Landscape with Two Saints: How Genovefa of Paris and Brigit of Kildare Built Christianity in Barbarian Europe

Landscape with Two Saints: How Genovefa of Paris and Brigit of Kildare Built Christianity in Barbarian Europe

Landscape with Two Saints: How Genovefa of Paris and Brigit of Kildare Built Christianity in Barbarian Europe

Landscape with Two Saints: How Genovefa of Paris and Brigit of Kildare Built Christianity in Barbarian Europe

Synopsis

Lisa Bitel uses the history of two unique holy women--Genovefa of Paris (ca. 420-509) and Brigit of Kildare (ca.452-524)--their churches and cults, and the many generations of their devotees to reveal how ordinary Europeans lived through Christianization at the dawn of the Middle Ages. Within about fifty years, and at a time when women had only recently been barred from leadership of Christian communities, one of these saints built churches within the bounds of the world's greatest empire, while the other was inspired by dreams of that fading empire to build Christian cities onthe barbarian frontier. Each became a translator of cultures, bringing romanitas (Roman-ness) to her homeland and attracting vast numbers of converts to Christianity. Bitel uses both written and material remains to recreate the cities where Genovefa and Brigit lived and worked, the roads theytraveled, and the places where Christians and pagans worshipped. Following the trail of these two saints, she plots the course of Christianization across northern Europe, showing how both people and places became Christian. Most converts did not have a sudden epiphany, Bitel argues. Instead theylearned and lived their new religion in continuous conversation with preachers, saints, rulers, and neighbors. Together, they built their faith over many years, brick by brick, into their churches and shrines, cemeteries, houses, and even their markets and farms. Today, the stone fragments of theirchurches and the archaeological rubbish of fields where saints Genovefa and Brigit once walked reveal what the written words of medieval missionaries and theologians cannot: the active participation of converts in the history of their own religious conversion. Drawing on disciplines as diverse as history, landscape history, religion, architecture, archaeology, and Celtic studies, this penetrating study not only tells the engaging story of two legendary women, but also illuminates the pervasive influence of gender, ethnicity, and landscape on the complexprocess of religious conversion.

Excerpt

On the road from Galway to the Cliffs of Moher on the west coast of Ireland, you might notice a nun in a telephone booth at Liscannor. If you are heading for the cliffs, one of the most spectacular sites of natural beauty on the island, you might not bother to stop. But if you visit the nun, you will see that she is small, lovely of face, and demurely draped in the black and white of a modern Benedictine. She gazes thoughtfully down the valley toward the ruins of a medieval monastery. This is no chatty sister, dialing up veiled colleagues around the county, but a statue of Saint Brigit of Kildare encased in glass. Just behind her is a low, dark entrance into a cave tucked beneath a hillside. Up the hill are gravestones. Inside the cave is a well. The effigy of Brigit guards her well.

Saint Brigit has many wells in Ireland and a few elsewhere. Her springs have bubbled, flowed, and leaked into streams, pools, and basins for millennia. The saint’s waters must be gushing below the ground of Ireland with the volume and force of a geyser, for they burst through the surface from Ulster to Kerry, Mayo to Wexford. In this rain-soaked land surrounded by ocean, where water from the skies gathers in muddy fields and back gardens, pilgrims seek every drip and trickle from the saint. They duck into caves, clamber over fences, and slog through the rain to dip their fingertips in the holy waters. They bathe their eyes, their temples, their limbs. They collect water in bottles and jugs to take home and sprinkle on others. They come from small villages, whence parents and grandparents led . . .

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