A depiction of the legendary Rütlischwur.A legend (Latin, legenda, "things to be read") is a narrative of human actions that are perceived both by teller and listeners to take place within human history and to possess certain qualities that give the tale verisimilitude. Legend, for its active and passive participants includes no happenings that are outside the realm of "possibility", defined by a highly flexible set of parameters, which may include miracles that are perceived as actually having happened, within the specific tradition of indoctrination where the legend arises, and within which it may be transformed over time, in order to keep it fresh and vital, and realistic. The Brothers Grimm defined legend as folktale historically grounded.[1] A modern folklorist's professional definition of legend was proposed by Timothy R. Tangherlini in 1990:[2] Legend, typically, is a short (mono-) episodic, traditional, highly ecotypified[3] historicized narrative performed in a conversational mode, reflecting on a psychological level a symbolic representation of folk belief and collective experiences and serving as a reaffirmation of commonly held values of the group to whose tradition it belongs."

Contents [hide]*1 Etymology and origin*2 Related concepts*3 Some famous legends*4 References

Etymology and originEdit

Holger Danske, a legendary character.The word "legend" appeared in the English language circa 1340, transmitted from mediaeval Latin language through French.[citation needed] Its blurred extended (and essentially Protestant) sense of a non-historical narrative or myth was first recorded in 1613. By emphasizing the unrealistic character of "legends" of the saints, English-speaking Protestants were able to introduce a note of contrast to the "real" saints and martyrs of the Reformation, whose authentic narratives could be found in Foxe's Book of Martyrs.[citation needed] Thus "legend" gained its modern connotations of "undocumented" and "spurious". Before the invention of the printing press, stories were passed on via oral tradition. Storytellers learned their stock in trade: their stories, typically received from an older storyteller, who might, though more likely not, have claimed to have actually known a witness, rendered the narrative as "history". Legend is distinguished from the genre of chronicle by the fact that legends apply structures that reveal a moral definition to events, providing meaning that lifts them above the repetitions and constraints of average human lives and giving them a universality that makes them worth repeating through many generations. In German-speaking and northern European countries, "legend", which involves Christian origins, is distinguished from "Saga", being from any other (usually, but not necessarily older) origin.

The modern characterisation of what may be termed a "legend" may be said to begin 1866 with Jacob Grimm's observation, "The fairy tale is poetic, legend, historic." [4] Early scholars such as Karl Wehrhahn[5] Friedrich Ranke[6] and Will-Erich Peukert[7] followed Grimm's example in focussing solely on the literary narrative, an approach that was enriched particularly after the 1960s ,[8] by addressing questions of performance and the anthropological and psychological insights provided in considering legends' social context. Questions of categorising legends, in hopes of compiling a content-based series of categories on the line of the Aarne-Thompson folktale index, provoked a search for a broader new synthesis.

In an early attempt at defining some basic questions operative in examining folk tales, Friedrich Ranke in 1925[9] characterised the folk legend as "a popular narrative with an objectively untrue imaginary content" a dismissive position that was subsequently largely abandoned.[10]

Compared to the highly-structured folktale, legend is comparatively amorphous, Helmut de Boor noted in 1928. The narrative content of legend is in realistic mode, rather than the wry irony of folktale;[12] Wilhelm Heiske[13] remarked on the similarity of motifs in legend and folktale and concluded that, in spite of its realistic mode, legend is not more historical than folktale.

Legend is often considered in connection with rumour, also believable and concentrating on a single episode. Ernst Bernheim suggested that legend is simply the survival of rumour.[14] Gordon Allport credited the staying-power of certain rumours to the persistent cultural state-of-mind that they embody and capsulise;[15] thus "Urban legends" are a feature of rumour.[16] When Willian Jansen suggested that legends that disappear quickly were "short-term legends" and the persistent ones be termed "long-term legends", the distinction between legend and rumour was effectively obliterated, Tangherlini concluded.[17]

[1][2]In the painting of Lady Godiva by Jules Joseph Lefebvre, the authentic historical person is fully submerged in the legend, presented in an anachronistic high mediaeval setting.==Related concepts== Legends are tales that, because of the tie to a historical event or location, are believable, although not necessarily believed. For the purpose of the study of legends, in the academic discipline of folkloristics, the truth value of legends is irrelevant because, whether the story told is true or not, the fact that the story is being told at all allows scholars to use it as commentary upon the cultures that produce or circulate the legends.

