medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture
Today (17. August) is the feast day of:
1) Eusebius, pope (d. ca. 309). E. succeeded pope St. Marcellus I, whose period in office is imperfectly known. According to his epitaph by pope St. Damasus I (_Epigrammata Damasiana_, ed. Ferrua, no. 18), our chief source of information for him, E. was willing to readmit penitent Christians who had lapsed during the Great Persecution. An opponent, Heraclius, was not willing to do this. When factional strife, some of it violent, broke out between adherents of the two camps, the de facto emperor Maxentius had both leaders exiled. E. died in Sicily and was brought back and buried in Rome's cemetery of Callistus. Absent from the _Depositio martyrum_ of the Chronographer of 354, in the slightly later view taken by Damasus he clearly was a martyr.
The Chronographer of 354's list of the bishops of Rome enters E. under today. The same source's _Depositio episcoporum_ enters him under 26. September as do also the (pseudo-)Hieronymian Martyrology, the Carolingian-period historical martyrologies, and the RM prior to 2001. The _Liber Pontificalis_ adds a few details, of which one (the finding of the True Cross during his pontificate) is inaccurate and others (that he was of Greek extraction and the son of a physician) are unverifiable.
2) Jeroen (d. 857, supposedly). J. (his name is a dissylable; in Latin he's Jeron or Hieron, both interpreted as a _nomen omen_ from Greek _hieros_, 'holy') is a very poorly documented saint of The Netherlands with later medieval cult centres at the abbey of Egmond in what is now Nord-Holland and at Noordwijk in what is now Zuid-Holland. In the forms that we now have them, none of his Vitae (BHL 3862, etc.) appears to be older than the fourteenth century. These present him as an English or Scottish missionary priest who makes converts in Frisia and in Holland but who is soon killed by raiding Northmen. In at the least the account by the Carmelite chronicler of Egmond Johannes a Leydis (Jan van Leiden; d. 1504) J. is slain for his faith: given an opportunity to save himself by sacrificing to pagan gods, he refuses to do so and is decapitated.
J. is said to have been slain at Noordwijk. Though this is usually taken to mean the place of that name in Zuid-Holland, where J.'s cult is attested from the early fourteenth century onward, the RM in giving the place of J.'s death as in Frisia suggests rather the even smaller Noordwijk in Marum (Groningen). J.'s wonder-working body is said to have been discovered miraculously long after his death and to have been translated to the abbey of Egmond (which had J.'s putative body until 1573); his head is said to have been discovered miraculously even later still and to have been placed in the church at Noordwijk, where afterwards the saint's power continued to be felt.
An English-language page on J.'s originally fifteenth-century church at Noordwijk (Zuid-Holland) with many views of the exterior:
A Dutch-language page on the same church with many views of the interior:
3) Elias of Enna (d. 903 or 904). This less well known saint of the Regno was born at today's Enna (EN) in Sicily shortly after the Muslim conquest of the island had begun. His baptismal name was Joseph and he was Greek-speaking. According to his tenth-century Bios (BHG 580), when J. was twelve he was captured by Muslims who were besieging Enna and was transported to Africa, where he was sold as a slave. By divine providence, he was bought by a local Christian. Not long afterwards he was returned to Sicily and to his parents by an East Roman raiding party that had come from Syracuse. A few years later Muslims captured him again, sold him again into slavery in Africa, and again he was bought by a Christian.
This time, though, J. was sold on to another Christian, very rich, who brought him up with respect and affection. But the rich man's wife lusted after J. and when he refused her she accused him to her husband of attempting to seduce her (in the text, the parallel with Potiphar's wife is explicit). J. then left this unhappy household, began to preach the Gospel, was imprisoned, escaped, and undertook a pilgrimage to Palestine and Egypt. In Jerusalem he entered religion, taking the name of Elias. After further travels in the East, E. returned to Sicily where he visited his mother, who now lived in Muslim-ruled Palermo.
Moving on to Taormina (the last major town in Sicily still in East Roman hands), E. met the monk Daniel who became his faithful companion and later the chief informant of the writer of this Bios. Foreseeing the town's Muslim capture, E. warned both the citizens and the governor but was not taken seriously. So he and Daniel left for Calabria, where E. founded a monastic settlement near today's Gioia Tauro (RC). Muslim raids caused him to move on again and he spent some years in various parts of southern Italy and in Greece, preaching the Gospel and operating miracles. He founded another monastery near today's Palmi (RC) and was living there when the emperor (who will have been Leo VI) invited him to Constantinople. The aged E. died en route at Thessalonica. David brought E.'s body back to the monastery, interring it there on the height now known as Monte Sant'Elia. Thus far the Bios.
Both of E.'s monastic foundations were subsequently named for him; both became important places in the history of Greek monasticism in southern Italy. Neither remains today. But at Monte Sant'Elia one can see the very spot where, it is said, the devil appeared to E. and tried to tempt him with a bag of money. E. took the bag and flung the coins against the mountain, where they came to rest as black rocks. Students of "body print" relics (a recurring topic on this list) should not fail to note the devil's hoofprints in the final view on this page:
E.'s Bios is a monument of Italo-Greek literature. Though not as impressive as that of Nilus of Rossano a century later, it too presents a varied and engaging portrait of a holy man operating in a secular and often hostile world. One of its less effective moments that nonetheless is historically interesting is the brief sermon comparing Christianity with Islam that is put into E.'s mouth in paragraphs 23-24. The now standard edition of the Bios is that of Giovanni Rossi Taibbi, _Vita di Sant'Elia il Giovane. Testo inedito con traduzione italiana_ (Palermo: Istituto siciliano di studi bizantini e neoellenici, 1962).
4) Nicholas Politi (d. 1167). N. is a poorly documented Italo-Greek saint of the the Nebrodi range in northern Sicily and of the upper valley of the Simeto just to its south. According to his sixteenth-century Vita (BHL 6629), he fled his well-to-do home in today's Adrano (CT) to avoid an arranged marriage and, acting with divine guidance, settled down as an hermit in a hidden cave on Mount Etna. After three years of prayer and fasting N. began to fear discovery by his parents and so moved on, again with divine guidance to the vicinity of today's Alcara Li Fusi (ME). There he remained as a recluse for over thirty years, interacting chiefly with a few religious in the area.
When N. died his body was taken to the Basilian monastery of Santa Maria del Rogato at Alcara, where he was venerated as a saint. In 1503 his intervention was credited with rescuing the town from a drought. A campaign for papal recognition ensued and in 1507 Julius II confirmed N.'s cult at the level of Saint but permitted it only in the church in which N. reposed. At the same time N.'s feast was fixed for today, his traditional _dies natalis_.
N. is now the patron saint both of Adrano and of Alcara Li Fusi, where since the early sixteenth century his relics have been kept in the principal church of Maria Santissima Assunta and where a church at his traditional place of death (now the eremo di San Nicoḷ Politi) is first recorded from the same century.
Here's a view of the eremo di San Nicoḷ Politi at Alcara Li Fusi, whither N.'s relics are brought in procession annually on the occasion of his feast:
Outside of Adrano one can visit a cave on the slopes of Monte Turchio (the nearest volcanic cone on the Etna massif) called the grotta del Santo and pray there at a little altar dedicated to N.
5) Donatus of Ripacandida (d. 1198, supposedly). This less well known and rather problematic saint of the Regno has a cult that while attested only from the sixteenth century onward appears to be medieval in origin. His earliest recorded image is said to date from 1501 and to have been preserved at the monastery of Sant'Onofrio at Petina (SA) in what is now southern Campania. His earliest Vita is that by Montevergine's prior, Felice Renda, published in 1581 along with the same author's not entirely trustworthy Vitae of Sts. William of Vercelli and Amatus of Nusco.
According to that account, D. was a youth of today's Ripacandida (PZ) in Basilicata who entered the community of Montevergine in the late twelfth century, was put to work tending animals and vineyards at its monastery of Massadiruta, came to be known by the locals as a person of great virtue, and who after a few years died at the age of nineteen. Another few years later (said to be in 1202), citizens of Ripacandida went to the monastery to retrieve D.'s body but shortly after leaving that place with it were forced by the people of today's Auletta (SA) to yield one of his arms to them. Thus far Renda.
