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Lay Sanctity in the Central Middle Ages, 970–1120



This article surveys a collection of lay saints who were neither martyrs nor born into a royal family to show that, despite previous assumptions, this type of sainthood was possible before developments of the twelfth century. Two main themes emerge from their cults, namely an attempt to promote pious role models for the lay aristocracy and the growth of pilgrimage as an expression of wider devotion. The cults are also situated in the context of the Gregorian reform movement, showing that they contribute to a picture of clergy and laity working symbiotically rather than in opposition.


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AS = Acta Sanctorum; BHL = Bibliotheca hagiographica latina; CCCM = Corpus christianorum continuatio mediaevalis; MGH, SS = Monumenta Germaniae historica, scriptores rerum Merovingicarum



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1 Vauchez, A., ‘Lay people's sanctity in western Europe: evolution of a pattern (twelfth and thirteenth centuries)’, in Blumenfeld-Kosinski, R. and Szell, T. (eds), Images of sainthood in medieval Europe, Ithaca, NY 1991, 2132, and ‘A twelfth-century novelty: the lay saints of urban Italy’, in his The laity in the Middle Ages: religious beliefs and devotional practices, ed. D. E. Bornstein, trans. M. J. Schneider, Notre Dame, In 1993, 51–72.

2 Astell, A. W. (ed.), Lay sanctity, medieval and modern: a search for models, Notre Dame, In 2000, 11; Bartlett, R., Why can the dead do such great things? Saints and worshippers from the martyrs to the Reformation, Princeton 2013, 384, 210–11.

3 Kuefler, M., ‘Dating and authorship of the writings about Saint Gerald of Aurillac’, Viator xliv (2013), 4997, and The making and unmaking of a saint: hagiography and memory in the cult of Gerald of Aurillac, Philadelphia, Pa 2014, which contains a shortened version of his article in ch. i. For traditional dating and authorship see Odo of Cluny (attrib.), Vita sancti Geraldi Auriliacensis, ed. French, and trans. Bultot-Verleysen, A.-M., Brussels 2009. A full discussion is in A. Cornell du Houx, ‘Journeys to holiness: lay sanctity in the central Middle Ages, c. 970–c. 1120’, unpubl. PhD diss. Lancaster 2015. I argue at pp. 22–74 that the long Life was composed in stages and should not necessarily be attributed to Ademar of Chabannes as Kuefler does.

4 Breve chronicon Auriliacensis abbatiae, ed. J. Mabillon, Paris 1723, 349; Cartulaire du Prieuré de Saint-Flour, ed. M. Boudet, Monaco 1910, no. 1, p. 1.

5 Almost everyone writing on Gerald has commented on the uniqueness of his sanctity. For full bibliographies see the works cited in n. 3.

6 Vauchez, ‘A twelfth-century novelty’, 51.

7 Idem, Sainthood in the later Middle Ages, trans. J. Birrell, Cambridge 1997, 356–8.

8 Idem, ‘A twelfth-century novelty’, and ‘Lay people's sanctity’, 27. In Vauchez's list there is also Domingo de la Calzada (d. 1109, not 1120 as Vauchez states), who is described as a discipulus of Bishop Gregory of Ostia, the papal legate in Spain, while a later addition claims that he was ordained by Gregory, making him a risky example: De s. Dominico Calciatensi, AS, Antwerp-Brussels 1643– , Maii iii. 168–80 (see §§ 4, 8, pp. 168–9, and p. 169 n. h). Gaulfardo lived in a cell attached to a church so might be considered more a hermit than a layperson: De s. Gualfardo solitario, AS, Aprilis iii. 827–32.

9 Vauchez, A., Francis of Assisi: the life and afterlife of a medieval saint, trans. Cusato, M. F., New Haven 2012, 35.

10 Idem, ‘Lay people's sanctity’, 28; Sainthood, 197–9; and ‘A twelfth-century novelty’, 60.

11 Idem, Francis of Assisi, 33–57 (quotation at p. 51), and The spirituality of the medieval West: from the eighth to the twelfth century, trans. C. Friedlander, Kalamazoo, Mi 1993, 135–43.

12 See also Webb, D., Patrons and defenders: the saints in the Italian city-states, London 1996, 6092, and Saints and cities in medieval Italy, Manchester 2007, 7–13.

