medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture
Today (5. February) is the feast day of:
1) Agatha, virgin martyr (d. 250 or 251, supposedly). A. is said legendarily to have perished at the age of fifteen in the Decian persecution. She has a rich hagiographic dossier that appears to begin early in the sixth century. (_Pace_ Paul Burns in the February volume  of _Butler's Lives of the Saints. New Full Edition_, the hymn in A.'s honor once ascribed to the fourth-century pope St. Damasus I is pretty clearly a later production. In 1895 Ihm put it in the _Pseudodamasiana_ and in 1922 A. S. Walpole could say "No one now attributes it to [D.].") A.'s cult is attested in Rome from the later fifth century onward. Her basilica at Ravenna (Sant'Agata Maggiore) dates from the end of that century. Herewith a few views, etc., of that church:
In the sixth-century apse mosaics (north spandrel) of the Basilica Eufrasiana at Poreč (Parenzo) A. comes between Agnes and the Agnus Dei:
In the procession of the virgin martyrs (ca. 561; heavily restored) at Ravenna's basilica di Sant'Apollinare Nuovo A. precedes Agnes:
A. is particularly associated with the Sicilian city of Catania, both as the site of her imprisonment, torture, and death and as the place she has protected from repeated eruptions of nearby Mt. Etna. During his evanescent early eleventh-century reconquest of eastern Sicily the East Roman general George Maniakes had what were said to be her remains removed from there to Constantinople. In 1126, with Sicily again under Christian rule, a pair of Latins -- one French, the other Calabrian -- brought these, or what they had been assured were these, back to Catania (less a breast that got left at Gallipoli in Apulia), thereby engendering two minor monuments of medieval Sicily's Latin literature: abbot-bishop Maurice's engaging account of this event and the Lauds hymn for the feast of A.'s translation from Constantinople beginning _Exultet urbs cathanie_.
A noteworthy later medieval work of art associated with A. is her reliquary bust at Catania. Commissioned in 1373 by a bishop of Catania who hailed from Limoges and executed by the Sienese master Giovanni di Bartolo, it was completed in 1376. The base is early modern and most of the jewelry with which the bust is bedecked is also post-medieval adornment. An illustrated, English-language account is here:
Further views of this object and views of A.'s fifteenth-century silver shrine and of various body-part reliquaries (the one that resembles a monstrance is a breast reliquary) are here:
The building in which these are housed, Catania's cathedral of St. Agatha, is chiefly an eighteenth-century replacement for a twelfth-century structure destroyed by the earthquake of 1693. Surviving from that predecessor are parts of the transept and the three apses. A partial view (exterior) is here:
And a view and Italian-language discussion of the cathedral's tribune are here:
Catania's relics of A. also include her veil, a strip of flame-colored cloth that in various forms (it has suffered losses and has been repaired several times) has been protecting the city since the year following her martyrdom, when -- so says the legend -- Christians removed it from A.'s grave and displayed it in a successful defence against lava flows issuing from Etna. A view of this relic being carried in procession is here:
Florence has a largish piece, presented in 1439:
As noted above, one of A.'s breasts (in the legend, initially one and in later versions both was/were cut off as part of her torture) was left in today's Gallipoli (LE) in Apulia. For the miracle that it operated there, causing it to be given to that city, see abbot-bishop Maurice's account of A.'s translation to Catania from Constantinople (BHL 139). Since some time in the 1380s, when it was translated from Gallipoli at the behest of the the prince of Taranto, Raimondello del Balzo Orsini, this relic has been housed in the monastery church of St. Catherine of Alexandria at Galatina (LE). There are several views of the relic on this page (the ones at the bottom expand):
Several very good views of Galatina's basilica di Santa Caterina d'Alessandria are here:
Medieval depictions of A.'s Passio represent variously the implements used to remove her breasts. Pincers are a clear favorite, as in this illumination in a mid-thirteenth-century (1250-1260) gradual for the Use of the abbey of Notre-Dame at Fontevrault (Limoges, Bibliothèque municipale, ms. 2, fol. 64v):
Whereas in this later thirteenth-century psalter for the Use of Reims (Carpentras, Bibliothèque municipale, ms. 77 (\1), fol. 178v) it appears as though they are being severed by tightly wound cords:
This early fourteenth-century panel painting in the musée de Tessé at Le Mans, said by the French Ministère de la culture in its database Joconde to be attributed to Duccio di Buoninsegna (in his little known Charcoal period?) shows A. holding pincer in one hand and a platter with two breasts in the other:
Similarly, Piero della Francesca's Polyptych of Sant'Antonio (1467/68; now in the Galleria Nazionale dell'Umbria at Perugia) shows A. in a roundel at lower right holding a platter that bears her severed breasts:
In today's Catania one may even consume a surrogate breast or two in the form of a _cassata_:
If you don't know what a _cassata_ is, Wikipedia can help:
Moving back a bit in time, herewith some views and Italian-language discussions of the essentially late thirteenth-century chiesa di Sant'Agata at Quartu Sant'Elena (CA), Sardinia's third largest city (but you knew that!). A replacement, on the same site, of a twelfth-century predecessor, its medieval portions lurk behind a seventeenth-century facade and several eighteenth-century chapels. Herewith two not very lavishly illustrated, Italian-language accounts of this church:
In addition to some more bits of the church (restored between 1990 and 1996), that last page shows the fifteenth-century cross that sits atop a Roman-period capital on a pillar in the adjacent Piazza Azuni.
