JACOBUS DE VORAGINE(C. 1230–1298). Archbishop of Genoa and hagiographer, he was the author of the Legenda aurea.
Jacobus (or James) was born in Varazze near Genoa. He entered the Dominican Order in 1244 and became provincial of the Dominicans in Lombardy. In 1288, Pope Nicholas IV sent him to Genoa, which was under a papal interdict for assisting the Sicilians in a revolt against the king of Naples. In 1292, with much reluctance, he accepted election to the post of archbishop of Genoa, which he had refused four years earlier. As archbishop, he worked to repair the city’s decaying churches, endowed a number of hospitals, and became known for his care of the poor. He spent much of his time attempting to make peace between warring factions of Guelphs (papal supporters) and Ghibellines (imperial supporters) in the city and achieved a short-lived truce in 1295. For these peacemaking efforts, he was beatified in 1816 and is celebrated as a saint within the Dominican Order.
Besides numerous sermons, Jacobus wrote a chronicle of the city of Genoa and compiled a series of Legenda sanctorum (readings on the saints), now known as the Legenda aurea (Golden Legend). This collection, which appears to have been intended as an aid for preachers, presents popular stories from a variety of earlier saints’ lives and biblical legends, arranged according to the Church calendar. It became one of the most widely copied and translated texts of the later Middle Ages. According to tradition, it was one of only two books available to Ignatius Loyola during the illness, which lead to his conversion. Jacobus’ retellings of saints’ lives often contradict the tone of his sources. He selected miracle stories designed to show the arbitrary power of God and his saints and to inspire awe and devotion to saints as people set apart from their communities. In this, he was very much a man of his time, but to later ages, the work seemed superstitious and unlikely to promote Christian behavior. During the Reformation, Protestants and Catholics alike attacked the Golden Legend.