The World of Orthodox Sainthood

As taught in Autumn Semester 2009
Dr Monica White, School of Modern Languages and Culture

The enthusiasm for Valentine’s Day and Father Christmas is an example of the continuing legacy of the cult of saints in contemporary society. But who were the original St Valentine and St Nicholas? What can their lives tell us about the culture they lived in, and how were they venerated before the invention of chocolate hearts and the Christmas tree?

This 10-credit module will introduce students to the cult of saints in the Eastern Orthodox world. Using original sources from late antiquity and the middle ages, we will examine the major types of saints and how they were venerated. The module will start with figures from the New Testament, and will move on to martyrs, monks, bishops, missionaries, saintly princes and others. The semester will be divided equally between Byzantium and the Orthodox Slavs (Bulgarians, Serbs and Rus), and students will be encouraged to discuss the continuities and changes between these cultures in seminars and coursework.

The module will consist of a weekly lecture and seminars. The lectures will introduce types of saints and the historical and cultural contexts in which they arose. In the seminars, we will discuss original written sources about particular saints and the icons associated with them. Student presentations will also take place during the seminars. Over the course of the semester, students will learn the basic tools needed to conduct research on saints, and will be expected to use these in their coursework. All readings will be in English.

Suitable for study at: undergraduate level 2