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Internet Medieval Sourcebook

Saints' Lives

Editor: Paul Halsall

The Internet Medieval Sourcebook is located at the
Fordham University Center for Medieval Studies.

Guide to Contents

The structure of this section of the Sourcebook is as follows. You can browse through the entire list, or jump directly to the part that interests you by selecting the underlined links.

  • Main Page
    will take you back to Internet Medieval Sourcebook main page.
  • Selected Sources  will take you to the index of selected and excerpted medieval sources.
  • Full Text Sources will take you to the page on non-hagiographal full etexts.



Saints' lives are a major resource for anyone concerned with the history of the late ancient world, Byzantium, or the Latin Middle ages. Just as whole genres of ancient literature vanished or diminished, the genre of hagiography became a major form of literary production. Such saints' lives - or vitae - survive in astonishing numbers. Careful reading of them reveals, as one might expect, a great deal about the religious life of the periods that produced them. Frequently, however, such lives are also our best sources for basic social and cultural history. They provide information on, among other things:- details of daily life; food and drink; organization of local rural and urban society; the impact of commerce; gender relations; class relations; and even, on occasion, specific dates for military and political history. This page's goal is to present ancient, Byzantine, and medieval hagiographic original texts - in translation and otherwise - along with basic data on the cult of saints. Modern Christians, especially Orthodox Christians, still read such lives for their religious value. They will find some of these texts profitable for that goal. But the emphasis here is on the historical understanding of the texts and the cult of saints. [The word cult, by the way, is a technical term referring to the religious practices surrounding devotion to saints.]

Web Sites for Hagiography

  • WEB Christian Hagiography including Guide to Useful Websites [At Bollandists]
    The web site of the Bollandists, a society within the Jesuits which for three centuries has lead the way in the scientific investigation of hagiography and the cult of the saints.
  • WEB Hagiography Site [At ORB archive] [Internet Archive version here]
    Web site by Thomas Head (RIP) one of the leading experts on Western Hagiography. Excellent bibliographies, and an incipient encyclopedia of hagiography.
  • WEB Hagiography Sourcebook [At Univ.Kiel] [Internet Archive version here]
    A list of websites rather than anything new at the actual site.
  • WEB The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity: from its origins to circa AD 700, across the entire Christian world Database [At Oxford]
    The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity (CSLA) database. The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity database is making readily accessible and searchable as much as possible of the early evidence for the cult of Christian saints (up to around AD 700), with key texts presented in their original language, all with English translation and brief contextual commentary. Project funding ended on 31 December 2018, but the process of uploading, checking, editing, and releasing entries is continuing]
  • WEB Dumbarton Oaks Hagiography Database [At Dumbarton Oaks]
    The online version of the Dumbarton Oaks Hagiography Database, originally released in 1998 as a set of floppy disks, has two sections. The introduction contains general information about the project and bio-bibliographical introductions to each of the saints of the eighth to tenth centuries included in the project. The database itself is divided into three sections: a list of saints, a list of authors, and a search of citations. The Greek texts that the database has been permitted to reproduce either in their entirety or in sections may be accessed through the saint list (entire texts) or search citations (partial texts).
  • WEB St. Pachomias Library [Orthodox Christian Site]
  • WEB Ökumenisches Heiligenlexikon [Ecumenical Lexicon of Saints]
    A very valuable German-language website on the study of the saints. Among other resources it contains an digital version of the Acta Sanctorum
  • WEB The Military Martyrs [Was at UCC.IE, now Internet Archive]
    A web site by David Woods focused on the military martyrs.

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Non-Christian Biography

Hagiography is not "biography" as such, but the genres clearly overlap. A number of classical authors wrote "lives" which greatly influenced later Christian hagiographical writings. Moreover, the accounts of the Jewish martyrs under the Seleucids provided important themes to Christian writers.

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I: Apostolic Era Saints  The following texts - all accounts of the martyrdoms of the apostles - are apocryphal. See Vol. 8 of Ante-Nicene Fathers for further notes and details.

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II: Early Christian Martyrs 


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III: Early Monks [Eastern] 
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IV: Patristic Era Saints 
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V: Byzantine Saints 

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VI: Western Europe: Original Lives 


CAROLINGIAN ERA (9th-10th Centuries) HIGH MIDDLE AGES (11th-13th Centuries)




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VII: Western Europe: Latin/Vernacular Versions of Older Saints' Lives 
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VIII: Celtic Saints (Irish and Scottish) 
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IX: Metaphrastes and The Golden Legend 

Historians interested in the "real lives" of individual saints value the earliest texts above all others. But for assessing the cult of saints in Byzantium and in Western Europe, two rewritten collections of saints' lives dominate the manuscript record. There are about 700 surviving manuscripts of the 10th-century Byzantine "re-phraser" St. Symeon Metaphrastes. As a result his work dominates the later Byzantine conception of sanctity. Jacobus de Voragine, writing about 1260, achieved a similar dominance in later western hagiographical literature - about 900 manuscripts of his Golden Legend survive. From 1470 to 1530 it was also the most often printed book in Europe. This section of the Saints' Lives page will list online translations, or texts, of Lives from these two major collections.