OK, so maybe that wasn't so pretty (does every medieval survival have to be visually appealing?). Perhaps the eleventh-century cappella di Sant'Agata (ca. 1063) formerly attached to Pisa's chiesa di San Paolo a Ripa d'Arno is a better way to end this notice:
2) Avitus of Vienne (d. ca. 518). We know about A. (formally, Alcimus Ecdicius Avitus) chiefly from his own writings and from those of contemporaries; he also has a relatively late Vita (BHL 885) whose earliest witness is of the eleventh century. A highly educated Gallo-Roman in the Burgundian kingdom, S. was related to St. Sidonius Apollinaris in the previous generation and, in all likelihood, to the emperor Avitus in the generation before that. By about 494 he had succeeded his father St. Hesychius as bishop of Vienne (all the known occupants of this archiepiscopal see down to the middle of the eighth century are saints). St. Ennodius, who was grateful for A.'s assistance in the mid-490s in securing the return of captives taken during a Burgundian raid into northern Italy, describes him glowingly in his Vita of St. Epihanius of Pavia.
A. seems to have gotten on well with his monarch, the Arian but Catholic-tolerant Gundobad, and with the latter's son and successor, St. Sigismund, in whose conversion to Catholic Christianity he will certainly have had a role (though how important a one is debatable). His surviving writings include a number of theological treatises, a letter collection (including a famous missive to Clovis on the latter's baptism), a smallish number of sermons, and two poems, the _De consolatoria castitatis laude_ and the five-book Old Testament epic _De spiritalis historiae gestis_.
3) Adelaide of Vilich (d. ca. 1015). According to her Vita by her former student Bertha of Vilich (BHL 67), A. (in German, Adelheid) was the youngest daughter of pious comital parents in the lower Rheinland who oblated her at an early age at the convent of St. Ursula that they had founded in Köln. When she was near the age of twenty they founded a house of canonesses at Vilich in what is now the Beuel portion of Bonn on the east bank of the Rhine and, redeeming A. from her conventual obligation by means of a grant of land, put her in charge of their new foundation. After her mother's death A. introduced the Benedictine rule at Vilich, spent a not altogether successful year as a Benedictine abbess, and then put the house under the control of the Benedictine convent in Köln now best known by the name of its church, Santa Maria im Kapitol. The abbess there was an older sister of A.'s; when she died A. succeeded her.
A. insisted that the sisters in her charge learn Latin in order to understand the Divine Service. She was also noted for kindnesses to the poor and for extraordinary assistance to them during a famine. After her death she was buried at Vilich, where miracles were reported and a cult arose. A.'s tomb became an object of pilgrimage and water from a spring that came to be associated with her is still thought by some to be helpful to those suffering from diseases of the eye. After a campaign begun in earnest in the 1950s and including a letter of support from a former mayor of Bonn who was now chancellor of Germany (Konrad Adenhauer, of course) her cult was confirmed by Paul VI in 1966 at the level of Saint.
The convent at Vilich was suppressed early in the nineteenth century. Its church, which has been rebuilt several times, survives as the Stiftskirche Sankt Peter in Bonn-Beuel. The choir dates from 1280 and parts of the transept are also medieval. Herewith a few views:
This drawing gives perhaps a better view of the choir:
Here's a view of A.'s empty tomb within (opinions differ on the date and circumstances of the disappearance of most of her relics):
As of last year A. is now one of Bonn's patron saints:
Herewith a few illustrated, German-language sites on Köln's originally eleventh-century Santa Maria im Kapitol (i.e., on the elevation where the capitolium of the Roman city had stood), badly damaged in World War II and since restored to service:
(at that page, use menu at left to reach subordinate pages)
(the church's own site; in the menu at left, click on 'Kirche': the page that comes up has counterparts in English and in French)
For what it's worth, a rather muddy video:
(Agatha revised from last year's post)
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