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Reviewed by:
  • Contested Canonizations: The Last Medieval Saints, 1482-1523
  • Atria A. Larson
Contested Canonizations: The Last Medieval Saints, 1482-1523 by †Ronald C. Finucane. Washington DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2011.

Well-known historian of medieval sainthood, Professor Finucane passed away in 2009, shortly after submitting his manuscript of Contested Canonizations for publication. Fellow scholar Simon Ditchfield ensured that the work went to print. The book is structured into six chapters, the first on the process of saint-making/canonization in the late Middle Ages and the next five on each of the final five medieval saints, Bonaventure (c. 1220-74, cd. 1482), Leopold of Austria (c. 1073-1136, cd. 1485), Francis of Paola (c. 1416-1507, cd. 1519), Antoninus of Florence (1389-1459, cd. 1523), and Benno of Meissen (c. 1040-1106, cd. 1523). Finucane explained why he called these five "the last medieval saints." While 1523 is usually considered early modern and though other medieval figures (e.g. Joan of Arc) were canonized later, these five medieval men belong together because they were all elevated to sainthood in a similar context, the "unsettling background" of various political and religious conflicts and upheavals of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century. In addition, Benno was the last saint for sixty-five years (until 1588), and by that time, "the atmosphere"—post-Luther, post-Trent— "was very different" (1).

The narrative and pleasant, at times even humorous, style of the book will appeal to non-specialists, but such broad appeal should not obscure the wealth of scholarship. Finucane acknowledged that the five saints had been studied previously, but no one had treated them together, and little of his source material is in English, so he did a service by making the content of Latin documents as well as French, Italian, and German scholarship available to English-speakers. He also went beyond the work of others and focused on "how internal problems (within the curia for instance) and external influences (such as political changes) affected saint-making" (3). His sometimes lengthy narratives (e.g. about Francis of Paola's relationship to France's monarchs) work to give the reader a greater sense of why a canonization process occurred, what obstacles could inhibit it, and who had an interest in seeing its successful completion. For Finucane, canonizations were not just political in the sense of popes attempting to win the favor of certain secular lords. Saint-making involved many other factors and relied on individual perseverance (proctor Thomas List's efforts on behalf of Leopold are an outstanding example) and sometimes on a lull in other business. [End Page 308] Everything from Roman summers to cardinals' conspiracies to Turkish invasions could push a canonization to the back of the pope's agenda.

Student and scholar will benefit from Finucane's work, though non-specialists might wish for more explanation of certain legal and curial terminology (e.g. Finucane used both "proctor" and "procurator" without clarifying that they are the same, and he did not explain what a "proctor fiscal" was until the conclusion). In general, the book has appeal for late medieval religious, legal, and political historians and those working on the five men-turned-saints.

Atria A. Larson
Pittsburgh, PA


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pp. 308-309
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