13 Vauchez, ‘Twelfth-century novelty’, 52. The original text, like the translation, refers to ‘eleventh and twelfth centuries’, which appears to be an error as the article goes on to discuss the new lay saints of the twelfth century: Vauchez, ‘Une Nouveauté du xiie siècle: les saints laïcs de l'Italie communale’, in L'Europa dei secoli XI e XII fra novita e tradizione: sviluppi di una cultura, Milan 1989, 57–80 at p. 58.

14 Sulpicius Severus, Vie de Saint Martin, ed. and French trans. J. Fontaine, Paris 1967–9; Gregory the Great, Dialogues, ed. A. de Vogüé, French trans. P. Antin, Paris 1978–80; Gregory of Tours, Liber vitae patrum and Liber in gloria confessorum, ed. B. Krusch, MGH, SS, Hanover 1885, i. 661–744, 744–820. A few potentially secular laypeople are mentioned in the Liber in gloria confessorum, at §§ 41, pp. 773–4; 70, pp. 788–9; 102, p. 813.

15 Damon, J. E., ‘Sanctifying Anglo-Saxon ealdormen: lay sainthood and the rise of the crusading ideal’, in Hall, T. N. (ed.), Via crucis: essays on early medieval sources and ideas in memory of J. E. Cross, Morgantown, Va 2002, 185209 at p. 194.

16 Ibid. 207–9.

17 Noble, T. F. X., ‘Secular sanctity: forging an ethos for the Carolingian nobility’, in Wormald, P. and Nelson, J. L. (eds), Lay intellectuals in the Carolingian world, Cambridge 2007, 836, quotation at pp. 11–12.

18 Ex vita S. Liutbirgae, ed. G. H. Pertz, MGH, SS, Hanover 1841, iv. 158–64; V. L. Garver, ‘Learned women? Liutberga and the instruction of Carolingian women’, in Wormald and Nelson, Lay intellectuals, 121–38.

19 Noble, ‘Secular sanctity’, 32–4.

20 Constable, G., ‘Eremitical forms of monastic life’, in his Monks, hermits and crusaders in medieval Europe, London 1988, 239–64 at p. 249.

21 Libellus de diversis ordinibus et professionibus qui sunt in aecclesia, ed. and trans. G. Constable and B. S. Smith, 2nd edn, Oxford 2003, 4–16; Constable, ‘Eremitical forms’, 240.

22 Sumption, J., Pilgrimage: an image of medieval religion, London 1975, 114–16; Hamilton, S., Church and people in the medieval West, 900–1200, Harlow 2013, 284315.

23 Romig, A. J., Be a perfect man: Christian masculinity and the Carolingian aristocracy, Philadelphia, Pa 2017, 144–54; Kuefler, ‘Dating’.

24 Kuefler, ‘Dating’, 68–70, 50–2.

25 Ibid. 71–3.

26 Lauranson-Rosaz, C., ‘Peace from the mountains: the Auvergnat origins of the Peace of God’, in Head, T. and Landes, R. (eds), The Peace of God: social violence and religious response in France around the year 1000, Ithaca, NY 1992, 104–34, quotations at p. 111.

27 ‘primo distuli partim quia res propter suam novitatem mihi incerta videbatur … Dubietas vero per hoc maxime suboritur quod isdem vir in saeculo potens fuit’: Odo of Cluny, Vita Sancti Geraldi comitis, in Catalogus codicum hagiographicorum latinorum antiquorum saeculo xvi qui asservantur in Bibliotheca Nationali Parisiensi, ed. Societé des Bollandistes, Brussels 1890, ii. 392–401 at p. 392.

28 ‘conventus rusticorum’: ibid.

29 ‘in exemplo potentibus … sanctorum consorcio’: Odo of Cluny (attrib.), Vita sancti Geraldi, 134.

30 On Martial see Landes, R., Relics, apocalypse and the deceits of history: Ademar of Chabannes, 989–1034, Cambridge, Ma 1995, 54–72, 215–17; Callahan, D., ‘The sermons of Adémar of Chabannes and the cult of St Martial of Limoges’, Revue bénédictine lxxxvi (1976), 251–95 at pp. 258–63.

31 Cowdrey, H. E. J., ‘The Peace and the Truce of God in the eleventh century’, Past & Present no. 46 (Feb. 1970), 4267 at p. 51.

32 The old Life is in Bellet, C.-F., L'Ancienne Vie de Saint Martial et la prose rythmée, Paris 1897, 3240; the most commonly used later Life is ed. Surius, L., De probatis sanctorum vitis, Iunius vi, Cologne 1618, 365–74.

33 ‘pater Christianorum ac ferocissimus persecutor paganorum … tenens castitatem mentis et corporis’: ibid. § 16, p. 368.