[3][4]The mediaeval legend of Genevieve of Brabant connected her to Treves.Hippolyte Delehaye, (in his Preface to The Legends of the Saints: An Introduction to Hagiography, 1907) distinguished legend from myth: "The legend, on the other hand, has, of necessity, some historical or topographical connection. It refers imaginary events to some real personage, or it localizes romantic stories in some definite spot."

From the moment a legend is retold as fiction its authentic legendary qualities begin to fade and recede: in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irving transformed a local Hudson River Valley legend into a literary anecdote with "Gothic" overtones, which actually tended to diminish its character as genuine legend.

Stories that exceed these boundaries of "realism" are called "fables". For example, the talking animal formula of Aesop identifies his brief stories as fables, not legends. The parable of the Prodigal Son would be a legend if it were told as having actually happened to a specific son of a historical father. If it included an ass that gave sage advice to the Prodigal Son it would be a fable.

Legend may be transmitted orally, passed on person-to-person, or, in the original sense, through written text. Jacob de Voragine's Legenda Aurea or "The Golden Legend" comprises a series of vitae or instructive biographical narratives, tied to the liturgical calendar of the Roman Catholic Church. They are presented as lives of the saints, but the profusion of miraculous happenings and above all their uncritical context are characteristics of hagiography. The Legenda was intended to inspire extemporized homilies and sermons appropriate to the saint of the day. Vandal Mckenna born in the late 16th century, also leader of the Clan of Mckenna's from Ireland. He is believed to have died after a war in his homeland and was believed to be a believer in the dark arts. Various others believe that he was a dark wolf during his rule over his clan, and not many people would travel into the clans territory. For they feared that he and his clansmen would eat there souls. He is believed to have been seen through out the ages in the form of a large dark beast, some would associate it as a werewolf, however many do not believe in this legend. But in the dark arts it is said that a true believer can take the form of there spirit animal and walk the earth forever, as beast and man.

Some famous legendsEdit

In folklore theory, a ‘legend’ is a short traditional oral narrative about a person, place, or object that really exists, existed, or is believed to have existed; even when it recounts a supernatural or highly unusual event, this is claimed to have occurred in real life. Unlike a fairytale or joke, it is presented (and generally accepted) as true; it offers information, moral judgements, or warnings which reflect the preoccupations of the hearers. In practice, the status of legends is more complex, both as regards orality and perceived truthfulness. Many which were once purely oral have repeatedly appeared in books, local newspapers, and TV, from where they feed back into oral tellings; some are commercially exploited (e.g. by tourist guides) but not believed; in some cases, the truth of the tradition is a matter for heated dispute (e.g. Robin Hood, Lady Godiva), while in others what was once regarded as true and important is now mere entertainment.

Legends are extremely common in English folklore, and indeed throughout Europe. Various classifications have been proposed, some based on content, some on function, and some on range of dissemination. Legends about past heroes were the first type to be identified. Many, such as those about King Alfred burning the cakes and King Canute defying the tide, are plausible, and very widely known; others have supernatural content, but are told of real people, such as St Dunstan or Drake; in others, the historical identity of the hero has vanished under legendary motifs, and rediscovering it becomes a contentious issue, as with attempts to identify the ‘real’ Arthur or Robin Hood. The categories of ‘historical’ and ‘local’ legend are not mutually exclusive, since there are tales about national figures such as Cromwell which are only locally known, while others relate to people only important in local history.

Local legends are found throughout England, and are extremely varied, the one common factor being their association with landmarks or buildings in the locality; yet, far from being unique to one place, they generally fit story-patterns known elsewhere in England or abroad, thus being migratory as well as local. As regards claims to credibility, they range from amusing fantasies, through stories such as those about treasures and tunnels which may (or may not) contain the proverbial ‘grain of truth’, to religious and supernatural tales embodying firm beliefs and moral principles. Where the belief is actively held, personal experience stories (memorates) often develop alongside the supernatural legend, and reinforce it; in present-day England this often occurs as regards haunted sites.

