By Lawrence S. Cunningham
A short historical past of Saints follows the increase of the cult of saints in Christianity from its beginning within the age of the martyrs right down to the current day.Refers to either famous saints, akin to Joan of Arc, and lesser-known figures just like the ‘holy fools’ within the Orthodox traditionRanges over matters as different because the background of canonization procedures, the Reformation critique of the cult of saints, and the position of saints in different spiritual traditionsDiscusses the relevance of sainthood within the postmodern eraTwo appendices describe client saints and the iconography of saints in artwork.
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Extra resources for A Brief History of Saints (Blackwell Brief Histories of Religion)
Famous for his ascetic life and his power as a healer, his biography was written by his disciple Sulpicius Severus while Martin was still alive. 12 Four thousand parish churches in France alone were dedicated to him (as well as ﬁve hundred villages which bore his name). Pilgrimages to his shrine in Tours were popular well into the sixteenth century. Interestingly enough, the life of Martin strongly emphasized the saint’s miraculous powers, comparing him favorably to the exemplary ascetics of the Egyptian deserts.
Athanasius ends his classic life of Antony, who, as we have seen, was praised as a martyr every day of his life, by holding up his life both as a template for “what the life of the monk ought to be” (cap. 94) and, further, as a persuasive example to pagans that the demons are not gods as they believe but evil forces overcome by the triumph of Christ. In that latter sense, it is clear that Athanasius saw the life of Antony as having an apologetic value. Readers of Saint Augustine’s Confessions will remember how much Athanasius’ Life of Antony meant to Augustine and his circle of intellectual aristocrats.
Others went in fulﬁllment of a vow to make a pilgrimage as a thanksgiving for a favor received through the intercession of a saint. Many went on pilgrimage for the same reason that people prayed to the saints in their own locales: to seek a favor or to pray for a cure from an illness. Chaucer mentions at the beginning of The Canterbury Tales that his pilgrims traveled both to thank and to petition for cures at the shrine of the martyr. Still others traveled as a penitential way of life or to visit a shrine in order to discern how they were to live in the future.