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Hagiographic icon of St. Theodor Stratelates (late 15th century, Novgorod)

The hagiography (also in the spelling hagiography , from ancient Greek τὸ ἅγιον tò hágion "the holy, sanctuary" or ἅγιος hágios "holy, venerable" and -graphy ) comprises both the representation of the life of saints as well as the scientific research of such representations. Hagiographic sources are texts or material remains that are suitable for providing information about the earthly life of the saints, their cult and the miracles that the respective cult community believes have been performed. The texts include, for example, Viten (Heiligenleben), translation reports , monastery and diocese chronicles , mentions in other chronicles and other historiographical genres , authenticity (authentication documents for relics), calendars , veneration-serving literary genres in liturgical manuscripts, e.g. hymns , sequences , antiphons or litanies , epigraphic testimonies ( inscriptions ); The material remains include icons and other pictorial representations, cult buildings , cult implements , graves of saints, relics and reliquaries, votive offerings and devotional objects .

Hagiography or hagiology

In order to separate the meanings of hagiography and hagiology, a proposal is to designate only the description of life (vita) as hagiography, while scientific research is called hagiology . As a hagiologion or hagiologium , a more or less scientific edition with descriptions of lives and studies of saints is called accordingly.

In a figurative sense, the term hagiography or the adjectival use hagiographically describes a biography that represents the person described as a "saint" in the sense of an exemplary person without blemishes and presents him to the reader on the one hand as a moral model, on the other hand as an elect of God worthy of cultic worship . Since such a representation often has one-sided encomiastic features, shows an uncritical and euphemistic tendency, neglects historical source criticism and is not committed to a strictly rationalist concept of truth, the expression can also be used in a pejorative sense. Ever since the Reformation and increasingly since the 19th century, which, with the onset of historical source criticism and the establishment of a rationalist concept of truth shaped by the natural sciences , became increasingly alien to the idea of ​​the supernatural , hagiography has increasingly encountered fundamental criticism . The Bollandist company , the Acta Sanctorum , supported by the Jesuit order , sought to defend hagiography against this blanket rejection by critically examining and collecting the tradition.

From a literary perspective, the term hagiography is rejected by the Middle Latin Walter Berschin, who points out that historical truth cannot be a criterion of genre or quality. Instead of hagiography, we should speak of biography. On the other hand, the hagiographic intention results in a certain hagiographic discourse, referred to by Berschin as the biblical background style, which is reflected in the recourse to certain literary models, to biblical examples and hagiographic topoi . Within this hagiographic discourse, there is now another difference between hagiography and ancient biography. As Albrecht Dihle has shown, the latter was not based on historiography but on the interest of philosophical ethics in the morally autonomous individual as a model. In this respect, however, there is a fundamental difference in the hagiographical conception of God's intervention as a metaphysical power in historical and biographical processes. Because that is the Holy God to the tool and every hagiography to a piece of salvation history , a testament to the gracious self- revelation of God in history and for the redemption of the promised salvation promises . Because of this new outlook, it was precisely the specific, unique event itself that gained importance, while ancient biography was primarily interested in the generalizable moral attitude that manifested itself in an event. The prerequisite for this development was the fact that biography had already developed into a genus of historiography under the special conditions of the Roman Empire .


The history of Christian hagiography began in the 2nd century with descriptions of the lives of martyrs , ascetics or hermits and holy virgins . In the Middle Ages , the heyday of hagiography, there were biographies of almost all the saints in the church. In the Latin-speaking area alone, the Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina lists well over 10,000 numbers with its supplements. An important collection of legends of saints from the Middle Ages is the Legenda aurea by Jacobus de Voragine from 1263 to 1273 . In addition to the already mentioned Acta Sanctorum of the Bollandists, collections followed in the early modern period, such as the Sanctuarium (volume 1–2, Venice 1474) by Boninus Mombritius (1424–1502?), De probatis vitis Sanctorum from Al. Lippomano olim [1551–1560] conscriptis nunc primum emendatis et auctis (volume 1–6, Cologne 1570–1576) by Laurentius Surius (1522–1578) and the Acta primorum martyrum sincera (Paris 1689) by Thierry Ruinart .

Historical knowledge

The historical cognitive interest of hagiographic research today is mostly less in the authenticity of the tradition than in researching the collective memory or dealing with it, as well as in social and mental history issues. Hagiographical sources also play a not insignificant role in connection with research on the history of monasticism, orders and monasteries , dioceses and other ecclesiastical institutions as well as on the legitimation and representation of rule of the medieval and early modern nobility and kingship .

