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   Course Title    The History of Natural Sciences and Alchemy in the Middle Ages
Lecturer    Olga Vavilkina
Institution    Nizhny Novgorod State University
Country    Russia



Religious history of our country, in other words, the history of the Orthodox Church, its traditions and role in social life, attracts more and more attention of Russian scholars. However, it may be said that the recent increasing interest in this issue has not changed the general picture: it is still placed on the margin of the academy. Besides, it is of great importance to draw comparison with the similar studies in Western tradition since, first of all, the theme is more developed in the West. Secondly, it is especially interesting to study some peculiarities and origins of Western tradition and then try to apply it to the Russian one. The fact that religious history in Russia and the West originated in the different periods of times as well as followed diverse development ways should be given special attention. On the whole, I believe that study of the given aspect will be very useful for students of philology since they learn Russian and Slavic culture through literature and language.


Course description


The main goal of the course is to give both general and specific information on a broad problem: the character (origin and main peculiarities) and functions of the saints and their cult in the Middle Ages as a part of the religious history. Since the underlined subject is an important one that has received special attention in scholarship, by being analyzed from various aspects, the offered course does not aspire to present the full picture but to give students an overview of the existed tradition. Although this course covers the Western and Slavic world, emphasis will be placed on eastern saints, in particular, on Russian and Bulgarian ones. During the course, various Slavonic primary source documents pertaining to saints and their cult should be analyzed. On the basis of students’ knowledge as philologists, the examination of literary works (numerous vitae, narratives, and testaments) will be considered as a way to present the general picture. Thus, the course intends to develop the understanding of the medieval consciousness and of its national/Slavonic peculiarities through the examination of broad cultural-religious context and the particular investigation of Old Slavic texts.

The course will be designed as a seminar: discussion of assigned readings and analysis of a literary work will follow short introduction to the topic. Also, students will prepare brief presentations on each topic.

The main topics include:


1. General introduction: saints and their role in medieval consciousness. The cult of saints as a part and parcel of the succeeding millenium of Christian history. Its place in the broad religious tradition.

Typology of medieval sainthood as a possible distinguishing of many types of saints who, in a given country or period, enjoyed high esteem.

Holy bodies and their attributes in the frameworks of the cult. Miracles of the saints as a constitution of one of the principal ways in which this close relationship between heaven and earth obtains its concrete form.

2. Hagiography as a literary genre. The hagiographical tradition as a necessary attribute to the saint’s veneration in Christian culture. The significant place of the hagiographical literature in the spiritual and intellectual life of medieval people /"Our novel, history, legends, tales, etc. – the whole of our narrative production – may be considered to have one of its main sources in the vitae." Regis Boyer/.

The typology of medieval hagiography. A characteristic model of a vita. The important features of time, space, and hero in the hagiographies in general.

3. Saints in the Orthodox Church. The classification of the saints by Orthodox theologians in six categories (the Apostles, the Prophets, the Martyrs, the Fathers and Hierarchies of the Church, the Monastics, the Just). The concept of theosis (deification). The veneration of the saints in the Orthodox Church. The special understanding of saints' canonization: the Orthodox Church does not follow any official procedure for the “recognition” of saints, the history of such a feature.

4. Russian saints as a part of national culture. Idea of sainthood in Old Russia. Saints as the most significant personified embodiment of sainthood after the Christianization. Different kinds of saints in Russian religious history and their role in society.

/As the most essential definition of the role of saints in the spiritual life of Russia, the words by G. Fedorov are applied: “In Russian saints we venerate not only the heaven patrons of holy and sinful Russia but in them we look for our own way. We do believe that every nation has its personal religious vocation, and, without any doubts, most fully it is realized by its religious geniuses... In course of centuries, their ideal nourished the people’s life.”/

5. The personality of saint as it’s expressed in his “basic” text – his vita or his own works. Russian hagiography, which consists of hundreds of vitae and even more their redaction, as literature about the best men, their exploit of life, their sainthood. As an avenue into this varied and multi-faceted genre, the focus on the analysis of the concrete hagiographical texts by applying literary, textological, and linguistic methods will be suggested /Life of Our Blessed Father Theodosius, Life of  Alexander Nevsky, Life of St. Sergius, Monthly Reading/.

6. St. John of Rila as the most venerated Bulgarian saint. The development of his cult. An extended hagiographical tradition and narratives about St. John from different centuries. The Testament of John of Rila as the only literary work possibly written by St. John, the problem of its authenticity.

7. Basic information on the features of the cult of the saints in Western Christianity. The origin of the cult of saints in late antiquity. The church and the cult of the saints in the medieval West. The sings and signification of sainthood: the manifestations and effects of sainthood in the popular mind.

