For a Revaluation of Latin Hagiographic Culture in the Diocese of Trier (13th-16th Centuries)


For a long time, the study of Latin hagiographic texts has mainly been motivated by the publication of critical editions, a scholarly tradition already initiated by the Bollandists in the 17th century. It was not until Guy Philippart’s work in the late 70’s that interest grew for the manuscripts themselves, particularly the so-called “legendaries” (collections containing dozens, and even hundreds of pieces in several volumes). However, their consideration has foremost been governed by philological interests: what has prevailed is the study of the diffusion of larger collection of texts. At the same time, a lack of documentation has led historians to focus their attention to the study of hagiographic texts to uncover the motivations and working methods of early medieval hagiographers. Conversely, the expansion of writing and the social revolution that has followed from the 13th century onwards has been accompanied by a lack of interest in Latin hagiography. Nevertheless, important mutations occurred to the genre at the time, in particular under the impetus of the mendicant orders which have been contributing to the emergence of a new type of collection: the abbreviationes or passionalia nova, among which the noticeable Legenda aurea by Jacobus of Voragine. It has been emphasized that the appearance of these abbreviated legendaries caused an abandonment of the traditional formula in favour of these new, continuously reproduced collections. However, some specialists have nuanced this vision, believing that abbreviated legendaries did not entirely wipe out former types of collections. More broadly, several recent publications have insisted on the vigour and renewal of hagiographic composition at the end of the Middle Ages, including within Germanic world.

In order to reassess the hagiographic culture of a shifting but poorly investigated era, the aim of the research project is to study the production, the reception and the concrete use of hagiographic materials in the Late medieval diocese of Trier (13th-16th centuries). Located at the border of Germanic and Romance influences, this territory straddling parts of modern Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, and France constitutes a crossroad of cultural spaces that have predominantly been apprehended separately. For such an undertaking to be fruitful, it is necessary to adopt a pioneering approach that encompasses all the intellectual operations and writing practices involved in the elaboration of hagiographic collections. Hence, manuscripts, in particular legendaries, have to be placed at the heart of the inquiry. Understanding the cultural, religious and social issues related to their genesis and subsequent transformations will provide a better comprehension of the groups and individuals that produced, preserved and read them, a dimension largely neglected by previous studies. Furthermore, the archaeology of hagiographic manuscripts will enable to capture the peculiarities of each collection, in particular through the identification of local or poorly diffused texts. That way, existing cultural networks implying a circulation of men and texts will be highlighted, a parameter until now essentially studied through archival records. Ultimately, I want to show that beyond political borders, there has been a form of interculturality that is reflected in hagiographic manuscripts, a medium rarely exploited in its materiality. Such an investigation requires the mobilization of the fundamental sciences of history (codicology, palaeography) as well as trendsetting techniques from the digital humanities.

Image: © Trier, Stadtbibliothek, 436/1913, fol. 513r

Since 2019

Doctoral candidate:
Bastien Dubuisson

Michel Margue
Xavier Hermand

CET Members:
Paul Bertrand
Michael Embach

AFR Individual PhD grant (FNR)