Renda's story, which has resemblances to the Vita of St. Conus of Diano (3. June), may derive both the saint's name and his youth from an earlier south Italian cult of a St. Donatus who in recent times has been identified with D. of Arezzo (7. August) but who in contradistinction to that D.'s ordinary construction is instead thought of as very youthful (hence the boy-bishop or teenaged bishop of modern representations of D. of Arezzo at e.g. Ripacandida and Montesano [LE] on the Salentine peninsula in Apulia). The cult of that Donatus at Ripacandida, whose church is dedicated to him, is at least as old as 1152. If today's D. did exist historically, he will have been named for his town's patron saint.
Curiously, our D.'s cult also exists at Civita di Bagnoregio (VT) in northern Lazio, though he may not have been the original titular of the once "romanesque" chiesa di San Donato in this recently revived tourist destination situated in D. of Arezzo's "home" territory. Here's a view of that church (partly rebuilt very early in the sixteenth century):
D. is Auletta's patron saint. His arm reliquary there is housed in that town's much rebuilt chiesa di San Nicola de Mira. In the absence of a view of that treasure, herewith a view of Auletta's recent (1963) cappella di San Donato, erected in gratitude for the saint's having saved the local populace from the bombings of World War II (it's close to a railway tunnel in which fleeing citizens set up a temporary shrine to D.).
Since at least the eighteenth century Auletta has had an arm relic said to be of D. (it also has arm relics of two other saints popular in the region, Vitus and Blaise/Biaggio). It seems likely that by the end of the fifteenth century there was a cult of a youthful St. D. both there and at the nearby monastery of Sant'Onofrio (now of Santi Onofrio e Donato) at Petina, where an estate church of that dedication had been given to Montevergine in 1192 and where by 1208 the latter abbey was operating a grange and priory. The Ripacandida connection appears to have been Renda's invention.
In the eighteenth century Montevergine persuaded the Congregation of Rites to confirm D.'s cult _ab immemorabili_. Permitted, with a Mass and Office, first for the Benedictine community of Montevergine (of course including the monastery at Petina), it was soon extended to Auletta and later to Ripacandida and to the dioceses of Rapolla and of Melfi. At Ripacandida our D. (who has yet to grace the pages of the RM) is called San Donatello to distinguish him from its patron, D. of Arezzo.
6) Clare of Montefalco (d. 1308). C. (also C. of the Cross), a contemplative, visionary, and reported ecstatic, has an immediately posthumous Vita (by Berengario di Donadio, a.k.a. B. de Sant'Africano; BHL 1818, 1818b) commissioned by the vicar of the bishop of Spoleto. From this we learn that even as a child in her home town, today's Montefalco (PG) in Umbria, she was very devout and lived very ascetically. An older sister, Giovanna, was a secular Franciscan tertiary and at the age of six C. was permitted to join her community. In 1290, when C. will have been in her early twenties, these women were permitted by the bishop of Spoleto to enter religion as Augustinian sisters; in the following year Giovanna died and C. was elected to succeed her as abbess. She had a special devotion to Christ's cross, which she is said to have seen implanted in her heart by Christ in a vision.
After C.'s death her body was opened and her heart was removed; signs of Christ's passion were reported to have been found on it. A canonization process was begun in 1316. In 1624 C.'s cult was confirmed, with a Mass and Office, for the Augustinians and for the diocese of Spoleto. C. entered the RM in 1673; in 1881 she was canonized for the Roman church as a whole. C.'s reputedly incorrupt remains repose in the seventeenth-century church dedicated to her at Montefalco, part of whose predecessor of 1430 survives as its cappella della Santa Croce. A black-and-white reproduction of one of that chapel's earlier fifteenth-century frescoes is here (for those with access to Google Books):
Two views in color of the central fresco of the crucified Jesus:
Some view's of C. relics are here (but, as often, the church is misidentified; its true name is Santa Chiara della Croce):
A closer view of the saint's heart:
And here's C. herself:
The adjacent convento di Santa Chiara houses a fresco portrait of C. said to have been painted by Benozzo Gozzoli in 1452 and reproduced differently on these pages:
(last year's post lightly revised and with the addition of Jeroen)
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