Source types

Sources of Christian hagiography are Vita, Passio, Miracula, translation reports , letters, lists of saints, calendars, martyrologies or menologion and synaxarion as well as liturgical books such as antiphonaries , sacraments , books of hours , and finally sources of cult history such as registers of relics, reliquaries and the inscriptions (authenticity) inserted into them. , Memories, altars and altar titles (inscriptions with the names of the saints) as well as consecration notes (notae dedicationis), sculptures and pictorial representations.

Vita: This source of hagiographic research developed from the trial files (acta) and the representation of people condemned to death ( passio = 'suffering') for their beliefs ; later life descriptions (vitae) of the martyrs were written. As the persecution of Christians decreased, the attention to the characteristics of a saint increased in the life of confessors, ascetics and bishops , so that their vitae served as a source of hagiographic historiography . The term vita is also used in a more general form of the tradition of a way of life (conversatio) .

Passio: originally referred to the martyrdom report, but was used synonymously for Vita from an early stage without distinction and also used for confessors , as the godly life in following Christ was seen as a path of suffering.

Miracula: A striking example of hagiographic historiography is the transmission of miracles in a person's vita. A plausible miraculum (report of a miracle) as a criterion for canonization has been passed down with preference in hagiographic sources, but has not been assumed. Miracle collections, often as the second part of a vita or passio , are therefore a common form of literature.

Translation report: describes the raising of the bones , the transfer of the relics and their burial (depositio) at the place of cultic veneration. Translation reports are often the earliest cult evidence. They can appear independently, often in the form of a letter, or as part of a vita or passio .

Structure of a classical Christian hagiography

Hagiographies were traditionally short texts that were arranged in an anthology chronologically according to the memorial days of the saints. They should set an example for the Christian way of life. Classical hagiography followed a fixed scheme.

  1. Introduction by the author.
  2. Childhood and youth of the saint. Description of virtues and miracles that distinguish the saint from other adolescents.
  3. Life as a charismatic , church official (priest, bishop, abbot), anchorite , ascetic : frequent motifs are victory over temptation, founding a monastery, building churches, battles with the devil, teachings and sermons, proselytizing pagans or heretics , divine visions, prophecies, Healing and other miracles.
  4. Death or martyrdom and tale of miracles,
  5. Further reports of miracles and deeds: sometimes the relics turn out to be indestructible or the saint appears to the bereaved in visions and determines the place where his relics are to be buried and venerated. Punishment miracles in the case of despisers of the cult.
  6. Notes on reliquary surveys and translations.
  7. Comparison with other saints.
  8. Epilogue, prayer, author's epilogue.

Non-Christian hagiography

Not only Christianity, but also other religions, such as Judaism , Islam , Hinduism , Buddhism , Confucianism and Daoism , developed ideas of exemplary and therefore worthy people, some of them long before Christianity came into being, to which the development of diverse memorial and cult forms corresponds.


Manuals and resources

  • Johann Evangelist Stadler, Franz Joseph Heim (ed.): Complete Lexicon of Saints or life stories of all saints, blessed, etc. ... in alphabetical order, with two supplements containing the attributes and the calendar of the saints. Vol. 1–5, Schmid, Augsburg 1858–1882 (via the ecumenical lexicon of saints [see web links] also on the web).
  • Subsidia Hagiographica. Société des Bollandistes , Brussels 1886ff. (90 volumes so far, including essential aids).
  • Bibliotheca hagiographica latina antiquae et mediae aetatis. Vol. 1-2. (= Subsidia Hagiographica. Vol. 6). Société des Bollandistes, Brussels 1898–1901 (reprint 1992).
  • Bibliotheca hagiographica latina antiquae et mediae aetatis. Novelty supplement. Edidit Henricus FROS. Société des Bollandistes, Brussels 1986.
  • René Aigrain : L 'hagiography. Ses sources, ses méthodes, son histoire. Paris 1953 (repr. 2000).
  • Bibliotheca sanctorum. Vol. 1–12 + index volume, Rome 1961–1970.
  • Wolfgang Braunfels et al. (Ed.): Lexicon of Christian iconography . Vol. 5–8 Iconography of the Saints. Herder-Verlag , Freiburg im Breisgau 1973–1976.
  • Marc Van Uytfanghe : Art. Adoration of saints II (hagiography) . In: Real Lexicon for Antiquity and Christianity . Vol. 14, Stuttgart 1988, Col. 150-183.
  • Réginald Grégoire : Manuale di agiologia. Introduzione alla letteratura agiografica (= Bibliotheca Montisfani. Vol. 12). Fabriano ² 1996.
  • Claudio Leonardi among others: Art. Hagiography. In: Lexicon of the Middle Ages . Vol. 4, 1989, col. 1840-1862.
  • Veit Neumann (ed.): Saints. Hagiography as theology . Echter-Verlag, Würzburg 2020, ISBN 978-3-429-05433-5 .
  • Guy Philippart (Ed.): Hagiographies. Histoire internationale de la littérature hagiographique de latine et vernaculaire, en Occident, des origines à 1550. Tournhout 1994ff.
  • Alphons M. Rathgeber : legend of saints. Images of life of noble people and holy friends of God. Nuremberg 1936; 2nd edition ibid.
  • Dieter von der Nahmer : The Latin saints vita. An Introduction to Latin Hagiography. WBG , Darmstadt 1994, ISBN 978-3-534-19190-1 .
  • Walter Berschin : biography and epoch style. Volumes 1–5, Hiersemann, Stuttgart 1984–2004, ISBN 3-7772-8606-0 .
  • Bruno Steimer and Thomas Wetzstein (adaptation): Lexicon of Saints and Adoration of Saints (Lexicon for Theology and Church compact). Volume 1-3. Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau et al. 2003, ISBN 978-3-451-28190-7 .
  • Jakob Torsy: The Big Name Day Calendar . 3720 names and 1560 biographies of our saints. 13th edition, Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 1976; Reprinted 1989, ISBN 978-3-451-32043-9 .
  • Otto Wimmer: Handbook of names and saints, with a history of the Christian calendar. 3. Edition. Tyrolia, Innsbruck / Vienna / Munich 1966; from 4th edition 1982 by Otto Wimmer and Hartmann Melzer , under the title: Lexicon of Names and Saints . Nicol, Hamburg 2002, ISBN 3-933203-63-5 .