34 On dating see Guillot, O., Le Comte d'Anjou et son entourage au XIe siècle, Paris 1972, ii. 35.

35 Odo of Saint-Maur-des-Fossés, Vie de Bouchard le Vénérable comte de Vendôme, de Corbeil, de Melun et de Paris (Xe et XIe siècles), ed. Bourel de la Roncière, C., Paris 1892, at § 14, p. 31 and n. 2 for dating.

36 For the act of 29 June 1058 see Boussard, J., ‘Actes royaux et pontificaux des xe et xie siècles, du chartrier de Saint-Maur des Fossés’, Journal des savants (1972), 81113 at p. 108.

37 Lauwers, M., ‘La “Vie du seigneur Bouchard, comte vénérable”: conflits d'avouerie, traditions carolingiennes et modèles de sainteté à l'abbaye des Fossés au xie siècle’, in Lauwers, M. (ed.), Guerriers et moines: conversion et sainteté aristocratiques dans l'Occident médiéval, Antibes 2002, 371418. On the historical Burchard see Barthélemy, D., ‘Sur les Traces du comte Bouchard: dominations châtelaines à Vendôme et en Francia vers l'an mil’, in Parisse, M. and Altet, X. Barral i (eds), Le Roi de France et son royaume autour de l'an mil, Paris 1992, 99109. On the office of advocatus see Wood, S., The proprietary church in the medieval West, Oxford 2006, 328–38.

38 Vita beatae Idae, PL clv. 437–48; for dating see de Gaiffier, B., ‘Sainte Ide de Boulogne et l'Espagne: a propos de reliques mariales’, Analecta Bollandiana lxxxvi (1968), 6782 at pp. 68–9. Studies include Vaughn, S. N., St Anselm and the handmaidens of God: a study of Anselm's correspondence with women, Turnhout 2002, 126–59; Duby, G., ‘The matron and the mis-married woman: perceptions of marriage in northern France circa 1100’, in Aston, T. H. and others (eds), Social relations and ideas: essays in honour of R. H. Hilton, Cambridge 1983, 89108; and Nip, R., ‘Godelieve of Gistel and Ida of Boulogne’, in Mulder-Bakker, A. B. (ed.), Sanctity and motherhood: essays on holy mothers in the Middle Ages, New York 1995, 191223.

39 Vita Idae, § 10, p. 444.

40 Duby, ‘The matron’, 91–7.

41 Nip, ‘Godelieve’, 216–18.

42 Bynum, C. Walker, ‘Jesus as mother and abbot as mother: some themes in twelfth-century Cistercian writing’, in her Jesus as mother: studies in the spirituality of the high Middle Ages, Berkeley, Ca 1982, 110–69 at pp. 135–43.

43 Duby, ‘The matron’, 96; de Gaiffier, ‘Sainte Ide’, 67–70.

44 van Houts, E., Memory and gender in medieval Europe, 900–1200, Basingstoke 1999, 73–7.

45 De s. Bobone seu Bovo, AS, Maii v. 184–91. A preface is printed in Mazzoli, M. A. Casagrande, ‘La tradizione testuale della Vita Sancti Bobonis’, Annali di storia pavese xvi–xvii (1988), 21–6 at p. 26.

46 Luppi, B., I Saraceni in Provenza, in Liguria e nelle Alpi occidentale, Bordighera 1973, 50–1, 100–3; Amargier, P.-A., ‘La Capture de saint Maieul de Cluny et l'expulsion des Sarrasins de Provence’, Revue bénédictine lxxiii (1963), 316–23 at p. 321.

47 ‘gratanter intrantes, repugnantium colla caedebant. Unusquisque vero circumquaque discurrens, quoscumque poterat trucidabat’: De s. Bobone, § 6, p. 186.

48 C. Carozzi, ‘La Vie de saint Bobon: un modèle clunisien de sainteté laïque’, in Lauwers, Guerriers et moines, 467–91; cf. Carozzi, C., ‘La Vita Boboni, un jalon vers une mentalité de croisade’, Publications du Centre Européen d'Etudes Bourguignonnes xi (1969), 30–5. For the charter see Documenti vogheresi dell'Archivio di Stato di Milano, ed. A. Cavagna Sangiuliani, Biblioteca della società storica subalpina xlvii (1910), no. 19, p. 42.