Another major category is the contemporary legend; this type is notorious for its rapid international diffusion, yet each individual telling presents itself as a local story; some tellers, obviously, must be hoaxing their hearers, while others are saying what they honestly believe.

An urban legend, urban myth, urban tale, or, more accurately, a contemporary legend, is a form of modern folklore consisting of apocryphal stories believed by their tellers to be true. As with all folklore and mythology, the designation suggests nothing about the story's factuality or falsehood, but merely that it is in non-institutional circulation, exhibits variation over time, and carries some significance that motivates the community in preserving and propagating it.

Despite its name, a typical urban legend does not necessarily originate in an urban area. Rather, the term is used to differentiate modern legend from traditional folklore in preindustrial times. For this reason, sociologists and folklorists prefer the term contemporary legend.

Urban legends are sometimes repeated in news stories and, in recent years, distributed by e-mail. People frequently allege that such tales happened to a "friend of a friend" -- so often, in fact, that "friend of a friend," ("FOAF") has become a commonly used term when recounting this type of story.

Some urban legends have passed through the years with only minor changes to suit regional variations. One example is the story of a woman killed by spiders nesting in her elaborate hairdo. More recent legends tend to reflect modern circumstances, like the story of people ambushed, anesthetized, and waking up minus one kidney, which was surgically removed for transplantation (a story which folklorists refer to as "The Kidney Heist"[4].)


[5][6]Local stories give rise to enacted rituals such as Legend tripping; here The "Bunny Man Bridge"The term “urban legend,” as used by folklorists, has appeared in print since at least 1968.[1] Jan Harold Brunvand, professor of English at the University of Utah, introduced the term to the general public in a series of popular books published beginning in 1981. Brunvand used his collection of legends, The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends & Their Meanings (1981) to make two points: first, that legends and folklore do not occur exclusively in so-called primitive or traditional societies, and second, that one could learn much about urban and modern culture by studying such tales. Brunvand has since published a series of similar books, and is credited as the first to use the term vector (inspired by the concept of biological vectors) to describe a person or entity passing on an urban legend.


Many urban legends are framed as complete stories with plot and characters.

The compelling appeal of a typical urban legend is its elements of mystery, horror, fear or humor. Many urban legends are presented as warnings or cautionary tales, while others might be more aptly called "widely dispersed misinformation," such as the erroneous belief that a college student will automatically pass all courses in a semester if her or his roommate commits suicide.[2] While such "facts" may not have the narrative elements of traditional urban legend, they are nevertheless conveyed from person to person with the typical elements of horror, humor or caution.

Much like some folktales of old, there are urban legends dealing with unexplained phenomena such as phantom apparitions.

Few urban legends can be traced to their actual origins, and even in these cases, the connections are often obscured by later embellishment and adaptation. Moreover, as Jan Brunvand pointed out[5] antecedent legends including some of the motifs, themes and symbolism of these urtexts can readily be identified. Cases in which there is some likelihood that at least a partial inspiration has been located include "The Death Car," traced by Richard Dorson to Michigan;[6] "the Solid Cement Cadillac"[7] and the possible origin of "The Hook" in the 1946 series of Lovers' Lane murders in Texarkana, Texas.[3]

Propagation and beliefEdit

The teller of an urban legend may claim it happened to a friend, which serves to personalize and enhance the power of the narrative. Since people, unconsciously or otherwise, often exaggerate, conflate or edit stories when telling them, urban legends can evolve over time.

Many urban legends depict horrific crimes, contaminated foods or other situations which would affect many people. Anyone believing such stories might feel compelled to warn loved ones. Not seldom, news organizations, school officials and even police departments have issued warnings concerning the latest threat.[8][9][10]

[7][8]The recurring "Blue Star Acid"[3] or "Mickey Mouse Acid" legend has often inspired credulous officials to issue warningsIn the "Lights Out" rumor, street gang members would drive without headlights until a compassionate motorist responded with the traditional flashing of headlights, whereupon a new gang member would be required to murder the citizen as a requirement of initiation. A fax received at the Nassau County Florida fire department was forwarded to police, and from there to all city departments. Even the Minister of Defense for Canada was taken in by the same legend; he forwarded an urgent security warning to all Ontario Members of Parliament.[4]

Many urban legends are essentially extended jokes, told as if they were true events. Others, like tall tales in general, contain a grain of truth. The urban legend that Coca-Cola developed the drink Fanta to sell in Nazi Germany without public backlash originated as the actual tale of German Max Keith, who invented the drink and ran Coca-Cola's operations in Germany during World War II.[5]

Some urban legends are morality tales that depict someone, usually a child, acting in a disagreeable manner, only to wind up in trouble, hurt, or dead.

