Cults of Saints

Miri Rubin

in The Oxford Handbook of Women and Gender in Medieval Europe

Published in print August 2013 | ISBN: 9780199582174
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191749919 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in History

Cults of Saints

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  • Gender and Sexuality
  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)


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The cult of saints in the Middle Ages is considered here through the operation of gender. Gender is shown to be have determined who was considered a saint, how holiness was pursued by individuals, described in hagiography, remembered, and approached. Early Christian communities admired heroic martyrdom in men and women, but medieval religious institutions offered men many more opportunities to develop saintly reputations: as bishops, hermits, and missionaries. With the growth of towns after the year 1100, niches developed for collective as well as individual holy lives for men and women, in households and neighborhoods; friars often appreciated and encouraged such lives, sometimes committing them to hagiography. Such writing about saints was a prolific genre, alongside the pilgrimage travelogue and miracles worked by saints at shrines. Gender, wealth and status determined the chances to encounter saints through pilgrimage, to possess hagiography, and to use material objects in devotion.

Keywords: Gender; hagiography; martyrdom; monasticism; relics; pilgrimage

Article.  8294 words. 

Subjects: Gender and Sexuality ; Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)

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