Call 8: Healing saints, magic and assimilation

In this session we want to investigate different manners to obtain protection from physical and psychic evil. The devotion and invocation of saints originates from the first known martyrs in the 2nd century A. D. Some saints even go back to pagan agents and rites, while others have a genuine Christian origin.

By the 8th century, three categories of saints were known:  those who didn’t die as a martyr but led an exemplary life, the most important persons of the Holy Bible, and finally the martyrs. While before the 13th century the general invocation was common, an evolution took place to a more specialized cult of healing, for humans as well as for animals.

Questions to be addressed include but are not limited to

  • What elements in medieval society led to the development of specific healing cults? Was this determined by the local community, or were there other aspects taken in consideration such as the way the saint became a martyr?
  • Is there a sort of gradation in the cure offered by saints: are there saints to heal all known diseases of the time? Were there diseases against which no saint could be invoked, and was this deliberate? Could animals count on the same ‘degree’ of protection as humans?
  • What was the influence of much older and foreign cults (pagan, or imported from other traditions and cultures), popular beliefs and magic on the Christian traditions and their evolution?
  • Is the healing potentiality necessarily invoked through saints or are there other agents and rites with the same capacities? Can they co-exist and how do they interact? What does it tell us about the role of ‘immaterial aspects’ in het healing process?