medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture

Today (1. March) is the feast day of:

1)  Felix III (II), pope (d. 492).  According to the _Liber Pontificalis_ the priest F., a member of an aristocratic family of Rome, was a widower when he was elected to succeed pope St. Simplicius in 483.  One of his descendants was pope St. Gregory I (G. the Great).  F. is remembered for his uncompromising defence of Chalcedonian doctrine against the accommodationist line taken by the emperor Zeno and by the patriarch of Constantinople, Acacius, with regard to monophysites.  He excommunicated Acacius over the latter's recognition of a monophysite patriarch of Alexandria over a recently elected and then extruded orthodox Chalcedonian (who had then taken up residence in Rome).  Acacius responded by removing F. from the diptychs in Constantinople.  The Acacian schism survived all its principals. 

2)  David of St Davids (d. 589/601?).  D. (Dewi) is the patron saint of Wales.  His cult was already established by the eighth century but we have no Vita until the eleventh, when the standard account by Rhigyfarch ap Sulien (BHL 2107) was written.  D. is presented as a monastic founder, as the preeminent bishop of Wales, and as a saint of a stature at least equal to that of St. Patrick and certainly greater than that of St. Gildas.  His abbey at Vallis Rosina (also Mynyw, latinized as Menevia) came to be known as D.'s House (Tyddewi) and was the nucleus of medieval and modern St Davids (Pembrokeshire).

An exterior view of the cathedral of St Davids:
A series of views (exterior and interior) starts here:
And the cathedral's website is here:

3)  Swithbert (d. 713).  S. (Suitbertus, Suidbert) was a Northumbrian coadjutor of St. Willibrord in his missions, elected bishop by his colleagues when W. had gone on to Rome for papal approval of their campaign and consecrated on a return trip to England by St. Wilfrid of York, then in Mercia.  After serving as apostle to Bructeri, a people who in Roman times were in southern Westphalia, he founded a monastery on an island in the Rhine where he spent the remainder of his life (according to Bede, in great austerity).  S.'s immediately posthumous cult is attested by his entry, under today's date, in the Calendar of St. Willibrord.

The island upon which S. erected his monastery was called Werda.  Later it enjoyed imperial patronage and became Kaiserswerth.  No longer an island, it is now part of Düsseldorf.  Some views of its Basilika St. Suitbertus, where S.'s presumed relics are preserved:
S., as bishop, on the seal of his monastery:

4)  Leo Luke of Corleone (d. late 9th/very early 10th century?).  Today's less well known saint of the Regno is a Sicilian Greek with a Latin Vita (BHL 4842; no witnesses earlier than the sixteenth century and no surviving Bios in Greek) and a cult that seems to have begun in Calabria and to have spread to his homeland perhaps no earlier than the fifteenth century.

According to the Vita, L. (in Italian often 'Leoluca' written as one word) was born to a family that raised cattle and sheep at Corleone in Sicily about the time that the island first became troubled by "Vandal" raids, i.e. by attacks from North African Muslims.  His parents dying while he was still young, he entered religion at the famous monastery of St. Philip at Agira.  Further Muslim incursions caused him to leave Sicily for Calabria.  There he joined a monastic community in the mountains of northern Calabria, was given the name Luke, travelled with the community's abbot first to the monastically settled wilds of the Merkourion (today usually located along the headwaters of the river Lao) and then to a place called Vena, where in time he succeeded to the abbacy of a re-established community.  After a lifetime of signal piety and the performance of various miracles, he died at a great old age at Vena and was buried in the community's church of the Theotokos.

Though it has many points of contact with the Bioi/Vitae of other Italo-Greek monastic saints, this Vita rings true as that of the local saint of a particular monastic community in Calabria.  Most of the geographic referents are from northern and central Calabria and no mention is made of any of the other monastic communities that we know from the Bioi of other saints (e.g., Fantinus the Younger, Nilus of Rossano) existed in the Merkourion at about this time.  At some point L.'s cult became associated with Monteleone, the town that succeeded early medieval Vibona -- said to have been destroyed in a Muslim raid in 983 -- and that is now Vibo Valentia (VV).

When L.'s Vita came into being is unknown.  But it is probable that this occurred in the late eleventh or twelfth century, after the Norman-led conquest of this previously East Roman area and the expansion within it of Latin Christianity.  It is unlikely to be later: the Vita does not mention Monteleone by name (that designation is first attested from the year 1239) except for a sentence at the end noting a translation of L.'s remains from Vena to Monteleone and giving every appearance of being a subsequent addition.  By the mid-sixteenth century, when both Calabria and Sicily were under Spanish rule, L.'s cult had spread to Sicily.  In 1575, having liberated Corleone from a pestilence, L. was proclaimed protector and patron of that town.  Not surprisingly, he is also the patron saint of Vibo Valentia.

Immediately outside Vibo Valentia, on a hillside in the town of San Gregorio d'Ippona, is the restored church of Santa Ruba.  (There is no St. Ruba; the best guess is that 'Ruba' here is the remnant of a localization 'alla Rupa', i.e. 'at the Cliff'.)  Originally the church of a small early eleventh-to-thirteenth-century Greek-rite monastery, some of whose remains are to be seen in the surrounding park, it later became a Carmelite convent, was re-worked in the early seventeenth century, and has a baroque interior.  Much of the medieval exterior survives, including the cupola, whose construction has parallels with those of other Greek churches of Byzantine Calabria.  Some views:
Prior to restoration:

In 2006 mineralogical investigation of calcareous grottoes in the vicinity of Santa Ruba led to the discovery of what was once a cave church adjacent to the former monastery.  Inside was a tomb with human skeletal remains that after testing were announced as those of a very elderly person who lived around the year 1000.  That chronological datum notwithstanding (the L. of the Vita will have been about a century earlier), the general assumption is that the remains are L.'s and that the grotto in question was his community's first church at Vena.  For an Italian-language newspaper account with photographs, see:
Two other Italian-language accounts, the second with a rather better picture of the grotto, may be accessed by clicking on the first of the two PDF links at the bottom of this page:

John Dillon
(last year's post revised)

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