The Project
The term "Hagiography" denotes the historical and literary branch which, beyond its theological dimension studied by Theology, deals with texts written in honor of the saints. Especially in Byzantium, hagiography constituted an important literary genre with a long tradition. Hagiographical texts are highly idealized biographies of saints, monks, nuns, or ecclesiastical leaders that primarily praise their heroes’ religious life but also describe some aspects of their secular activity. Very often they also include references to local history, everyday life, customs and traditions, thus reflecting particular aspects of the society from which these narratives originate. As such, they are among the most valuable sources for the study of Byzantine history. Hagiography thus developed as a literary type of expression which appealed to the public throughout Byzantine history, depending, to a greater or lesser degree, on the social, political and cultural circumstances of each Byzantine period.
The last historical period of Byzantium, which began with the reconquest of Constantinople from the Latins in 1261 and reached its end with the capital’s final fall to the Ottomans in 1453, is characterized by a rich hagiographical production. This development emerged through a dramatic historical juncture, the main features of which are the decline of the empire, the increasing Ottoman advance, political conflicts, civil wars and economic weakness. At the same time, fierce religious disputes, such as the one on the issue of the Union of Churches and the controversy over Hesychasm, which caused clear political upheavals, agitated the Byzantine society of the reduced empire during the 13th and 14th centuries.
However, the terrible conditions above that led to the final collapse of 1453 coincided with a spectacular cultural activity. This could lead one to argue that rules governing historical events are not always valid for the interpretation of artistic and spiritual phenomena. Late Byzantine hagiography constitutes an aspect of the flourishing cultural production of the time.
Aside from their literary value, as most of them are written in a highly rhetorical style, hagiographic texts of the time are important sources of information. They remarkably depict aspects of the society of the time and provide information about everyday life, education, economy, mentalities, behaviours, and habits not only related to the monks, but also to the people. Through a comparative approach with other historical sources of the time, the study of the hagiographical texts aims to explore the way in which the society of the time is portrayed and how the relations of monasteries with the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the central government, the Church with the state administration are reflected. Hagiographiical texts as part of the increased intellectual production of this time often become a device for expressing ideas and ideologies and, as a result, they may influence and shape religious and political tendencies.