Regardless of origins, urban legends typically include one or more common elements: the legend is retold on behalf of the original witness or participant; dire warnings are often given for those who might not heed the advice or lesson contained therein (this is a typical element of many e-mail phishing scams); and it is often touted as "something a friend told me," while the friend is identified by first name only or not identified at all.[6] One of the classic hallmarks of false urban legends is a lack of specific information regarding the incident, such as names, dates, locations, or similar information.

Persistent urban legends, however unlikely, often maintain at least a degree of plausibility - for instance a serial killer deliberately hiding in the back seat of a car.

One such example since the seventies has been the recurring rumor that the Procter and Gamble Company was associated with Satan worshipers because of details within its nineteenth-century trademark. The legend interrupted the company's business to the point it stopped using its nineteenth-century trademark.

Belief and relation to mythologyEdit

The earliest term by which these narratives were known, “urban belief tales,” highlights what was then thought to be a key property: they were held, by their tellers, to be true accounts, and the device of the FOAF was a spurious but significant effort at authentication.[7] The coinage leads in turn to the terms "FOAFlore" and "FOAFtale". While at least one classic legend, the “Death Car”, has been shown to have some basis in fact,[8] folklorists as such are interested in debunking these narratives only to the degree that establishing non-factuality warrants the assumption that there must be some other reason why the tales are told and believed.[9] As in the case of myth, these narratives are believed because they construct and reinforce the worldview of the group within which they are told, or “because they provide us with coherent and convincing explanations of complex events”.[10] Recently social scientists have started to draw on urban legends in order to help explain complex socio-psychological beliefs, such as attitudes to crime, childcare, fast food, SUVs and other 'family' choices.[11] Here the authors make an explicit connection between urban legends and popular folklore, such as Grimm's Fairy Tales where similar themes and motifs arise. For this reason, it is characteristic of groups within which a given narrative circulates to react very negatively to claims or demonstrations of non-factuality; an example would be the expressions of outrage by police officers who are told that adulteration of Halloween treats by strangers (the subject of periodic moral panics) is extremely rare, if it has occurred at all.[9][12]

Other terminologyEdit

The term urban myth is also used. Brunvand feels that urban legend is less stigmatizing because myth is commonly used to describe things that are widely accepted as untrue. The more academic definitions of myth usually refer to a supernatural tale involving gods, spirits, the origin of the world, and other symbols that are usually capable of multiple meanings (cf. the works of Claude Lévi-Strauss, Ernst Cassirer, Mircea Eliade, Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung, and Northrop Frye for various interpretations). However, the usage may simply reflect the idiom.

The term urban myth is preferred in some languages such as Mexican Spanish, where conventional coinage is "mito urbano" rather than "leyenda urbana." In French, urban legends are usually called légendes urbaines; the terms légendes contemporaines are still preferable because "légendes urbaines" is an improper and meaningless verbatim translation, though used by some French sociologists or journalists. But neither expression is commonly used: for ordinary French people, the more genuine terms rumeur or canular, not to mention more colloquial and expressive words, describe this phenomenon of "viral spread tall story" properly enough. The term hoax (in "Frenglish"), sometimes pronounced o-a-ks, is known in the Web community.

Some scholars prefer the term contemporary legend to highlight those tales with relatively recent or modern origins. Of course, an eighteenth-century pamphlet alleging that a woman was tricked into eating the ashes of her lover's heart could be described as a contemporary legend with respect to the eighteenth century.

Documenting urban legendsEdit

The advent of the Internet has facilitated the proliferation of urban legends. At the same time, however, it has allowed more efficient investigation of this social phenomenon.

Discussing, tracking, and analyzing urban legends has become a popular pursuit. It is the topic of the Usenet newsgroup, alt.folklore.urban, and several web sites, most notably

Fortean Times, the British magazine investigating and reporting strange phenomena, regularly features Urban Legend updates and has even produced books dedicated to single legends, such as the vanishing hitchhiker.

