The Cult of Saints in Western Religion

Prof. Francesco Veronese
University of Padova

DATE: 28th July 2020 (GMT+8)
TIME: 6:00-7:00 pm (Time in China)

The cult of saints is one of the most important and longstanding features of the Christian religion since the half of the 2nd century A.D. Even though some of its elements have clear connections with previous practices and beliefs, both pagan and jew, it also represents one of the most influential novelties of Christianity. It deeply affected both the Christian liturgy and institutional structures, and Christian communities’ identity. The cult of saints and its monumental settings were also crucial in the transformations of the religious and social landscape of late antique towns (3rd-5th century). Saints and their remains – their relics – were (sometimes) ready-to-use and (more or less) accessible tools allowing a contact with the sacred; they were objects, and at the same time people, connecting the material and the spiritual world. Thanks to little pieces of relics that could be brought on the body like little talismans, sanctity became part of an increasing number of people’s everyday life. Saints, scholars said, were the ‘invisible friends’ helping people face challenges and troubles.

During time, both the ideas and material manifestations of sanctity changed greatly; as the need for sanctity spread together with the conversion of new people to Christianity, new kinds of saints were developed and socially created. From martyrs, those who died saintly during persecutions against Christians, sanctity developed in the figures of confessors, people, both men and women (but mostly men), who lived saintly, consecrating their existence to God and asceticism. In medieval times, saints, relics, and their circulation became powerful tools in order to justify or legitimate political and social claims, build common identities, pursue different strategies and present them as divinely inspired.

In this lecture I will show how Christian sanctity was initially born and developed over time, until the late Middle Ages (14th century); I will also deal with Western sources on saints and relics, most of all hagiographical texts, and on the methodologies developed by scholars in order to critically approach them.

My research activity developed on two different but complementary fields. For my Ph.D. I studied the cult of saints and relics in Early Medieval Europe, with special concern for the Carolingian times (mid 8th-9th century) and for the links between North-Eastern Italy and the core of the Frankish kingdom (Rhine Valley, Alemannia, Alsace). I particularly focused on the cult of relics and their use within wider programs and strategies of religious, social and political claims. So I could develop a specific knowledge of the meanings and functions of saints and relics within Western Christianity from the origins of their cult, in the 2nd century A.D., to the Later Midddle Ages (15th century); and of the changes in these meanings and functions during time. I also studied the methodologies of scientific and critical study of Christian sources talking about saints and relics, i.e. hagiographical texts, which have been the focus of a course on Sources and Methods for the Research on the Middle Ages I kept this spring. More recently I shifted my research interests to gender studies, the role of parenthood, family and marriage in shaping society, and the representations of men and women’s behaviour in the Early Middle Ages. I am now editing a 9th-century text describing how married people, must of all men, should behave in order to gain salvation after death. My research was inserted within a nationally funded Program on “Social Conflicts, Family Ties and Local Communities in Early Medieval Italy”, embracing the Universities of Venice Ca’ Foscari, Padova, Trento, and Sassari.

B. Positions and Honors

Positions and Employment

2013-2016 Post-doc, Dipartimento di Scienze Storiche, Geografiche e dell’Antichità, Padova

2016-2017 Lecturer, Dipartimento di Scienze Storiche, Geografiche e dell’Antichità, Padova

2017- Post-doc, Istituto Storico Italiano per il Medioevo, Rome

Other Experience

2013- Assistant Lecturer, Dipartimento di Scienze Storiche, Geografiche e dell’Antichità, Padova

2014- Assistant Lecturer, Dipartimento di Scienze Storiche, Geografiche e dell’Antichità, Padova

2015- Assistant Lecturer, Dipartimento di Scienze Storiche, Geografiche e dell’Antichità, Padova

2016- Assistant Lecturer, Dipartimento di Scienze Storiche, Geografiche e dell’Antichità, Padova

C. Publications

Giona di Orléans, La vita dei laici. Istruzioni per l’uso [provisional title], ed. by F. Veronese, forthcoming.

F. Veronese, In Venetiarum partibus reliquias adportatas. Reichenau e la costruzione di una rappresentazione agiografica delle Venetiae (IX-X secolo), in The timing of consolidation – I tempi del consolidamento. Venezia tra IX e X secolo, forthcoming.

C. La Rocca – F. Veronese, The Culture of Unanimity in Carolingian Councils, in Cultures of Voting in Pre-Modern Times. Acts of the Congress, forthcoming.

F. Veronese, Contextualizing Marriage. Conjugality and Christian Life in Jonas of Orléans’ De institutione laicali, «Early Medieval Europe», 23/4 (2015), p. 436-456.

