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Eva Ferro

 Eva Ferro

Dissertation Project: The Bishop and the Martyrs: Constructs of Sanctity and Heroization Strategies in the Medieval Cult of the Veronese Patron Saints Zeno, Firmus and Rusticus

Researching saints forces one to theoretically reflect upon the idea of the ‘heroic,’ for the meaning of ‘heroic’ is per se historically determined. This is why one of the central questions of my research dealing with early medieval saints of the Northern Italian city Verona reads “Is the saint to be regarded as a complementary type or as a contrasting phenomenon to the hero?” Or are saints ‘the heroes of the Middle Ages,’ i.e. the medieval phenotype of the hero, as the implicit thesis of not just earlier research has argued? Only by dispensing with essentialist definitions and focusing on the processes which led to the creation of the exceptional figure ‘the saint’ is an analysis of the similarities and the differences between ‘hero’ and ‘saint’ possible and thereby an answer to the question above.

The aim of my research is therefore to elucidate strategies and processes of constructing a saint as well as the specific characteristics of their various typologies. I have chosen two saint cults in Northern Italy: first, the cult surrounding the Veronese bishop Zeno and, second, the cult of the martyrs Firmus and Rusticus. The focus will center on an edition and subsequently an examination of the liturgical sources (series of office chants) which were written and performed on the feast days of these saints. These two cults can provide an insight not only into the regional functionalization of these figures as patron saints of the city, in other words in relation to the development of the city patronage and the identity building of medieval cities in Northern Italy. The spread of the Zeno cult to German speaking areas before and during the Carolingian period as well as in the 14th and 15th centuries also allows for the ways and modalities by which medieval saint cults spread and transformed to be investigated.

The guiding principle of the method in which I approach my research is as follows: The image of the saint is to be regarded as a product of the very society which generates and forms him. An examination of liturgy, a commonly undervalued part of medieval culture, promises to yield much insight into such a phenomenon relevant to cultural studies. In liturgical poetry hagiographic sources are modified through selection and emphasis of certain aspects of the hagiographical narrative and simultaneously accentuated. But also the context in which these texts were performed, namely the liturgical and thereby sacred performance, makes it an especially illuminating source for the study of medieval culture.