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X: Post-Medieval Saints 

With the advent of printing, and the massive increase in available source material of all types, hagiography after the middle ages becomes less central to historians researching non-religious topics. It remains of interest, however, for religious history. But the nature of hagiography also changes. For ancient, Byzantine, and early Western Medieval saints, the Life often provided the unique data on the saint. When the popes took control, especially after the mid-thirteenth century, and increasingly formalized the process of canonization, the nature of available materials about a saint changed. Catholic saints (as also, in a less methodical way Orthodox saints) now acquired at dossier organized as a legal brief.

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XI: Modern Lives of Medieval Saints 

With the following texts, available on the net, I have not been able to ascertain who wrote them, or when. As a result, they are listed as "modern" texts.

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Appendix I: Aspects of Sainthood: Modern Discussions 

For basic information on many individual saints, see:

  • WEB Catholic Encyclopedia [At New Advent] Published in 1907 but with often very good scholarship in ist historical and hagiographical articles.
  • WEB EWTN SAINTS. This site has a library of 6000 plus files, accessible via search engine. It Includes substantial parts of Alban Butler's Lives of the Saints but also a fair amount of purely devotional material.

CANONIZATION Canonization procedures varied over the centuries, and from one Christian Church to another. The Roman Catholic situation is summarized as follows: "In the first six centuries of the Church, the sanctity, at first of martyrs, then of confessors of the faith, and later of those of heroic Christian virtue and of those exemplary in their apostolic zeal for the Church -- doctors, bishops, missionaries -- was so acclaimed by the vox populi of the faithful. From the sixth to the tenth century the definitive pronouncement of approval on the part of the local bishop gradually became a necessary culmination of a process of inquiry into the validity of such a veneration, the cult of doulia on the part of the faithful. Canonization has By 973 formal approval of the Roman Pontiff was deemed a matter of greater prestige for the veneration of a venerated saint, St. Udalricus. Under Gregory IX (1234) papal canonization became the only and exclusive legitimate form of inquiry into the saints' lives and miracles according to newly established procedural formes and canonical processes. In 1588 Pope Sixtus V, by his Immensa Aeterni Dei, entrusted the process of papal canonization to the Congregation of Rites. In 1642 Urban VIII ordered all the decrees and studies of canonizations during his own pontificate to be published in one volume -- and a century later, Benedict XIV systematized in a clear and definitive manner the basic expectations of heroic virtue and the indispensable requirements of the canonical processes according to the evidences of the Congregation of Rites. Pius X (1914) divided this Congregation into two sections: one, the liturgical section, and the other assigned entirely to the causes for canonization. In 1930, Pius XI established the historical section devoted to the critical-historical scrutiny of the evidences put forth in the causes for canonization."
[from a critical book on Hans Kung by Joseph F. Costanzo S.J.: On the net at]

In 1917, the formal procedure was incorporated in the Church's Code of Canon Law. In 1982, Pope John Paul II introduced a new simplified process. After a rigorous examination of a candidate's life, work and writings, undertaken by the Postulator of the Cause, the Pope accepts that the Servant of God has practised the Christian virtues in a heroic degree, and declares them Venerable, the first of three steps on the road of sainthood.Following a physical miracle, such as an unexplained healing, the candidate is Beatified by the Pope, and declared Blessed. A further physical miracle is required before the person is Canonised and declared a Saint of the Church.
[Info supplied by The British Royal Mail, 27 Feb., 1997.


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APPENDIX II: Mystical Writings by, or Ascribed to, Saints 

These are links only to mystical writings by saints. For writings by the Church Fathers, most of whom are considered as saints, see the Medieval Sourcebook: Full Texts page.

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APPENDIX III: Saintly Miscellany

There are quite a number of web sites which are of interest for studying the saints and hagiograph-hese sites often contain first rate source material, but they intermix it with a good deal of overtly modern religious commentary. They are listed here - with an indication of their value - but need to be used with care by those engaging in scholarship.

APPENDIX IV: Bibliographies 

NOTES: copyrighted means the text is not available for free distribution. Links to files at other site are indicated by [At some indication of the site name or location]. No indication means that the text file is local. WEB  indicates a link to one of small number of high quality web sites which provide either more texts or an especially valuable overview.

The Internet Medieval Sourcebook is part of the Internet History Sourcebooks Project. The Internet History Sourcebooks Project is located at the History Department of  Fordham University, New York. The Internet Medieval Sourcebook, and other medieval components of the project, are located at the Fordham University Center for Medieval Studies.The IHSP recognizes the contribution of Fordham University, the Fordham University History Department, and the Fordham Center for Medieval Studies in providing web space and server support for the project. The IHSP is a project independent of Fordham University.   Although the IHSP seeks to follow all applicable copyright law, Fordham University is not the institutional owner, and is not liable as the result of any legal action.

© Site Concept and Design: Paul Halsall created 26 Jan 1996: latest revision 3 May 2024 [CV]