The United States Department of Energy had a service called Hoaxbusters that dealt with all sorts of computer-distributed hoaxes and legends. This service has since been discontinued.

Television shows such as Urban Legends, Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction, and later Mostly True Stories: Urban Legends Revealed feature re-enactments of urban legends detailing the accounts of the tales and (typically) later in the show, these programs reveal any factual basis they may have.

Since 2004 the Discovery Channel TV show MythBusters has tried to prove or disprove urban legends by attempting to test them or reproduce them using the scientific method.

Various types of narratives with documentary and commemorative functions for the Orthodox Church are also regarded as important literary works in the medieval Russian canon. Sacred biographies (vitae) were written about persons who had followed Christ's example in life and shown evidence of powers after death to intercede for believers, attributes that qualified them for sainthood. A short summary of the saint's life was read initially at the ceremonial inauguration of the feast day and thereafter to honor the saint's memory. Longer vitae circulated in religious anthologies of devotional readings. Eulogistic biographies of rulers, initially written for the funeral service, were recorded in chronicles, then revised for hagiographical anthologies. Tales from the Patericon record episodes from the lives of holy monks, their teachings, or the history of a monastic community. The vitae also include extended accounts of miracles worked by icons, some of which are viewed as local or national symbols, as well as tales of individual miracles.

When the Kievans converted to Christianity during the reign of Vladimir I (d. 1015), they received Greek Orthodox protocols for the recognition and veneration of saints, as well as a corpus of hagiographical texts. Beginning in the eleventh century, Kievan monks produced their own records of native saints. Veneration for the appanage princes Boris and Gleb, murdered in the internecine struggles following the death of their father Vladimir, inspired three extended lives that are regarded as literary classics. Also influential was the life of Theodosius (d. 1074), who became a monk and helped to found the renowned Kiev Cave Monastery. His biography, together with stories of the monastery's miraculous founding and of its monks, was anthologized in the Kiev Cave Monastery Patericon. The earliest hagiographical works from the city-state of Novgorod, surviving in thirteenth-century copies, focus on the bishops and abbots of important cloisters. Lives of Suzdalian saints, such as the Rostov bishops Leontius, Isaiah, and Ignatius, and the holy monk Abraham, preserve collective memories of clerics who converted the people of the area to Christianity.

In the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, Russian monks fled the cities, moving into wilderness areas to live as hermits, then founded monasteries to house their disciples. The writings produced in these monastery scriptoria promoted asceticism as the highest model to which a Christian could aspire. Biographies of saints were supplemented with long prefaces, prayers, laments, and digressive praises employing the poetic imagery and complex syntactic structures characteristic of hymnography. An introductory commonplace, declaring the writer's wish to write an account that will be a fitting crown or garland of praise for the saint, has inspired some scholars to group these lives into a hagiographical school whose trademark is "word-weaving" (pletenie sloves). The most prominent writers of this school include Metropolitan Cyprian (c. 1330 - 1406), identified by some as a Bulgarian and others as a Serb, who wrote a revised life of the holy Metropolitan Peter in 1381; Epiphanius the Wise (second half of the fourteenth century to the first quarter of the fifteenth century), author of the first life of St. Sergius of Radonezh and St. Stephen of Perm (1390s); and Pachomius the Logothete, an Athonian monk sometimes identified as a Serb, who was commissioned to rewrite the lives of widely venerated holy men from Novgorod, Moscow, and leading monasteries between 1429 and 1484.

Sixteenth-century Muscovite hagiographers composed expansive narratives celebrating saints and icons viewed as protectors of the Russian tsardom. The most influential promoter of the Muscovite school was Macarius. While serving as archbishop of Novgorod (1537 - 1542), Macarius ordered the collection of saints' lives and icon legends, as well as other translated and original religious texts, for a twelve-volume anthology known as the Great Menology (Velikie Minei Chetii). The first "Sophia" version was donated to the Novgorod Cathedral of Holy Wisdom in 1541. During his tenure as metropolitan of Moscow (1542 - 1563), Macarius commissioned additional lives of saints who were recognized as national patrons at the Church Councils of 1547 and 1549, for a second expanded version of this anthology, which he donated to the Kremlin Cathedral of the Dormition in 1552. A third fair copy was prepared between 1550 and 1554 for presentation to Tsar Ivan the Terrible. Between 1556 and 1563, expanded sacred biographies of Kievan rulers Olga and Vladimir I, appanage princes and princesses and four Moscow metropolitans, as well as an ornate narrative about the miracles of the nationally venerated icon Our Lady of Vladimir, were composed for Macarius's Book of Degrees. These lives stressed the unity of the Russian metropolitan see and the theme that the line of Moscow princes had prospered because they followed the guidance of the Church.