8. An attempt to compare Eastern and Western traditions. The peculiarities of western and Slavic perception of the saints. The role of canonization: the church and the control of sainthood in the Middle Ages in West. The comparative analysis of the catholic vitae and Orthodox hagiographical works.


Selected bibliography


General Information


Gurevic, Aron. Medieval Popular Culture: Problems of Belief and Perception. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.


Heffernan, Thomas J. Sacred Biography: Saints and their Biographers in the Middle Ages. New York - Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.


Hagiography and Medieval Literature: A Symposium. Edited by Hans Bekker-Nielsen. Odense [Denmark]: Odense University Press, 1981.


Delehaye, Hippolyte. The Legends of the Saints. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1998.



Slavic Saints and Hagiography


Adrianova-Peretc, V. P. “Zadaci izucenija “agiograficeskogo stilja” Drevnej Rusi” (Aims of the examination of the “hagiographical style” in Old Rus’). In TODRL, vol. 20. Moscow-Leningrad, 1964.


Angelov, B. S. "Povestvovatelni scinenija za Ivan Rilski v staroblgarska liretatura" (The narratives about St. John of Rila in the Old Bulgarian literature). In Staroblgarsko knižnovo nasledstvo. Sofia: Nauka i izkustvo, 1983.


Birnbaum, Henrik. On Medieval and Renaissance Slavic Writing: Selected Essays. The Hague and Paris: Mouton, 1974.


Dmitriev, Lev Aleksandrovic. Žitijnye povesti russkogo Severa kak pamjatniki literatury XIII-XVI [trinadcatogo-semnadcatogo] vekov. Evoljucija žanra legendarnobiograficeskix  skazanij (Hagiographical narratives of Russian North as literary works from the thirteenth-sixteenth centuries: Genre evolution of legends and biographical narration). Leningrad: Nauka, 1973.


Živov, V. M. Svjatost’. Kratkij slovar’ agiographicheskix terminov (Sainthood: Brief dictionary of the hagiographical terms). Moscow: Gnozis, 1994.


Hebert, Maurice LaBauve. Hesychasm, word-weaving, and Slavic hagiography: the literary school of Patriarch Euthymius. Munchen: Sagner, 1992.


Ivanov, Jordan.  “Žitija na sv. Ivana Rilski: S uvodni beležki” (The Lives of St. John of Rila: With introductory notes), Godinik na Sofijskija Universitet, istoriesko-filosofski fakultet 32, 13 (1936).


Ivanova, Klimentina. "Naj-staroto žitije na sv. Ivan Rilski i njakoi negovi literaturni paraleli" (The earliest vita of St. John of Rila and some of its literary parallels). In Medievistika i kulturna antropologija, ed. Anisava Miltenova, 37-48. Sofia: Mnemozina, 1998.


________, Stara Blgarska literatura (The Old Bulgarian literature), vol. 4.  Sofia:

Blgarski pisatel, 1986.


Klibanov, A. I. “Svjatost’” (Sainthood). In Duxovnaja kul’tura srednevekovoj Rusi. Moscow: Aspect Press, 1996.


Kljucevskij, V. O. Drevnerusskije žitija svjatyx kak istoriceskij istocnik (Old Russian saints’ lives as a historical source). Moscow: Nauka, 1988.


Toporov, V. N. Svjatost’ i svyatyje v russkoj duxovnoj kul’ture (Sainthood and saints in Russian spiritual culture), vol. 1, 2. Moscow: Gnozis, 1995.


Fedorov, G. Sviatyje Drevnej Rusi (Saints of Old Rus’). Moscow, 1990.



Saints and their Cult in Western Christianity


Aigrain, René. L'Hagiographie: ses sources, ses méthodes, son histoire. Mayenne: Bloud & Gay, 1953.


Boyer, Regis. “An Attempt to Define the Typology of Medieval Hagiography,” in Hagiography and Medieval Literature: A Symposium, 27-36. Odense: Odense University Press, 1981.


Brown, Peter. The Cult of the Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1981.


Delehaye, Hippolyte. Cinq leçons sur la méthode hagiographique. Bruxelles: Société des Bollandistes, 1934.


Vauchez, André. Sainthood in the Later Middle Ages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.


________. The Laity in the Middle Ages: Religious Beliefs and Devotional Practices. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1993.


Readings suggested by the CEU Medieval department


Gail Lenhoff: The martyred princes Boris and Gleb: a socio- cultural study of the cult and text, Columbus: Slavica, 1989

Andrzej  Poppe: The rise of Christian Russia, London, 1982

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