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  • The Lay Saint: Charity and Charismatic Authority in Medieval Italy, 1150–1350 by Mary Harvey Doyno
  • Tania Kolarik
Mary Harvey Doyno, The Lay Saint: Charity and Charismatic Authority in Medieval Italy, 1150–1350 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press 2019) viii + 318 pp., 9 ills.

The requirements to be considered a saint by the Church in the Middle Ages changed over the course of the medieval period, with martyrdom being the common pathway from the earliest days of Christianity into late antiquity. Once that was no longer a realistic option with Christianity's growth and spread, the church began to canonize individuals typically of the elite classes, such as kings, queens, bishops, and popes, whose saintly actions in founding monasteries, convents, and cathedrals were supported by miracles being attributed to them. These elites continued to be recognized and canonized in northern Europe throughout the medieval period. However, in late medieval north-central Italy, a different saintly phenomenon began to take shape, one where the saints were not of the elite nobility but instead of the rising mercantile middle class consisting of merchants and artisans. These "lay saint" role models, who were not canonized by the Church, with the exception of Omobono of Cremona (d. 1197), are the focus of Mary Harvey Doyno's 2019 book, The Lay Saint: Charity and Charismatic Authority in Medieval Italy, 1150–1350.

Doyno, a religious studies scholar, begins her book with an anecdote of a stone font for holy water from Pisa that depicts the twelfth-century lay saint Ranieri of Pisa (d. 1160). As a way to introduce the reader to the concept of the lay saint, the font illustrates Ranieri of Pisa, a merchant and not a member of the institutional Church, blessing a woman and a cleric. This engagement with the visual material serves to launch Doyno's examination of sixteen lay saints through their hagiographies, which she uses to reveal the sociopolitical context at the time of their creation and not as factual accounts of the saint's lives. The emphasis on hagiographical context is furthered by her juxtaposition of the earliest hagiographies written by local priests and disciples compared to later versions that were produced by papal bulls or mendicant chroniclers. Doyno's core argument in The Lay Saint is that from the twelfth to the mid-fourteenth centuries, the emergence of lay saint cults and ideals of a lay Christian community member was viewed as a threat to the institution of the church, since the church had little control over these groups. As a result, the church and Pope Innocent III instituted stricter guidelines for becoming a canonized saint, and by the fourteenth century the ideal lay life was to be part of a lay religious order under the authority of a mendicant order.

After a clear and concise introduction, the book is organized chronologically from 1150–1350 and into three parts: "Creating a Lay Ideal," "The Female Lay Saint," and "From Civic Saint to Lay Visionary." Part 1 comprises three chapters focusing on the attributes of a lay saint and how they changed over the time period being discussed. In the first, "From Charisma to Charity: Lay Sanctity in the Twelfth-Century Communes," Doyno provides a comparison of two twelfth-century lay saints. These saints are Ranieri of Pisa, whose vita was an early example of an "ideal lay life," and Omobono of Cremona, whose life is documented in his 1199 canonization bull by Innocent III. Ranieri of Pisa exemplified the attribute of charisma, or the ability to produce miracles, while alive. It is this charisma, Doyno argues, that was deemed threatening. Therefore, Omobono's canonization at the end of the twelfth century allowed Innocent III [End Page 267] to focus on the qualities that make a lay saint, such as a rigorous schedule of prayer, charity work, promoting civic peace, and fighting heresy, instead of a miracle-working layman. The miracles, however, were left to the priests through transubstantiation. Chapter 2, "Charity as Social Justice: The Birth of the Communal Lay Saint," examines how lay saints' vitae, such as that of Raimondo of Piacenza (d. 1200), emphasize the role of charity as an external focus of their...


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