In the seventeenth century, two twelve-volume hagiographical anthologies were produced by clerics affiliated with the Trinity-Sergius Monastery: the Trinity monk German Tulupov and the priest Ioann Milyutin. Their still unpublished menologies preserve lives of native Russian saints and legends of local wonder-working icons not included in earlier collections. In 1684 the Kiev Cave Monastery monk Dmitry (Daniel Savvich Tuptalo), who would be consecrated metropolitan of Rostov and Yaroslavl in 1702, began to research Muscovite, Western, and Greek hagiographical sources. Dmitry's goal was to retell the lives of saints and legends of wonder-working icons in a form accessible to a broad audience of Orthodox readers. The first version of his reading menology was printed in 1705 at the Kiev Cave Monastery. In 1759, a corrected edition printed in Moscow became the authorized collection of hagiography for the Russian Orthodox Church. Also noteworthy as sources on the spirituality of the seventeenth century are the lives of Old Believer martyrs (Archpriest Avvakum, burned as a heretic on April 1, 1682, and Lady Theodosia Morozova who died in prison on November 2, 1675) and the life of the charitable lay-woman Yulianya Osorina, written by her son Kallistrat, district elder (gubnaya starosta) of Murom between 1610 and 1640.

Hagiography (pronounced /ˌhæɡiˈɒɡrəfi/) is the study of saints. A hagiography, from the Greek (h)ağios (ἅγιος, "holy" or "saint") and graphē (γραφή, "writing"), refers literally to writings on the subject of such holy people, and specifically to the biographies of ecclesiastical and secular leaders. The term hagiology, the study of hagiography, is also current in English, though less common. (This, in fact, follows original Greek practice, where ἁγιογραφία refers to visual images of the saints, while their written lives (βίοι or vitæ) or the study thereof are known as ἁγιολογία.)

Christian hagiographies focus on the lives, and notably the miracles of men and women canonized by the Roman Catholic church, the Anglican Communion, the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Oriental Orthodox Church . Other religions such as Buddhism and Islam also create and maintain hagiographical texts concerning saints and other individuals believed to be imbued with the sacred.

The term "hagiographic" has also been used as a pejorative reference to the works of biographers and historians perceived to be uncritical or "reverential" to their subject.

Contents [hide]*1 Development of hagiography*2 Hagiography of the mediæval period in England*3 Hagiography of the mediæval period in Ireland*4 Hagiography in Eastern Orthodoxy

Development of hagiographyEdit

Hagiography constituted an important literary genre in the early Christian church, providing some informational history with the more important inspirational stories and legend. A hagiographic account of an individual saint can constitute a vita or brief biography, an Acta Sanctorum or account of the deeds of the individual, or it may be condensed into a passio, concentrating on the saint's martyrdom.

The genre of lives of the saints first came into being in the Roman Empire as legends about Christian martyrs and were called martyrologies. In the 4th century, there were three main types of catalogs of lives of the saints:

  • annual calendar catalogue, or menaion (in Greek, menaios means "month") (biographies of the saints to be read at sermons);
  • synaxarion, or a short version of lives of the saints, arranged by dates;
  • paterikon (in Latin, pater means "father"), or biography of the specific saints, chosen by the catalog compiler.

In Western Europe hagiography was one of the more important vehicles for the study of inspirational history during the Middle Ages. The Golden Legend of Jacob de Voragine compiled a great deal of mediæval hagiographic material, with a strong emphasis on miracle tales. Lives were often written to promote the cult of local or national states, and in particular to develop pilgrimages to visit relics. The bronze Gniezno Doors of Gniezno Cathedral in Poland are the only Romanesque doors in Europe to feature the life of a saint. The life of Saint Adalbert, who is buried in the cathedral, is shown in 18 scenes, probably based on a lost illuminated copy of one of his Lives.