F. Veronese, Foreign Bishops Using Local Saints. The Passio et translatio sanctorum Firmi et Rustici (BHL 3020-3021) and Carolingian Verona, in M.C. Ferrari (hrsg.), Saints and the City. Beiträge zum Verständnis urbaner Sakralität in christlichen Gemeinschaften (5.-17. Jh.), Erlangen 2015, p. 85-114.

F. Veronese, Saint Marc entre Venise et Reichenau : les reliques de l’évangéliste comme objet et enjeu de compétition (IXe-Xe siècles), dans Ph. Depreux – F. Bougard – R. Le Jan (dir.), Compétition et sacré au haut Moyen Age : entre médiation et exclusion. Actes du colloque, Limoges, 2-4 juillet 2012, Turnhout 2015 (Haut Moyen Âge, 21), p. 295-312.

F. Veronese, Il culto di san Teobaldo in terra veneta: un rapido sguardo dal medioevo a oggi tra continuità e discontinuità, in F. Bianchi (a cura di), Teobaldo di Provins. Un ‘convertito’ tra Francia e Italia nell’età di Gregorio VII. Atti del convegno di studi (Vicenza e Badia Polesine, 19-20 ottobre 2012), Roma 2014, p. 89-112.

F. Veronese, Prosdocimo, Zeno, Marco: santi e testi all’incrocio tra agiografia e storiografia, in F. Benucci (a cura di), Un uomo chiamato Prosdocimo a Padova, Trieste 2013 (= «Antichità Altoadriatiche», 75), p. 199-220.

F. Veronese, Reliquie in movimento. Traslazioni, agiografie e politica tra Venetia e Alemannia (VIII-X secolo), tesi di dottorato, rel. M.C. La Rocca – A.-M. Helvétius, Università di Padova – Université Paris 8 Vincennes-Saint-Denis, 2012.

F. Veronese, Traslazioni e translationes di reliquie nella formulazione di proposte identitarie: la Passio et translatio sanctorum Firmi et Rustici, consultabile online all’indirizzo web

F. Veronese, Una devozione nata sul mare: la translatio di santo Stefano da Costantinopoli a Venezia, in Dio, il mare e gli uomini, Sommacampagna (Verona) 2008 ( = «Quaderni di storia religiosa», 15), p. 123-154.

A. Rigon – F. Veronese (a cura di), L’età dei processi. Inchieste e condanne tra politica e ideologia nel ‘300. Atti del convegno di studio svoltosi in occasione della XIX edizione del Premio internazionale Ascoli Piceno (Ascoli Piceno, Palazzo dei Capitani, 30 novembre-1° dicembre 2007, Roma 2009.

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  2. E. Bozoky – A.-M. Helvétius (a cura di), Les reliques. Objets, cultes, symboles, Turnhout, Brepols, 1999.
  3. P. Brown, The Cult of the Saints. Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity, Chicago 1981.
  4. J. Crook, The Architectural Setting of the Cult of Saints in the Early Medieval West, Oxford 2000.
  5. J.-L. Deuffic (a cura di), Reliques et sainteté dans l’espace médiéval, Saint-Denis 2005.
  6. Ch. Freeman, Holy bones, holy dust: how relics shaped the history of Medieval Europe, New Haven 2011.
  7. P. Geary, Living with the dead in the Middle Ages, Ithaca-London 1994.
  8. C. Hahn, Seeing and Believing: The Construction of Sanctity in Early-Medieval Saints’ Shrines, «Speculum», 72 (1997), p. 1079-1106.
  9. R.M. Price, Martyrdom and the cult of the saints, in The Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Studies, Oxford 2008, p. 808-825.
  10. J.-C. Schmitt, La fabrique des saints, «Annales» 39 (1984), p. 286-300.
  11. J.H. Smith, Saints and their Cults, in The Cambridge History of Christianity, 3: Early Medieval Christianities, c. 600 – c. 1100, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2008, p. 581-605.
  12. Treasures of Heaven. Saints, Relics, and Devotion in Medieval Europe. Exhibition Catalogue, Cleveland-Baltimore-London 2010.
  13. A. Vauchez, La sainteté en Occident aux derniers siècles du Moyen Age d’aprés les procés de canonisation et les documents hagiographiques, Rome 1981.
  14. A. Wagner (a cura di), Les saints et l’histoire. Sources hagiographiques du haut Moyen Âge, Rosny-sous-Bois, Bréal, 2004.
  15. A. Walsham (ed.), Relics and Remains, Oxford 2010 ( = «Past and Present Supplement», 5).
  16. “Rights” – from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (online):