Medieval religion, Christianity, High Middle Ages, Saints


Saints constituted an important part of medieval religion-both in the central, clerical church organization and in the popular religious elements of society. Medieval Christians, both lay and clerical, looked to saints as divine mediators between God and man by virtue of the deeds they had accomplished during their mortal lives (or that their remains had accomplished post mortem). To be labeled a saint and to be considered worthy of such adoration, one had to be shown to have fulfilled certain requirements, which varied from period to period and from place to place. During the High Middle Ages, this saint-making process and its outcome, as the church hierarchy gradually gained control over it, came to be called canonization. This process, like the role of saints, changed several times during the Middle Ages. Perhaps the most important medieval attempt to regulate saint-making came in 1215 at the Fourth Lateran Council (hereafter Lateran IV) presided over by Pope Innocent III-possibly the most powerful pope of the Middle Ages. This decree, voiced in the 62nd canon of the council, constituted a strict departure from earlier, localized procedures and effectively placed the canonizing power in the hands of the papal see. Shortly thereafter, influential church theologians and officers worked out the particular tenets of the new canonization process. Largely for this reason, relatively few saints were officially canonized in the two hundred years subsequent to this defining council. Those that achieved this status all seemed to be cut from much the same cloth, for they, without exception, worked during their lifetimes to reinforce and build the authority and prestige of the central church. St. Dominic (probably the quintessential high medieval saint) was one of these illustrative cases of the post-Lateran IV canonization process. A study of his canonization, when compared with saintmaking processes of earlier times, effectively serves as a window through which we may understand this vital element of medieval religion. With these aspects of medieval saint-making in mind, in this paper I will examine (1) the pre-Lateran IV practice of saint veneration and canonization, (2) the reasons for the papacy's attempts to achieve control over the canonization process culminating in the Fourth Lateran Council, (3) the process formulated circa-Lateran IV, 2 and (4) the canonization of St. Dominic as a typical example of post-Lateran IV saint-designation.