The Bollandist Society continues the study, academic assembly, appraisal and publication of materials relating to the lives of Christian saints. (See Acta Sanctorum.)

Hagiography of the mediæval period in EnglandEdit

With the introduction of Latin literature into England in the 7th and 8th centuries the genre of the life of the saint grew increasingly popular. It is not surprising that such a genre would become popular in England. When one contrasts it to the popular heroic poem, such as “Beowulf,” one finds that they share certain common features. In “Beowulf,” the titular character battles against Grendel and his mother, while the saint, such as AthanasiusAnthony (one of the original sources for the hagiographic motif) or the character of Guthlac, battles against figures no less substantial in a spiritual sense. Both genres then focus on the hero-warrior figure, but with the distinction that the saint is of a spiritual sort.

In Anglo-Saxon and mediæval England, Hagiography became a literary genre par excellence for the teaching of a largely illiterate audience. Hagiography provided priests and theologians with the classical handbooks in a form that allowed them the rhetorical tools necessary to defend the truth of their scriptures.

Of all the English hagiographers no one was more prolific nor so aware of the importance of the genre as Abbot Ælfric of Eynsham. His work The Lives of the Saints (MS Cotton Julius E.7) comprises a set of sermons on saints' days, formerly observed by the English Church. The text comprises two prefaces, one in Latin and one in Old English, and 39 lives beginning on December 25 with the nativity of Christ and ending with three texts to which no saints' days are attached. The text spans the entire year and describes the lives of many saints, both English and continental, and hearkens back to some of the earliest saints of the early church.

Imitation of the life of Christ then was the benchmark against which saints were measured, and imitation of the lives of saints was the benchmark against which the general population measured itself.

There are two known instances where saint's lives were adapted into vernacular plays in Britain. These are the Cornish-language works Beunans Meriasek and Beunans Ke, about the lives of Saints Meriasek and Kea, respectively.[1]

Hagiography of the mediæval period in IrelandEdit

Ireland is notable in its rich hagiographical tradition, and for the large amount of material which was produced during the mediæval period. Irish hagiographers wrote primarily in Latin while some of the later saint's lives were written in the hagiographer's native vernacular Irish. Of particular note are the lives of St. Patrick, St. Columba and St. Brigit—Ireland's three patron saints.

Hagiography in Eastern OrthodoxyEdit

[9][10]Example of Greek Orthodox visual hagiography. This is one of the best known surviving Byzantine mosaics in Hagia Sophia - Christ Pantocrator flanked by the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist made in the 12th century.In the 10th century, a Byzantine monk Simeon Metaphrastes was the first one to change the genre of lives of the saints into something different, giving it a moralizing and panegyrical character. His catalog of lives of the saints became the standard for all of the Western and Eastern hagiographers, who would create relative biographies and images of the ideal saints by gradually departing from the real facts of their lives. Over the years, the genre of lives of the saints had absorbed a number of narrative plots and poetic images (often, of pre-Christian origin, such as dragon fighting etc.), mediaeval parables, short stories and anecdotes.

The genre of lives of the saints was brought to Kievan Rus' by the South Slavs together with writing and also in translations from the Greek language. In the 11th century, the Rus' began to compile the original life stories of the first Rus'ian saints, e.g. Boris and Gleb, Theodosius Pechersky etc. In the 16th century, Metropolitan Macarius expanded the list of the Rus'ian saints and supervised the compiling process of their life stories. They would all be compiled in the so called Velikiye chet’yi-minei catalog (Великие Четьи-Минеи, or Great Menaion Reader), consisting of 12 volumes in accordance with each month of the year. They were revised and expanded by St. Dimitry of Rostov in 1684-1705.

This literary genre was often used as ecclesiastic and political propaganda.[2] Today, the works in the genre of lives of the saints represent a valuable historical source and reflection of different social ideas, world outlook and aesthetic concepts of the past.

Secular usageEdit

The term "hagiography" has come to refer to the works of contemporary biographers and historians whom critics perceive to be uncritical and even "reverential".

Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.