Budapest Team



Research personnel:







Institution: Department of Medieval Studies, Central European University, Budapest

The project is based at the Department of Medieval Studies of the Central European University ( and The department was founded in 1992 and provides postgraduate interdisciplinary medieval programmes. It offers expertise in the history of Central and Eastern European history, and Byzantine, Eastern Christian, Islamic and Ottoman studies. It has a specific strength in material culture, cultural anthropology, archaeology and manuscript studies. Within the discipline of medieval studies it is very highly regarded, is prominent in Western circles, and has alumni/ae teaching in institutions around the world.


The associated project represents a comparative overview of the Central European region, including specific research on cults of saints in Poland, Bohemia, Hungary, and Croatia. In line with the larger project we treat the cults of medieval saints and their modern appropriations as a vehicle for studying changing cultural values related to social cohesion and identity, to the interactions between centre and periphery, between the medieval Latin culture and regional interests, political and cultural agendas. For examining all this we concentrate upon the reflection of these cults in different media (texts, images, relics, devotional objects, liturgy, music).

The problem of historical regions

We will constitute a systematic overview how the saints’ cults have contributed to the constitution of local, regional and national identities in East-Central Europe, as a distinct large historical region in Europe. This research would be continuing two major traditions of historiography: the reflection on the medieval formation of East-Central Europe as a distinct historical region in Polish, Hungarian and Czech historiography (Jerzy Kłoczowski, Bronisław Geremek, Francis Dvorník, Jenő Szűcs, Gábor Klaniczay) and the discussion of the role of the memory and the cult of symbolic figures (ancestors, heroes, saints) in constituting smaller and larger communities (František Graus, Otto-Gerhard Oexle, Patrick Geary). The cult of saints has been frequently discussed in this context, but there has never been a systematic reflection on how the interplay of these cults constitutes an entire historical region in the longue durée, and how these cults contribute to the changing internal divisions, the fluctuating evolution or resurgence of local, territorial and national identities. In this respect, this enquiry resembless a similar scrutiny of the historical region of Northern Europe, which shows many historical similarities with East-Central Europe (cf. the recent large comparative project organized by Nora Berend – Christianization). The historical examination of intra- and inter-regional influences, transfer of models, histoire croisée (a notion advocated by Michael Werner) will be providing the overall framework for our project.