49 De s. Davino, AS, Iunii i. 327–36 at § 2, p. 330; cf. Matthew xix.21, Mark x.21, Luke xviii.22. His Armenian origins may have been added slightly after the original composition: see the editorial annotations at De s. Davino, § 2, p. 330, and Bacci, M., ‘An Armenian pilgrim in medieval Italy: cult and iconography of St Davinus of Lucca’, in Hayagitut ʿyan ardi vichakě ev zargats ʿman heṛankarnerě / Armenian Studies Today and Development Perspectives, Yerevan 2004, 548–58 at p. 551.

50 De s. Davino, 332 n. f; cf. Lazzarini, P., ‘Davino Armeno’, Bibliotheca sanctorum, iv, Rome 1961, 520.

51 Grégoire, R., ‘Liturgia ed agiografia a Lucca durante gli episcopati di Giovanni ii (1023–1056), Anselmo i (1056–1073) e Anselmo  ii (1073–1086)’, in Violante, C. (ed.), Sant'Anselmo vescovo di Lucca (1073–1086) nel quadro delle trasformazioni sociali e della riforma ecclesiastica, Rome 1992, 273–82 at p. 279.

52 Giusti, M., ‘Le canoniche della città e diocesi di Lucca al tempo della Riforma gregoriana’, Studi gregoriani iii (1948), 321–67 at pp. 339–40.

53 Garrison, E. B., Studies in the history of medieval Italian painting, London 1953, i. 177–91.

54 Dinelli, D., ‘Un Passionario lucchese del xii secolo: i manoscritti A. 79/81 dell'Archivio del Capitolo di S. Giovanni in Laterano’, Rara volumina (1996), ii. 516 at pp. 11–15.

55 Schmugge, L., ‘Lucca e il pellegrinaggio medievale’, in Lucca, il Volto Santo e la civiltà medioevale, Lucca 1984, 157–75 at p. 161. On Lucca as an early adopter of regular canons see Dickinson, J. C., The origins of the Austin canons and their introduction into England, London 1950, 41.

56 Houx, A. Cornell du, ‘Hagiography and the exotic: “foreign saints” in high medieval Lucca’, in Herrick, S. Kahn (ed.), Hagiography and the history of Latin Christendom, 500–1500, Leiden 2019.

57 Montaubin, P., ‘Les Chanoines réguliers et le service pastoral (xie–xiiie siècles)’, in Parisse, M. (ed.), Les Chanoines réguliers: émergence et expansion (XIe-XIIIe siècles), Saint-Étienne 2009, 119–57; C. Walker Bynum, ‘The spirituality of regular canons in the twelfth century’, in her Jesus as mother, 22–58.

58 De s. Gerardo confessore, AS, Augusti ii. 693–8 at § 1, p. 695.

59 ‘Tertio anno, postquam omnis spiritualis potentia, Spiritu Dei afflata ad liberationem sancti Sepulcri sumpserat arma’: ibid.

60 Camm, B., Pilgrim paths in Latin lands, London 1923, 102–18.

61 Engels, L. J., ‘The west European Alexius legend: with an appendix presenting the medieval Latin text corpus in its context (Alexiana latina medii aevi, i)’, in Mulder-Bakker, A. B. (ed.), The invention of saintliness, London 2002, 93144 at pp. 95–105, 126–7, and ‘Alexiana latina medii aevi, III: the relationship between the prose vitae BHL 286, 287 and 290’, Sacris erudiri xxxviii (1999), 373–441 at pp. 373–4; Hamilton, B., ‘The monastery of S. Alessio and the religious and intellectual renaissance of tenth-century Rome’, in his Monastic reform, Catharism and the Crusades (900–1300), London 1979, 265310 at pp. 265–72. Parallel editions of BHL, 286, 287 and 290 are in Engels, ‘Alexiana latina medii aevi, iii’, 414–41; the popular version mentioned above is hereafter cited from this edition as ‘BHL 286’. For the Chanson, the version cited is La Vie de saint Alexis, ed. C. Storey, 2nd edn, Geneva 1968, trans. N. V. Durling in T. Head (ed.), Medieval hagiography: an anthology, New York 2000, 317–40.

62 ‘nouo atque insolito martyrii genere … noua atque inaudita fere uictoria’; ‘uirtus … propter insolitam nouitatem magis placet ecclesiae’: Damian, Peter, Sermones, ed. Lucchesi, G., CCCM lvii, Turnhout 1983, no. 28, pp. 161–70 at pp. 168, 169.

63 ‘Serve Dei, respice in me et fac mihi misericordiam, quia pauper sum et peregrinus, et iube me suscipi in domo tua, et pascar de micis quae cadunt de mensa tua, ut Deus benedicat annos tuos et ei, quem habes in peregrinatione, misereatur’: BHL 286, § 34, p. 423.

