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Realism in Hagiography

Saints lives, martyrdoms, and miracle stories comprise a large and challenging body of primary source material for historians of the First Millennium and Middle Ages. Elements of these texts resemble historiography, but these are blended with subjective experience, mystical truth, and theology. Modern scholars interested in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages -- and particularly scholars who do not come from cultural backgrounds where the veneration of saints is part of their personal lived experience -- are faced with difficult questions. Can one confidently differentiate "fact" from "fiction" among the mundane and miraculous details in hagiography? Is it possible to read and interpret these texts as coherent works according to the shared understanding of their pious ancient or medieval writers and readers? The workshop will bring together a group of pre-circulated papers which focus on the setting of hagiography (broadly defined), viewing its diverse literary components as part of a realistic structure and narrative.  By focusing on the thread of realism within hagiographical texts, the papers given in this workshop will provide a collection of perspectives about how to read and interpret such narratives. These contributions will form a collection of conceptual tools which will be helpful for students and historians alike in analyzing hagiography-like sources.

With contributions from

Stephanos Efthymiadis (Keynote)

Niels De Ridder – Giulia Gollo – Sven Günther – Christian Høgel – Mihail Mitrea – Leif Inge Ree Petersen – Daria Resh – Julie Van Pelt – Marijana Vukovic – Julia Weitbrecht – Douglas Whalin

Place & Time: International House, Kringsweg 6, 50931 Köln & virtual | 12./13.01.2023



Session 1

09.15 Sven Günther  – Framing taxes in Theodoret of Cyrrhus’ Religious History

10.00 Douglas Whalin  – Realistic miraculous landscapes from Late Antique Syria

Session 2

11.15 Leif Inge Ree Petersen  – Warfare and society in hagiography

12.00 Julie Van Pelt  – Magic and fiction in Greek hagiography: real and unreal wonders

Session 3

14.30 Christian Høgel  – The saint as a young person: pre-conversion portraits in Greek/Byzantine hagiography

15.15 Niels De Ridder  – Stereotypes or individuals? Jewish characters in middle Byzantine hagiography

16.00 Julia Weitbrecht  – Paradisiacal evidence: materiality and temporality in the legend of the True Cross

Keynote Lecture

17.00 Stephanos Efthymiadis – Realism in middle and late Byzantine hagiography


Session 4

09.15 Daria Resh  – What is in the bath? Space and ritual in the Byzantine legends of St Barbara 

10.00 Giulia Gollo  – Writers as painters, texts as (colourful) icons: the life of St Blasios of Amorion (BHG 278)

Session 5

11.15 Mihail Mitrea  – 'Glorified from above': the miraculous as legitimizing device in late Byzantine hagiography

12.00 Marijana Vukovic  – The Principle of minimal departure and the 'realistic' in hagiography: weather in Byzantine and Old Slavonic saints’ stories