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The Making and Unmaking of a Saint

Hagiography and Memory in the Cult of Gerald of Aurillac

By Mathew Kuefler

Publication Year: 2014

A crusader, a hermit, a bishop, a plague victim, and even a repentant murderer by turns: the stories attached to Saint Gerald of Aurillac offer a strange and fragmented legacy. His two earliest biographies, written in the early tenth and early eleventh centuries, depicted the saint as a warrior who devoted his life to pious service. Soon Gerald was a venerated figure, and the monastery he founded was itself a popular pilgrimage site. Like many other cults, his faded into obscurity over time, although a small group of loyal worshippers periodically revived interest, creating sculpted or stained glass images and the alternate biographies that complicated an ever more obscure history.

The Making and Unmaking of a Saint traces the rise and fall of devotion to Gerald of Aurillac through a millennium, from his death in the tenth century to the attempt to reinvigorate his cult in the nineteenth century. Mathew Kuefler makes a strong case for the sophistication of hagiography as a literary genre that can be used to articulate religious doubts and anxieties even as it exalts the saints; and he overturns the received attribution of Gerald's detailed Vita to Odo of Cluny, identifying it instead as the work of the infamous eleventh-century forger Ademar of Chabannes. Through his careful examination, the biographies and iconographies that mark the waxing and waning of Saint Gerald's cult tell an illuminating tale not only of how saints are remembered but also of how they are forgotten.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press


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Title Page, Copyright

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p. vii

Note on Names

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p. viii

Maps 1 and 2

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p. ix

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Introduction: Hagiography, Memory, History

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pp. 1-8

High up in the French Alps, near the end of a twisting mountain road that snakes farther and farther up a steep mountainside from the village of Aurisen- Oisans, sits the medieval chapel of Saint-Giraud. No record survives of its origins: its first mention dates from 1454, when the bishop of Grenoble stopped there on his visitation...

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1. Prolegomenon on the Dating and Authorship of the Writings about Gerald of Aurillac

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pp. 9-43

Gerald of Aurillac is a familiar figure to scholars of the central Middle Ages, and his life has provided rare and intriguing glimpses into this era: its forms of individual piety, the relations between peasants and landowners, the methods of justice, and even the banality of violence. The traditional dating and attribution of the texts...

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2. The First Saint Gerald

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pp. 44-67

The earliest remembrances of Gerald come from one of the most prominent monastic reformers of the central Middle Ages, Odo of Cluny. This is, once again, the Vita brevior (an English translation of which appears in Appendix 1 from my own critical edition) and not the better-known Vita prolixior. Why a man so devoted to the monastic...

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3. The Second Saint Gerald

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pp. 68-99

Almost a century after Odo composed his Vita brevior, Ademar of Chabannes, writing from Limoges in the 1020s, extended the textual tradition on Gerald in a number of ways. He began by adding a brief account of Gerald’s death and a half-dozen stories of Gerald’s posthumous miracles to the existing vita. Perhaps he hoped to dispel the doubts...

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4. Saint Gerald and the Swell of History

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pp. 100-116

Odo and Ademar both struggled to define Saint Gerald’s memory in crucial if fundamentally contrary ways. Even if hagiographers initiated a saint’s reputation, though, only the response of the devout could sustain it over time. What can be pieced together of the history of devotion to Saint Gerald demonstrates the varied...

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5. Saint Gerald and the Ebb of History

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pp. 117-150

Despite the manifold efforts to advance the cult of Saint Gerald, he was slowly sinking into obscurity by the end of the Middle Ages. Insofar as we know, in the fifteenth century only one new manuscript included his vita and only one church was built in his name.1 Nonetheless, even the disappearance of the cult of a saint...

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6. The Modern Cult of Saint Gerald

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pp. 151-186

The French Revolution seemed to signal the end of the cult of Saint Gerald. Yet the churches dedicated to Saint Gerald were closed for less than a decade, and when the Catholic religion was restored in France in 1801 Saint Gerald returned to Aurillac and to thirty or so of his other churches across southern France. With the dispersion of the last canons...

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Conclusion: Memory, Sanctity, Violence

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pp. 187-191

Saint Gerald is virtually unknown today except to scholars of the Middle Ages. He no longer functions convincingly as a saint. Vestiges of Gerald’s saintly memory still linger at Aurillac and also in the towns and villages where his churches still stand, although many of the residents with whom I spoke during my travels were hard pressed...

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Appendix 1: Translation of the Vita sancti Geraldi brevior

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pp. 193-203

Here begins the prologue to the life of the man of God, Gerald, [whose feast day is] 13 October, related by the Lord Abbot Odo. To the Reverend Father and Lord Abbot Aimon, his fellow servant of the brothers and the most insignificant of abbots,1 Odo sends perpetual greetings in the Lord. You have asked...

Appendix 2: The Manuscripts of the Vita Geraldi

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pp. 205-217


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pp. 219-267


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pp. 269-298


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pp. 299-304

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pp. 305-306

I have benefited from the generous help of many, including in France at the Bibliothe`que nationale de France, the Institut des recherches et d’histoire des textes, the Bibliothe`que de l’Arsenal, and the Bibliothe`que Sainte-Genevie`ve, all in Paris; the Archives de´partementales across France in Alpes-de-Haute- Provence...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812208894
E-ISBN-10: 0812208897
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812245523

Page Count: 320
Illustrations: 34 illus.
Publication Year: 2014

OCLC Number: 870097639
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Making and Unmaking of a Saint

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Christian saints -- France -- Aurillac -- Biography -- Early works to 1800.
  • Christian hagiography -- History -- To 1500.
  • Odo, Saint, Abbot of Cluny, approximately 879-942. Vita sancti Geraldi Auriliacensis.
  • Gerald, of Aurillac, Saint, 855-909 -- Cult -- History.
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