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MEDIEVAL-RELIGION  October 2016

MEDIEVAL-RELIGION October 2016

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Subject:

FEAST - A Saint for the Day (October 10): St. Cerbonius

From:

John Dillon <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

medieval-religion - Scholarly discussions of medieval religious culture <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 10 Oct 2016 05:26:15 +0000

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medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture

The earliest information we have about Cerbonius (d. ca. 575) is furnished by St. Gregory the Great (_Dialogi_, 3. 11).  In his telling Cerbonius was a bishop of Populonia -- now part of Piombino (LI) in Tuscany -- who during Justinian's war of reconquest in Italy harbored East Roman troops in an area controlled by the Gothic king Totila.  The latter worthy condemned Cerbonius to execution by exposure to wild beasts.  When that failed in the way in which it often does in these stories -- in this case, a huge ravenous bear humbled itself before the man of God and no other animal dared approach -- Totila exiled the saint to the nearby island of Elba.  Thus disabled (as in the palindrome "Able was I ere I saw Elba"), Cerbonius died on Elba; when his body was being returned to Populonia for burial a squall raged on both sides of the boat but not on it.  Thus far Gregory.  Few will fail to observe the parallel with the Israelites' crossing of the Red Sea as they returned from exile to the Promised Land.

Employing a familiar form of a trope common in Italian hagiography ("the saint who has come to us from afar"), the legendary eleventh-century Vitae of St. Regulus venerated at Lucca (BHL 7102) and of Cerbonius himself (BHL 1728, 1729, 1729a) make the saint an exile from the Vandal kingdom in Africa.  BHL 1729 (the version with the most surviving witnesses and the one printed in the _Acta Sanctorum_) adds to Gregory's account a lengthy narrative of how Cerbonius, divinely favored to hear the angelic chorus at very first light, began to say Sunday mass at that very early hour.  This worked for his cathedral clergy but not for _parochiani_ who had to come from afar; these complained to pope Vigilius (537-555) who summoned Cerbonius to Rome to give an account of himself.  Cerbonius' journey was made especially notable by his miraculous milking of temporarily tame wild does (their presence in the legend almost certainly stems from the similarity between Latin _cerva_ ["doe"] and the first part of Cerbonius' name as sounded in late antiquity or the very early Middle Ages when "b" and "v" were often interchangeable).  He arrived before the pontiff accompanied by a flock of geese that in the vicinity of the Vatican he had forbidden in God's name to fly until both he and they with him had reached the pope himself.  In an initial interview Cerbonius persuaded Vigilius to arise with him at daybreak on Sunday morning.  Vigilius did so, heard the angelic choir, and confirmed Cerbonius in his very early matutinal practice.  Thus far this Vita.

Populonia's medieval successor as the bishop's seat was Massa Marittima, a thriving town in the central Middle Ages and a backwater for centuries thereafter.  This turn of Fortune's wheel coupled with the fact that the site in its decline was sufficiently distant from population centers to discourage large-scale looting preserved the cathedral of San Cerbone and some of its more striking appointments intact into the modern period, when the town began to grow again.  Its monumental tomb for the saint, the earlier fourteenth-century Arca di San Cerbone / di San Cerbonio (1324) by Goro di Gregorio, is a sculptural highlight.  Herewith an illustrated, English-language account of what is now the basilica cattedrale di San Cerbone vescovo in Massa Marittima (GR) in Tuscany:
http://www.massamarittima.info/arte/duomouk.htm
There is also an English-language Wikipedia account (to be used with some caution: its date for the Arca di San Cerbone is wrong and the birds referred to in "a 15th-century fresco of Saint Cerbonius Accompanied by Ducks" are geese):
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Massa_Marittima_Cathedral
The Italia nell'Arte Medievale page on this church:
http://tinyurl.com/2vzdd4w
Illustrated, Italian-language accounts:
http://www.culturacattolica.it/?id=7&id_n=33154
https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cattedrale_di_San_Cerbone


Some period-pertinent images of St. Cerbonius:

a) as portrayed in the early thirteenth-century reliefs on the architrave above the principal entrance to Massa Marittima's Basilica di San Cerbone:
http://www.culturacattolica.it/detail.asp?c=1&p=0&id=8477
Individual reliefs:
1) fleeing Vandal Africa by ship:
http://tinyurl.com/q7fy3qr
2) exposed to wild beasts (at upper right, Totila):
http://tinyurl.com/o22pows
3) the miracle of the does:
http://tinyurl.com/phd69r8
4) the miracle of the geese:
http://tinyurl.com/ox8sutz
detail view (C. and geese):
http://tinyurl.com/qhcbgrs
5) with the pope as they hear the angelic choir at daybreak:
http://tinyurl.com/pbxaaxh

b) as portrayed (at right) in a fourteenth-century polychromed wooden statue in the Museo di arte sacra, Massa Marittima:
http://tinyurl.com/qz32wm2
Detail view:
http://tinyurl.com/nfsks4j

c) as portrayed on an early fourteenth-century grosso of Massa Marittima (struck between 1317 and 1319):
http://tinyurl.com/nn2mkfx
http://tinyurl.com/ovzsxme

d) as portrayed in reliefs on the earlier fourteenth-century Arca di San Cerbone in Massa Marittima's Basilica di San Cerbone (1324; two views, the second from the 1950s when the Arca was located in the crypt [now it's in the choir]):
http://tinyurl.com/qc4u2o7
http://www.wga.hu/art/g/goro/cerbone.jpg
Individual reliefs:
1) receiving submission from wild beasts:
http://www.wga.hu/art/g/goro/cerbone1.jpg
2) refreshing the pope's messengers with milk from the wild does (the panel before this one shows the milking):
https://www.flickr.com/photos/77652658@N00/4530245179
http://www.thais.it/scultura/image/ALTE/SG_205.htm
3) encountering the geese; arriving with them before the pope:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/77652658@N00/4530874150
4) interview with the pope:
http://www.wga.hu/art/g/goro/cerbone2.jpg

e) as depicted (with the bear) in the mid- to later fourteenth-century Breviary of Charles V (betw. 1347 and 1380; Paris, BnF, ms. Latin 1052, fol. 527v):
http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b84525491/f1083.image.zoom

f) as depicted in the early fifteenth-century Châteauroux Breviary (ca. 1414; Châteauroux, Bibliothèque municipale, ms. 2, fol. 372v):
http://www.enluminures.culture.fr/Wave/savimage/enlumine/irht2/IRHT_054231-p.jpg

Best,
John Dillon
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