medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture
Today (5. January) is the feast day of:
1) Syncletica (d. 4th or early 5th cent.). According to her pseudo-Athanasian Bios (BHG 1694), S. was the wealthy and beautiful daughter of a prominent family of Macedonian origin living in Alexandria in Egypt. Rejecting all suitors, she chose to exercise a life of holy virginity. Upon the death of her parents she gave her inheritance to the poor, cut her hair, and -- along with her blind sister -- withdrew to a family tomb outside the city. There she attracted female adherents and gave spiritual advice. In her later years this Desert Mother suffered patiently from painful illnesses afflicting her voice and her face. S. died at the advanced age of eighty-four. A collection of sayings in the _Apophthegmata Patrum_ is ascribed to her.
2) Deogratias (d. 457). D., a Catholic priest of Carthage, was in 454 named its bishop by the Arian king Genseric, who at the time was currying favor in Rome. In the following year, after the assassination of Valentinian III, Genseric's forces sacked the Eternal City and carried many of its inhabitants back to Carthage as slaves. Victor of Vita, whose _Historia persecutionis Africae provinciae_ is our sole narrative source for D., tells us that he distinguished himself by selling off his church's gold and silver in order to ransom some of these captives and by converting two of his churches into hospitals tending to the spiritual as well as physical needs of the sick.
In the early sixth-century calendar of Carthage, D.'s laying to rest is celebrated on this day along with that of bishop Eugenius (481-505). Prior to its revision of 2001 the RM commemorated D. on 22. March.
Expandable views of a number of fifth-century bronze coins from Vandal Africa, including some from the time of Valentinian III, are here:
3) Convoyon (d. 868). We know about the Breton C. (also Conwoïon; in the Latin of the Bollandists, Conwoion ab. Rotonensis) chiefly from his portion of the late ninth-century _Gesta sanctorum Rotonensium_ and from an eleventh-century _Vita sancti Conuuoionis_ (respectively, BHL 1945 and 1946). Said to have been born of senatorial aristocracy at today's Comblessac (Ille-et-Vilaine), he was deacon at Vannes and later a monk of Glanfeuil before founding in 832 the abbey of the Holy Savior near Redon and serving as its first abbot. In about 864, after Northmen had pillaged the abbey, C. withdrew with the rest of his community to his foundation of St. Maxentius at today's Plélan-le-Grand (Ille-et-Vilaine), where he died and was laid to rest.
An expandable view of two facing pages of the ninth- to eleventh-century cartulary of Saint-Sauveur de Redon is here:
A French-language history of the abbey:
Some exterior views of the eleventh- to fourteenth-century abbey church:
A ground plan with identification of individual chapels occurs about a fifth of the way down this page:
A multi-page, illustrated, French-language touristic site on this church begins here:
Views of the abbey's originally fourteenth-century free-stranding belltower (a.k.a. la tour Richelieu):
4) Edward the Confessor (d. 1066). The third pre-Conquest king of England to be named Edward, today's E. is styled "the Confessor" both to distinguish him from his predecessors Edward "the Elder" (d. 924) and St. Edward "the Martyr" (d. 978) and to get around the awkwardness ensuing from the usual practice of beginning to number the Edwards with the king of this name who died in 1307. E.'s childless marriage to a much younger woman underlies the belief that he was piously virginal. His rebuilding of the abbey of St. Peter at Westminster, where he was laid to rest not long after its completion, was lavish.
Shortly after E.'s death some cures were attributed to him. The abbey's attempts to have E. recognized as a saint seem to have begun only in the twelfth century. In 1161 pope Alexander III, acceding to a petition supported by king Henry II and the English hierarchy, canonized him as a confessor.
Westminster Abbey had an illustrated page devoted to E. that has been preserved by the Internet Archive (this can be slow to load):
Some visuals from the Bayeux "Tapestry" (actually an embroidery):
E. enthroned (with advisers):
Scenes of E. enthroned and E.'s decease framing a representation of his exequies:
Flat E. receiving visitors in the museum at the Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux, Bayeux (Calvados), Normandy:
E.'s shrine in Westminster Abbey:
5) Gerlac (d. ca. 1164?). The Dutch hermit G. (also Gerlach) is the saint of the former Premonstratensian abbey named for him at today's Houthem-St. Gerlach section of Valkenburg aan de Geul (Limburg). He has a Vita (BHL 3449) thought to have been written by a canon of that abbey in the later 1220s but known only from an early modern edition by the abbey's then provost, Erasmus Ghoye, undertaken in 1599 at the request of the bishop of Roermond and published in 1600.
Though the absence of any strictly medieval form of the Vita makes it difficult to determine the extent to which Ghoye reshaped this text, the bulk of it (especially its catalogue of lifetime and postmortem miracles) appears to be at least very largely medieval in substance. In the Vita as we have it, G. was a sinful knight who was led to a religious conversion by the death of his wife, who undertook a pilgrimage to Rome and from there was sent by the pope to to perform penitential service at a hospice in the Holy Land, and who returning to Rome after some years was directed by Hadrian IV (1154-59) to become a hermit.
G. then settled down as an hermit on property he owned, living there in a hollow oak, going about unshod and dressed as a Premonstratensian, going often to relatively nearby Maastricht to venerate St. Servatius and to not so nearby Aachen to venerate the BVM, overcoming demons, performing miracles, and developing a reputation for sanctity. After the greedy abbot of a monastery at even more nearby Meerssen had the oak cut down because he thought that G. had hidden treasure there, G. built an hermitage out of planks cut from that tree and lived there for the remainder of his life, performing further miracles. By divine favor, the spring from which G. regularly drew water was on one occasion turned into wine. When the nearby monks declined to perform the last rites for the dying G., an old man dressed all in white and thought to have been St. Servatius appeared to render that final service.
Thus far the Vita. The property on which the abbey sat was designated as "at the oak" in 1165 when the local lord, Gozewijn II of Heinsberg-Valkenburg gave it to the monastery of the BVM at Heinsberg and was so designated again in 1201 when Gozewijn's grandson Gozewijn IV founded an _oratorium_ there. By the following year the place was known as the _locus sancti Gerlaci_. Not long afterwards it was the site of the aforementioned Premonstratensian abbey, whose presence there is recorded in the Vita. G.'s Elevatio in its church is thought to have taken place in about 1217. He appears as a pilgrim on the abbey's thirteenth-century seal (first attested from 1257):
The next page shows the abbey's counter-seal displaying a tree, presumably G.'s oak.
That illustration is from Anneke B. Mulder-Bakker, _De kluizenaar in de eik: Gerlach van Houthem en zijn verering_ (Hilversum: Verloren, 1995). For those who wish to read more but not a full book, there's Jan G. M. Notten's slightly earlier brief, scholarly, Dutch-language account of the Vita at:
TAN: G.'s church at Houthem-St. Gerlach was rebuilt in the early eighteenth century, with the saint's tomb in its center. Herewith some views:
More views here:
G.'s reliquary shrine in this church (he is to receive a new shrine this year from the bishop of Luik/Liège):
But it is also said that the Premonstratensians still have G.'s relics, kept at their abbey at Leffe (prov. de Namur) in southern Belgium. If that is true (the abbey's website is silent on the matter), it would also be ironic: this abbey is famous for its beer, a form of nourishment from which, according to the Vita, G. had vowed to abstain.
(last year's post revised)
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