aints' Lives (known collectively as "hagiography") are stories about people been who have canonized by the Catholic Church. The "Lives of the Saints" Project will focus on those Lives that were written in French (including Anglo-Norman but not Occitan), in verse or prose or both between c. 880 and c. 1500 of the Christian era.  When complete, the project will consist of two major components: an interactive database containing extensive textual, historical and material information about these works and their manuscript contexts, and a collection of hypertext editions and translations of Lives with images of their manuscripts.


Vernacular hagiography was arguably one of the most widely enjoyed and influential genres of the French Middle Ages, and yet, despite some increased interest, it has not gained a corresponding degree of recognition among modern scholars.  Many of the Lives are hitherto undiscovered literary gems; others are not quite so aesthetically pleasing.  All Lives, however, deserve increased attention both because of the genre's medieval importance and because of their engagement with the foremost issues of their day.  Because hagiography, by definition, aims to teach its audience specific lessons, it articulates more explicit points of view than do other literary genres, such as romance and epic.  Because saints' Lives must not only teach but also please their audiences in order to succeed, the genre addresses most of the same problems that made secular literature so popular.  Finally, because the issues that were most pressing for the audiences shifted constantly, the Lives were not static texts, but rather changed substantially from copy to copy to attract new audiences.  Hagiography therefore facilitates our exploration of a variety of medieval cultural matters: spirituality in general, but also gender, family dynamics, and law, to name a few.

For an expanded explanation of the importance of medieval French saints' Lives, please see my article, "The Centrality of Margins: Medieval French Genders and Genres Reconfigured" (French Forum 30 [2005]: 1-23) Download [pdf]

Project Aims

The Lives of the Saints Project aims both to make easily accessible the information that is currently known about medieval French hagiography and to make evident the substantial holes in that knowledge.  By providing this information, and by demonstrating the central role of hagiography in medieval French culture and the inherent appeal of the works, we hope to stimulate and facilitate further research, especially the preparation of editions and translations that will make the Lives accessible to all readers.

The search tools we are developing will also permit more accurate and comprehensive comparative studies of hagiography.  Users will be able to find answers to questions such as

This information will facilitate the identification of origins, dates and relationships of manuscripts; explorations of medieval poetics in popular literature; thematic studies of sanctity, gender and lay-ecclesiastic relationships; comparative studies of artistic and literary representations of saints; investigations into medieval modes of textuality; research into individual cults; and a wide array of interdisciplinary work.

In the second phase, the project will grow to include images and transcriptions of the full manuscripts of selected Lives, which will permit users to read and compare copies, and search for thematic, linguistic and rhetorical elements.

At a more theoretical level, we aim to explore the multidimensionality of the electronic medium as a means of conveying the transcendent character of hagiography. As the name "Lives" implies, these narratives exist in a complex relationship to the biological existence of their subjects: they are not static texts, but rather each manuscript copy is a prolongation of the saints' presence in the terrestrial world which records and solicits audiences' responses. The project will embody, in its very construction, this interactive quality and will articulate ways of representing the Lives that do not suppress their quintessential variability and do respect the inherent value of each unique manuscript.

Current Status

February 2008. We are in the process of designing and testing search tools while we continue to add data to the catalogs of Lives, saints, and manuscripts (codices). We have created records for many of the manuscripts that will be contained in the catalog, but we continue to focus on those that belong to our sample corpus.

This corpus is based on the seven Lives that are contained in a remarkable manuscript from around 1200 (Oxford University, Bodleian Library, Canonici Miscellaneous 74). Although the codex has received little attention, it is an extremely early example of a vernacular hagiographic anthology and it contains two of the most consistently popular Lives of the French tradition (Alexis and Marie l'Égyptienne). To the Canonici Misc. 74 Lives we have added all of the other Lives about the same seven saints and all of the manuscripts that contain these Lives. The 29 Lives include works in prose and various verse forms, written between c. 1050 and the end of the fifteenth century; most are anonymous, but at least one is the work of a major thirteenth-century author who may have read Canonici Misc. 74 (Rutebeuf). Covering a similar time span, the approximately 115 manuscripts range from small, simple literary collections to large, ornate prayer books and luxury volumes for the French nobility.

Suggestions For Using This Site

The Indices allow users to see complete lists of the Lives, manuscripts and saints included in the project, together with lists of the incipits (of Lives or of unique copies) and of secondary sources.  These lists (Lives, manuscripts and saints) are all linked to the records that contain the known information about each item.  The indices are a good place to start to see the scope of the project, to learn about the relationships among Lives, manuscripts and saints, to find all the Lives of a particular saint, or to locate a specific item.

There are two types of Searches.  The basic search permits users to locate specific items quickly.  The comparative search produces lists of Lives, manuscripts or saints that fit the limits and sorting criteria that the user has specified.  This latter search is useful for learning about trends in medieval hagiography (e.g., were there more Lives written about male saints than about female saints in the thirteenth century?  Are there more copies of those Lives or of the Lives of the female saints?) or in manuscript production.

The glossary will contain an alphabetical list of all specialized terms that are used in the project.