Martyr Passions and Hagiography

Susan Ashbrook Harvey

in The Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Studies

Published in print September 2008 | ISBN: 9780199271566
Published online September 2009 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Religion and Theology

Martyr Passions and Hagiography

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  • Religion
  • Christianity
  • Religious Studies
  • Religion in the Ancient World



A large body of literature survives from the early Christian period, devoted first to accounts of martyrdom suffered on behalf of the emerging religion and then to lives of exemplary Christian witness. They appeared in every language of the early Christian period, establishing literary traditions that flourished throughout the medieval and Byzantine periods, and even today. These texts have an importance for early Christian studies separate from their role in the cult of saints, and their study has its own scholarly issues. This article addresses these literary concerns, rather than those related to the cult of saints. ‘Hagiography’ is an umbrella term covering writings about holy persons. By the Middle Ages, it was a particular literary form: the ‘Life’, or vita, of a saint, distinct from the martyr's ‘passion’, the account of a martyr's suffering death.

Keywords: martyr passions; saints' lives; martyrdom; early Christian period; hagiography

Article.  10613 words. 

Subjects: Religion ; Christianity ; Religious Studies ; Religion in the Ancient World

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