Individual questions

  • Gereon Becht-Jördens: Biography as salvation history. A paradigm shift in genre development. Prolegomena to a formal historical interpretation of Einhart's Vita Karoli. In: Andrea Jördens u. a. (Ed.): Quaerite faciem eius semper. Studies on the intellectual-historical relationships between antiquity and Christianity. A gift of thanks for Albrecht Dihle on his 85th birthday from the Heidelberg Church Fathers Colloquium (= Studies on Church History. Vol. 8). Kovac, Hamburg 2008, pp. 1–21.
  • TJ Heffermann: Sacred Biography. Saints and their Biographers in the Middle Ages. New York / Oxford 1988.
  • Dieter Hoster: The form of the earliest Latin saints' lives from the Vita Cypriani to the Vita Ambrosii and their ideal of saints. Cologne 1963, DNB 481931821 (Dissertation University of Cologne, Philosophical Faculty 1963, 161 pages, 21 cm).
  • Friedrich Prinz : Hagiography and cult propaganda. The role of the commissioners and authors of hagiographic texts of the early Middle Ages. In: Journal of Church History . No. 103, 1992, pp. 174-194.
  • Friedrich Prinz: The saint and his lifeworld. Reflections on the socio-historical and cultural-historical value of life and miracle stories. In: Monasticism, Culture and Society. Contributions to the Middle Ages, for the author's 60th birthday , Munich: CH Beck 1989, pages 251–268, ISBN 3-406-33650-7 .
  • Wiebke Schulz-Wackerbarth: Adoration of saints in late antique and early medieval Rome. Hagiography and topography in discourse = contexts. New contributions to historical and systematic theology, Volume 47. Göttingen: Edition Ruprecht 2020, ISBN 978-3-8469-0286-8

See also

Web links

Wiktionary: Hagiography  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Guy Philippart: Hagiographes et hagiographie, hagiologes et hagiologie: des mots et des concepts. Published in: Hagiographica. Volume 1 1994
  2. Walter Berschin: Biography and Epoch Style (see literature below), Vol. 1, pp. 17–24.
  3. ^ Albrecht Dihle : On the ancient biography. In: La biography antique. Huit exposés suivis de discussions. (Entretiens sur l'antiquité classique 44). Fondation Hardt, Vandoeuvres-Genève 1998, pp. 119-146; Albrecht Dihle: Ancient Foundations. In: Walter Berschin (Hrsg.): Biography between Renaissance and Baroque. Mattes, Heidelberg 1993, pp. 1-22; Albrecht Dihle: Studies on the Greek biography. (Treatises of the Academy of Sciences in Göttingen, Phil.-hist. Class 3). 2nd Edition. Goettingen 1970.
  4. Cf. Becht-Jördens: Biography as Salvation History (see literature below).
  5. See Albrecht Dihle: The emergence of the historical biography. (Meeting reports of the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences, Phil.- hist. Class 1986, 3). Winter, Heidelberg 1987.
  6. For more details see the article Acta Sanctorum .