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  • Saintly Bishops and Bishops’ Saints Edited by John S. Ott and Trpimir Vedriš
  • Raymond Van Dam
Saintly Bishops and Bishops’ Saints. Edited by John S. Ott and Trpimir Vedriš. [Bibliotheca Hagiotheca, Series Colloquia, Vol. 2.] (Zagreb: Hagiotheca Humaniora. 2012. Pp. xvi, 279. €25,00. ISBN 978-953-56205-1-8.)

In medieval Christianity bishops were powerful and saints’ cults were ubiquitous. Looking forward from the apostolic age, this would have been a startling outcome. In the early Church there had been no dominant episcopal hierarchy, and churchmen scrambled to find biblical justification for the veneration of saints and relics. In late antiquity the parallel rise of bishops and saints had often led to conflicts, because bishops promoted order within institutions while holy men seemed to challenge the authority of formal hierarchies.

This book derives from a conference precisely about this dialectic between episcopal order and the challenge of saints. Even though the chapters are aimed at other specialists in particular regions and periods, they add up to a substantial contribution to interpreting bishops and saints.

Several of the chapters extend the discussion of saints’ cults in late antiquity that has been so productive and rewarding. Bishops often struggled to deal with the memory of martyrs. Co-opting their spiritual functions was one strategy. Bishop Liberius of Rome classified exiled bishops such as himself as the equivalent of martyrs; his successor, Damasus, emphasized that living bishops were just as effective intercessors before God as martyrs (Marianne Sághy). Some bishops included saints in their theology and their autobiographies. St. Augustine, bishop of Hippo, argued that the famous martyr Perpetua had decided upon martyrdom not from her own free will, but from the grace of the Holy Spirit (Thomas J. Heffernan). Bishop Theodoret of Cyrrhus claimed that, as a young man, he had been an apprentice to the ascetics of the desert (Ville Vuolanto). Other bishops unabashedly rewrote the history of their patron saints. In the seventh century Bishop Mellitus of London apparently annotated a chronicle to reconcile competing perspectives on St. Benedict (Luciana Cuppo). In contrast, during the twelfth century Benedictine monks affirmed their ownership of various estates by claiming Bishop Æthelwold of Winchester as their benefactor (Rachel S. Anderson). As these examples suggest, thinking about bishops and ascetics had become a medium for thinking about the distribution of authority in medieval society. But as demonstrated in the extensive hagiography about St. Martin of Tours (John Marcus Beard) and the bishops of late-medieval England (Sherry L. Reames), even the veneration of an ascetic monk who had also been a bishop or the promotion of bishops as saintly exemplars of humility did not resolve the tension between episcopal power and an ascetic lifestyle.

Likewise in regions where Christianity arrived comparatively late, the underlying friction between bishops and the cults of saints lingered throughout the medieval period. In late-medieval Sweden bishops aligned themselves with saints who could heal demonic possession (Sari Katajala-Peltomaa). In contrast, in Germany and Poland hagiography became a medium for criticizing contemporary bishops (Victoria Smirnova, Stanislava Kuzmová). The results of a survey of Byzantine saints from [End Page 111] the eighth to the fifteenth century (Stephanos Efthymiadis) might be applicable to medieval Europe, too: most saints had been monks or nuns, not bishops. When popes tried to regulate the process of canonization, parishioners in northern Italy boldly promoted unofficial cults of their local favorites (Janine Larmon Peterson).

Because the conference was held in Poreč (on the Adriatic coast of Croatia), several of the chapters highlight developments in Istria and Dalmatia. The rise in ecclesiastical prominence of the see of Split coincided with the transfer of the body of a martyr from an earlier metropolitan see (Vadim Prozorov). During the sixth century Bishop Eufrasius decorated the apse of a new church at Poreč with a mosaic scene depicting himself with a martyr of the Great Persecution (Marina Miladinov). In the later medieval period the bishops of Poreč still relied on the apse mosaics to confirm their authority (Evan A. Gatti).

Raymond Van Dam
University of Michigan


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