Communication and dissemination of the cults

The most important tool of defining the identity of the saint and the content of his/her commemoration was hagiography – the more or less comprehensive narratives of the saints’ life, which formed the basis of their liturgical celebration and their presentation in other media (chronicles, sermons, offices, folk-legends, images, liturgical chants etc.). By preparing a commented bilingual edition of a representative selection of the legends of medieval Central European saints, we will reevaluate the large body of already existing scholarship on hagiography from the point of view of religious institution-bound, local, regional, dynastic and national identities. Related methodological issues here include examination of full, long-term hagiographic dossiers - the dissemination and the rewriting of legends, the birth of vernacular versions of their legends, the adaptation of their hagiographic profiles to different religious and regional settings.
Two major cults in this region, the one of Saint Adalbert, patron saint both of Poland and Bohemia, and to a certain extent also Hungary, and the one of Saint Elizabeth of Thuringia (and “of Hungary”) provide excellent material for a renewed consideration of this problem. Both cults bridge local, territorial, national and European scales, are claimed by rival communities, including monastic and mendicant orders, bind them and divide them in various manners. Two researchers in our team (Cristian Gaşpar and Ottó Gecser) will be working on this subject. An additional aspect of this same problem is how the dynastic cults, related to Arpads, Přemysl, Piast, Angevin, Luxemburg, Jagiellonian and Habsburg dynasties are used in the constitution of composite kingdoms and empires in this region, binding matrimonial strategies with a combination and appropriation of dynasty-related cults, in fact becoming an important factor in the formation of the larger historical region of East-Central Europe and the various nations within it – a subject researched and to be reconsidered by Gábor Klaniczay.
Besides hagiography, four further domains related to the publicizing of these cults will be examined in a greater detail: healing miracles, sermons, images, and public ceremonies.
1. Healing miracles represent one of the most important manifestations of saintly patronage for smaller and larger communities (Sigal, Goodich). This was best documented in late medieval canonization processes, such as the one arranged for Saint Margaret of Hungary in 1276 (a topic studied in detail by Gábor Klaniczay), which would be translated, reedited and reexamined by Ildikó Csepregi, a postdoctoral student who had researched healing miracles of Saints Cosmas and Damian and other healing saints in the longue durée. In relation to this we will examine the local and regional attraction of healing shrines, the ritual of healing, the phenomena and the dissemination of ex-voto gifts, as well as the process of pilgrimages.
2. As for sermons, our methodology would combine up-to-date approaches characterized by sermon studies seen by one of its leading representatives David d’Avray as a “sociology of medieval mass communication”, combining the consideration of written and oral forms of transmission, the problem of performance and reception, the relation to other genres (hagiography, iconography, exempla, folklore). Manuscript libraries offer here still a large mass of unexploited sources, now systematized by the repertory of Schneyer and his continuators, shedding new light on the social, communal functions of saints’ cults. In addition, up-to-date digital methodologies, new databases have come to existence in this field, which allow a new kind of electronic edition of these texts. Our researchers are in contact with an international group of scholars convened by Nicole Bériou, who, on the one hand, have devised a format for editing sermons in the web, which is adapted to the specificities of this genre and, on the other hand, intend to create a virtual meeting point for all students of medieval preaching (see We have in our research group three related ongoing enquiries. The PhD dissertation defended by Ottó Gecser in 2007 has unearthed and analyzed 103 Elizabeth sermons, and the PhD defended by Stanislava Kuzmová in 2010 edits and analyzes 80 Stanislaus sermons. Both these young researchers have been collaborating with the International Medieval Sermon Studies Society and especially with the digital project coordinated by Nicole Bériou in Lyon, and would make an internet-based edition of some of these texts, thus creating a resource that could also be exploited for other related cults. A further example for this would be provided by our research partner, Edit Madas who has recently edited the medieval sermons on Saint Ladislas, a dynastic saint transformed into a national patron saint, and is cooperating with the Hungarian research group on a digital edition project of two late medieval Franciscan Observant preachers Pelbárt of Temesvár and Oswald of Laskó, and who would arrange, in the framework of our project, a similar digital edition of these sermons.
3. The third field related to the communication of these cults, the images, will be handled in cooperation with the Krems part of the project, also relying upon the researches on the Hungarian Angevin Legendary by recent Hungarian scholarship, the work of our team member Béla Zsolt Szakács. His analysis of the iconography of saints in the legendary, relying upon a sophisticated combination of Iconclass system and the French Thésaurus database, elaborated by Jean-Claude Schmitt, could be a methodological tool also in other sub-projects in our cooperation. Ottó Gecser and Gábor Klaniczay are also situating their analyses on sermons and hagiography into the broader framework of other communication media, paying a special attention to religious images.
4. Finally, the examination of public ceremonies, processions, communal rituals, especially related to urban saint cults and cults developing in mendicant convents would complement all this. The methodology here would be a historical anthropology of religious ceremonies in urban and monastic cults. The feasts of saints, especially bishop-saints, the most frequent urban patrons, provide a special opportunity for shaping local urban, and larger regional communities – iconographic, liturgical and textual documentation of these rituals provide an insight to the formation of historical communities. The documents of canonization processes provide an insight to the everyday life and the experience of religious communities; furthermore the healing miracles allow an investigation of misfortune, illness and communal rituals to cope with it. Two Dalmatian cities are currently studied by PhD student Trpimir Vedriš, another Croatian PhD student, Ana Marinkovic will also contribute to this enquiry by the example of cults in Trogir. Further examples from Hungary, Bohemia, Poland would be explored. In addition, the canonization process of St. Margaret of Hungary treated in our project by Ildikó Csepregi would provide an opportunity to see how a Dominican convent patronized by the royal court and a royal city could develop such a cult. All this would allow an examination of symbols, ceremonies, and rituals related to such acts of patronage.