Tradition and Transformation in the Cult of St. Guthlac in Early Medieval England

Tradition and Transformation in the Cult of St. Guthlac in Early Medieval England

Black, John R. (Moravian College)

The Heroic Age: A Journal of Early Medieval Northwestern Europe, Vol.10 (2007)


Analysis of the variations introduced into the hagiographic corpus, both textual and iconographic, for a saint’s cult over the course of the medieval era demonstrates the vitality of that corpus, reveals the cultural significance of the variations introduced, and offers insights into (re)conceptualizations of sainthood. Such analysis elucidates, for example, the ‘evolution’ of St. Guthlac from ascetic solitary to promoter and defender of a wealthy religious establishment.

Despite the widespread popularity and enduring importance of saints’ cults in medieval Christian culture, their study has often suffered from a perception that the lives and other representations of the saints are static and unchanging. Far from being either dismissible or immutable, however, the stories and images of the saints, while perhaps appearing deceptively stable, are in fact dynamic—colored and enlivened by an abundance of variation in the details of their representations in text and in image. For example, the seventh-century ‘version’ of a saint is often considerably different from the thirteenth-century ‘version.’

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