64 BHL 286, § 36, p. 425; cf. Vie de saint Alexis, § 50, p. 105.

65 ‘qualiter conversatus fuerit in peregrinatione’: BHL 286, § 44, p. 427.

66 Oldfield, P., ‘St Nicholas the Pilgrim and the city of Trani between Greeks and Normans, c. 1090–c. 1140’, Anglo-Norman Studies xxx (2007), 168–81 at p. 168.

67 Kemp, E. W., Canonization and authority in the Western Church, London 1948, 68, 164–5.

68 Loud, G. A., The Latin Church in Norman Italy, Cambridge 2007, 40.

69 De s. Nicolao peregrino, AS, Iunii i. 229–54 at pp. 237–44. Following this in the Bollandists’ dossier is another early Life by Adelferius which could be the first chronologically (pp. 244–8). See Efthymiadis, S., ‘D'Orient en Occident main étranger aux deux mondes: messages et renseignements tirés de la Vie de Saint Nicolas le Pèlerin (BHL 6223)’, in his Hagiography in Byzantium: literature, social history and cult, Farnham 2011, 207–23.

70 De s. Nicolao, § 28, p. 243.

71 Ibid. §§ 30–1, 47, pp. 244–5.

72 Ivanov, S. A., Holy fools in Byzantium and beyond, trans. Franklin, S., Oxford 2006.

73 Peter Brown comments on the greater potential for lay sanctity in the East in his The rise of Western Christendom: triumph and diversity, AD 200–1000, Cambridge, Ma 1996, 137; cf. Morris, R., Monks and laymen in Byzantium, 843–1118, Cambridge 1995, 72.

74 There is a useful list, although it contains some errors, in P. Delooz, Sociologie et canonisations, Liège 1969, 440–59. Also essential is Philippart, G. and Goullet, M. (eds), Hagiographies: histoire internationale de la littérature hagiographique latine et vernaculaire en Occident des origines à 1550, Turnhout 1994– .

75 James, M. R., ‘Lives of St Walstan’, Norfolk Archaeology xix (1917), 238–67 at pp. 238–43; Duffy, E., The stripping of the altars: traditional religion in England, c.1400–c.1580, 2nd edn, New Haven, Ct 2005, 200–5. There is an interesting parallel in a Spanish lay saint from after this period, Isidore the Farmer (d. 1130): De s. Isidoro agricola, AS, Maii iii. 512–50.

76 These include the story from Carinthia of Agatha Hildegarde (allegedly d. 1024), which is recounted from oral legend in De s. Agatha Hildegarde Palatina Carinthiae, AS, Februarii i. 721–3; Irmengard of Süchteln (d. c. 1089), whose record is late medieval: De b. Irmgarde virgine comitissa Zutphaniae, AS, Septembris ii. 270–8; and Sebald of Nuremberg: De s. Sebaldo eremita, AS iii. 762–75. See also Vauchez, Sainthood, 66, 83–4, 264.

77 ‘novum … salutis promerendae genus’: Guibert of Nogent, Dei gesta per Francos, ed. R. B. C. Huygens, CCCM cxxviiA, Turnhout 1996, 87.

78 In general see Constable, G., The reformation of the twelfth century, Cambridge 1996, and Howe, J., ‘The nobility's reform of the medieval Church’, American Historical Review xciii/2 (1988), ii. 317–39.

79 Vauchez, ‘Lay people's sanctity’, 22, and ‘Laity’ and ‘Sanctity’, in A. Vauchez, B. Dobson and M. Lapidge (eds), Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages, trans. A. Walford, Cambridge 2000, ii. 814, 1300–1.

80 Hamilton, Church and people, 15–22, 60–160; Miller, ‘New religious movements’.

81 Donizo, Vita di Matilde di Canossa, ed. and Italian trans. P. Golinelli, Milan 2008.

82 Barrow, J., ‘Ideas and applications of reform’, in Noble, T. F. X. and Smith, J. M. H. (eds), The Cambridge history of Christianity, III: Early medieval Christianities, c. 600–c.1100, Cambridge 2008, 345–62.

AS = Acta Sanctorum; BHL = Bibliotheca hagiographica latina; CCCM = Corpus christianorum continuatio mediaevalis; MGH, SS = Monumenta Germaniae historica, scriptores rerum Merovingicarum

Lay Sanctity in the Central Middle Ages, 970–1120



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