Saints and Animals in the Middle Ages

July 2008
210 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
ISBN: 9781843833949
Format: Hardback
Library eBook
Boydell Press

Saints and Animals in the Middle Ages

Dominic Alexander

A thorough investigation of the saint and animal topos: its origins, growth and development.
The saint and animal story in medieval saints' Lives has a long tradition - explored in detail here. The volume ranges from the very beginning of the genre in the Late Antique east, through the early medieval western European adaptations, including in Ireland, to the twelfth century, to its conclusion with a new assessment of Saint Francis' dealings with animals. The author argues that stories of saints and animals drew from a variety of sources, including scripture and classical literature, and also elements of folklore; they had clear spiritual meanings, which were adapted to the development of the Church, and its relationship to the people in the medieval West. Almost as soon as the genre became standardised, its appearance in saints' Lives begin to show new influences rising from the fund of popular folklore. The relationship between Church and rural folklore is also explored, both through unusual examples of the genre of saint and animal story, and through a case study of twelfth-century miracle cults from the north of England. The study finishes with Saint Francis, where the social relations underpinning the tradition of the genre are shifting towards a new culture at the root of our own.

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Table of Contents

Reading the Lives of the Saints
The Formation of the Tradition
Monks and Animals in the Medieval Wilderness
The Irish Variant
Sainted Princesses and the Resurrection of Geese
The Hermit and the Hunter
The Holy Wilderness: Farne Island and the Cult of St Cuthbert
Animal Sanctuaries of the Middle Ages
Saint Francis and the Thirteenth Century


[An] important and engaging book. [...] Dominic Alexander's examination of the genre of saint and animal tale provides an interpretive model which furthers our understanding of the composition, folklore, and cultural context of medieval hagiography. It is a most welcome contribution to the field. JOURNAL OF ENGLISH & GERMANIC PHILOLOGY

Concise and well-written. [It] is a valuable resource for historians of the Middle Ages or for the history of Christianity. CHURCH HISTORY
<>BR> [The author] reinstates social history into the core of the study of the cult of saints, something that gives his book a larger value than the - assuredly fascinating - story of the interrelation between saints and animals in hagiography. [A] highly interesting and inspiring book. SIXTEENTH CENTURY JOURNAL

Covering more than a thousand years of hagiographical writing, this is an ambitious and useful book. ENGLISH HISTORICAL REVIEW

A work that should stimulate further thinking on the ever-fascinating study of the relationship between humans and animals. CATHOLIC HISTORICAL REVIEW

Concise and well-written. [...] A valuable resource for historians of the Middle Ages or for the history of Christianity. CHURCH HISTORY

This fine book is much more than a study of animals in medieval Hagiography. In fact, it could have used as a subtitle indicating that one of the major topics is an exploration of the interaction between popular legend or folklore and literate, Latinate hagiography. SPECULUM

Astonishes through its sheer range of meticulously assembled material, and will become a standard work. TLS