The aim of the unit is to introduce students to the literary genre of hagiography that developed in the 4th century and traces its origins to the Life of Antony attributed to Athanasius of Alexandria. In this unit, students will gain an appreciation of the interrelationship between hagiographical text, liturgy and iconography in establishing the cult of a saint. The unit will follow the developments of the hagiographical genre and the associated cult of the saints, through Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, by focusing on both monastic accounts and martyrologies, and finally consider the liturgical implications of hagiography as a means of understanding the role of the saints in the present day.

Unit code: CH8440A

Unit status: Approved (New unit)

Points: 24.0

Unit level: Postgraduate Foundational

Unit discipline: Church History

Proposing College: St Athanasius College

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Learning outcomes


Construct a geography of sacred space using documentary, art historical, archaeological, and liturgical sources.


Describe the purpose and means by which religious institutions propagated the cult of a saint through hagiography.


Analyse the various social and religious motives, and liturgical implications behind the composition of a hagiographic text, and understand the role pilgrimage plays in this context.


Discern hagiography among various literary genres


Compare and contrast the various theologies that were prominent in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, as presented in hagiographical sources


Develop a critical framework for reading and interpreting historical events contained in the primary sources.


Required reading and additional reading resources.

Indicative Bibliography

Primary sources:

  • Athanasius of Alexandria, Life of Antony: downloadable at
  • Budge E. A. W. (trans.), “St Victor Statelates the General”, in Coptic Martyrdoms in the Dialect of Upper Egypt. London, 1914
  • Forget, Jacques (ed./trans.) Synaxarium I & II, CSCO vols 46, 47, 48, 67, 78, 90. Louvain (1905-1932).
  • John of Shmun, “Encomium on Antony”, (trans.) Tim Vivian and A. N. Athanassakis, Athanasius of Alexandria, The Life of Antony: The Coptic Life and the Greek Life. Kalamazoo, 2003.
  • Pseudo-Athanasius, The Life and Regimen of the Blessed and Holy Syncletica, Part 1 & 2, ed. & trans. Mary Schaeffer, (Peregrina, 2001 & 2005).
  • Ward, Benedicta, Harlots of the Desert, (Kalamazoo, 1987). ###Secondary sources:
  • Brown, Peter, The Rise and Function of the Holy Man in Late Antiquity, Oxford, 1971.
  • Coon, Lynda, Sacred Fictions: Holy Women and Hagiography in Late Antiquity, Philadelphia, 1997.
  • Efthymiadis, Stephanos, The Ashgate Research Companion to Byzantine Hagiography, Volume 1, Surrey, 2011.
  • Howard-Johnston, James and Paul Antony Hayward, The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages: Essays on the Contribution of Peter Brown, Oxford, 2002
  • Monge, Rico G., Kerry P. C. San Chirico, Rachel J. Smith (eds.), Hagiography and Religious Truth: Case Studies in the Abrahamic and Dharmic Traditions, Bloomsbury, 2016.
  • Papaconstantinou, Arietta, “Historiography, hagiography, and the making of the Coptic ‘Church of the Martyrs’ in early Islamic Egypt”, Dumbarton Oaks Papers (2006): 65-86.
  • Papaconstantinou, Arietta, “The cult of saints: a haven of continuity in a changing world?” in Egypt in the Byzantine World, 300-700, ed. Roger Bagnall (Cambridge 2007) 350-67.
  • Rotman, Youval, “The Holy Fool as a historical phenomenon,” in Insanity and Sanctity in Byzantium Harvard, 2016, pp. 16-32.
  • Talbot, Alice-Mary, “Pilgrimage to Healing Shrines: The Evidence of Miracle Accounts”, in Dumbarton Oaks Papers (2006): 1-40.


Type Description Word count Weight (%)

Essay 2750 words

0 45.0

Essay 2750 words

0 45.0
Oral Presentation

Presentation (500 words)

0 10.0

Unit approved for the University of Divinity by John Capper on 19 Oct, 2017

Unit record last updated: 2019-03-27 09:27:08 +1100