciarán mac Luaigne or Saint Kieran, was one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland and is considered the first saint to have been born in Ireland, although the legend that he preceded Saint Patrick is questionable. Ciarán was bishop of Saighir (Seir-Kieran) and remains the patron saint of its successor, the diocese of Ossory.
Muirchú moccu Machtheni, usually known simply as Muirchú, was a monk and historian from Leinster. He wrote the Vita sancti Patricii, known in English as The Life of Saint Patrick, one of the first accounts of the fifth-century saint, and which credits Patrick with the conversion of Ireland in advance of the spread of monasticism. This work was dedicated to Bishop Aedh of Slébte, who was also the one who suggested the biography be written, and was the patron for the work. Muirchú's work is of little historical value in relation to the distant fifth century, but is a useful source for the time in which he lived and how Patrick was viewed in the seventh century.
A legendary is a collection of saints' lives. The word derives from the Latin word legenda, meaning 'things to be read'. The first legendaries were manuscripts written in the Middle Ages, including collections such as the South English legendaries or the Golden Legend.
Medieval Serbian literature or Old Serbian literature refers to the literature written in medieval forms of Serbian language, up to the end of the 15th century, with its traditions extending into the early modern period.
Kristos Samra was an Ethiopian female saint who founded an eponym monastery in Lake Tana.
Ethiopian historiography includes the ancient, medieval, early modern, and modern disciplines of recording the history of Ethiopia, including both native and foreign sources. The roots of Ethiopian historical writing can be traced back to the ancient Kingdom of Aksum. These early texts were written in either the Ethiopian Ge'ez script or the Greek alphabet, and included a variety of mediums such as manuscripts and epigraphic inscriptions on monumental stelae and obelisks documenting contemporary events. The writing of history became an established genre in Ethiopian literature during the early Solomonic dynasty (1270–1974). In this period, written histories were usually in the form of royal biographies and dynastic chronicles, supplemented by hagiographic literature and universal histories in the form of annals. Christian mythology became a linchpin of medieval Ethiopian historiography due to works such as the Orthodox Kebra Nagast. This reinforced the genealogical traditions of Ethiopia's Solomonic dynasty rulers, which asserted that they were descendants of Solomon, the legendary King of Israel.
Manāqib is a genre in Arabic, Turkish, and Persian literature, broadly encompassing "biographical works of a laudatory nature", "in which the merits, virtues and remarkable deeds of the individual concerned are given prominence" and particularly hagiographies. The principal goal of such works "is to offer to the reader a moral portrait and information on the noble actions of the individuals who constitute their subject or on the superior merits of a certain group". Such texts are valuable sources for the socio-political and religious history of early and medieval Islam.
Hagiography is the literary genre of biographies about holy people. In Islamic Persia, hagiography developed as a genre during the eleventh century CE, in Khurāsān, a region from which many eastern Ṣūfīs came. It tended to focus on Sūfī saints. The tradition declined around the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries CE, but was revived in the nineteenth and still exists today online.
Leontius of Damascus was a Syrian monk who wrote a biography in Greek of his teacher, Stephen of Mar Saba. It emphasises Stephen's asceticism and thaumaturgy (miracle-working), but is also a rich source for the history of Palestine in the eighth century. It has been translated into English.