From its earliest centuries, one of the most notable features of Christianity has been the veneration of the saints--the holy dead. This sweepingly ambitious history from one of the world's leading medieval historians tells the fascinating story of the cult of the saints from its origins in the second-century days of the Christian martyrs to the Protestant Reformation. Drawing on sources from around the Christian world, Robert Bartlett examines all of the most important aspects of the saints--including miracles, relics, pilgrimages, shrines, and the saints' role in the calendar, literature, and art.
As this engaging narrative shows, a wide variety of figures have been venerated as saints: men and women, kings and servant girls, legendary virgins and highly political bishops--and one dog. The book explores the central role played by the bodies and body parts of saints, and the special treatment these relics received: how they were treasured and enshrined, used in war and peace, and faked and traded. The shrines of the saints drew pilgrims, sometimes from hundreds of miles, and the book describes the routes, dangers, and rewards of pilgrimage, including the thousands of reported miracles. The book surveys the rich literature and images that proliferated around the saints, as well as the saints' impact on everyday life--from the naming of people and places to the shaping of the calendar. Finally, the book considers how the Christian cult of saints compares with apparently similar aspects of other religions.
At once deeply informative and entertaining, this is an unmatched account of an immensely important and intriguing part of the religious life of the past--as well as the present.
Robert Bartlett is the Bishop Wardlaw Professor of Mediaeval History at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and a fellow of the British Academy. His books include The Making of Europe, joint winner of the Wolfson History Prize, and The Hanged Man: A Story of Miracle, Memory, and Colonialism in the Middle Ages (Princeton). He has also written and presented documentaries on the Middle Ages for BBC television.
"It is a treat . . . to see such erudition amassed this way; it is hard to imagine any aspect of the cult of the saints that Bartlett has left out in this extraordinarily comprehensive text. Yet there is enormous entertainment here as well. . . . [W]ho, and when and where--this enormous and humane reference work gives all that, along with stories that are appalling and ghoulish and mysterious and funny."--Rob Hardy, The (Columbus, OH) Dispatch
"[T]here is much to enjoy in the array of human behaviour, sacred and by our standards profane or just downright mad, chronicled in Bartlett's excellent study."--Diarmaid MacCulloch, Guardian
"[T]his magisterial work of scholarship."--Richard Holloway, Independent
"Devotion to the saints is manifestly still alive and well in the Catholic Church, and Bartlett's impressive compendium will serve to explain the cult's historical origins and evolution."--John Cornwell, Financial Times
"Rich in original research, full of illuminating case studies, Why Can the Dead Do Such Great Things? is a major achievement from a distinguished medieval historian and a gold mine for those interested in religious history."--Helen Fulton, Times Higher Education
"Bartlett convincingly explains how the 12th-century papacy sought to control a potentially anarchic process by demanding strict examination of cases, of which only about half were successful. . . . With great thoroughness, Bartlett examines issues such as types of saint, relics, miracles, hagiography and doubt, more as an observer than as judge. . . . Some of Bartlett's most valuable insights relate to the diversity of ways in which saints were revered and what they reveal about visions of the social order."--Constant Mews, Sydney Morning Herald
Table of Contents
Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Robert Bartlett: