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  • Saint Vincent diacre et martyr: Culte et légendes avant l’An Mil
  • John Howe
Saint Vincent diacre et martyr: Culte et légendes avant l’An Mil. By Victor Saxer. [Subsidia Hagiographica,Vol. 83.] (Brussels: Société des Bollandistes. 2002. Pp. vii, 372. €65 paperback.)

The universal saints of the Church are characterized not only by heroic sanctity but also by overwhelming paper trails. The world's longest-lasting scholarly research project, the Acta Sanctorum (1632-1940), ground to a halt when it reached November 11, the feast of Martin of Tours. When Pierre Petitmengin and colleagues devoted years of a Paris seminar to Pelagia, two huge volumes of papers failed to exhaust the riches of her cult. Thus it is astonishing to find Monsignor Victor Saxer, now in his mid-eighties, attempting to master the dossier ofVincent of Saragossa (d. ca. 303), a martyred deacon commemorated in morethan forty separately numbered items in the Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina, texts which one inventory claims survive today in at least 354 medieval copies.

Saxer, as he explains in his introduction, recognized in the 1960's that early Christian Spain lacked an integrated study of its saint cults and archaeology, a study he presumably originally envisioned along the lines of his Morts, martyrs, reliques en Afrique chrétienne aux premiers siècles (1980). Although his initial survey of the ecclesiastical province of Tarraconensis went well enough, he then entered Carthaginensis and met St. Vincent, whose complicated dossier required an ever-lengthening series of articles and editions. Saxer consolidates these here, providing an unprecedented overview of the early medieval dossier of one of the West's more popular saints.

The volume contains articles, nine in French and one in German, published between 1989 and 1998, as well as two lengthy, hitherto unpublished textual analyses and Latin editions. The first section studies the cult of Vincent in Spain, France, and Italy, a cult that spread early into Visigothic Septimania (Provence) and also into northern France thanks to relics obtained by Childebert in his 541 siege of Saragossa. The next section examines texts. Saxer attempts to discover the contents of the lost original passio by comparing the six sermons on Vincent given by Augustine (d. 430) with the two poems honoring him by Prudentius (d. ca. 410), although ultimately he concludes, based upon divergences and omissions, that slightly different versions of the text may already have been circulating at the start of the fifth century. He speculates about the historical reality underlying the narrative, finding corroboration for some topographical, administrative, [End Page 302] and legal details. He holds that a short version circulated in the fifth century, probably close to an early Italian version (BHL 8638), whose cultic geography is relatively primitive. The standard text (BHL 8631) already existed by the mid-sixth century, when Visigothic clergymen cited it; it also influenced the historical martyrologies. In the later ninth century, Saint-Germain-des-Près, which had relics of Vincent, produced a local version (BHL 8630), which circulated with a contemporary translation account written by the monk Aimoin (BHL 8644-45); it probably also produced an abbreviation for general circulation (BHL 8632). Saxer presents, analyzes, and edits the manuscripts of the half-dozen principal early medieval recensions (BHL 8628-8631, 8632, 8634-8636, 8638, 8639, and 8644-8645).

The work is of high quality, although often necessarily speculative since the earliest surviving manuscript witness of the passio is from the mid-eighth century. Readers may become nervous after a certain number of phrases such as "could cause one to think,""is due perhaps to the fact that," or "it is natural to admit." Yet Saxer is judicious and impartial. He presents his results as tentative judgments, not certainties. In fact, because his knowledge grew while these unrevised studies were being published, several new details, manuscript witnesses, and revised judgments make their appearance in appendices, in the later articles, or in the summary conclusions.

Although Saxer shows how Vincent became so popular, he does not speculate about why. According to the passiones, Vincent, in contrast to his bishop, who was also on trial, enthusiastically berated the persecuting governor. In this he parallels other popular...


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