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Despite increased interest in hagiographic writing among scholars of early literature in the last few decades, serious study of saints’ lives in the undergraduate classroom remains rare. To some degree, this is a result of poor representation in the leading anthologies,[1]but another contributing factor has been the perception of a distinction between hagiographic and other medieval writing it terms of genre or of literary value. Such distinctions, however, are modern inventions, and do not accurately reflect the medieval reader or writer’s view. Nor is the inclusion of the literature alongside the expected “great works” difficult or jarring; a short section on hagiography can in fact be introduced into a survey course with great ease. Indeed, because many texts already common to these surveys assume a reader’s intimate knowledge of the cult of the saints, most commonly-offered surveys (especially courses such as World Literature to 1500 and the ubiquitous survey of pre-1800 British Literature) will actively benefit from the inclusion of hagiographic writing. Students exposed to hagiographic materials will understand the traditions influencing Bede’s biographical sketches, make deeper connections with Gawain’s fealty to the Marian cult, and of course illuminate the import of the “hooly blisful martir” whose shrine the Canterbury pilgrims seek. This short essay offers several suggestions for incorporating the saints into an undergraduate curriculum.

Original Citation

Sexton, J.P. (2010, June). In Praise of the Saints: Introducing Medieval Hagiography into the British Literature Survey. This Rough Magic, 1(2).