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animals in medieval hagiography, saints, hermits, outcasts, mendicant friars


Animals in medieval hagiography typically appear in conjunction with saints who practice withdrawal from normal human society or are otherwise socially marginalized, such as hermits, outcasts, or mendicant friars. The association of these figures with animals emphasizes the saints’ status on the social margins; for these saints, interaction with animals is a substitute for participation in human society. An exception to this pattern is Hugh of Avalon, bishop of Lincoln in the late twelfth century. An animal companion, the swan of Stow, appears prominently in all three hagiographical accounts of Hugh’s life and is the most recognizable characteristic of his iconography. Yet Hugh was far from the socially marginal saint usually associated with animals. Animals in Hugh’s hagiography function to recognize and legitimize Hugh’s sanctity, raising broader questions about animals’ capacity for moral judgment.