Modern Day Cult of a Saint- Padre Pio web

Saints and Worshippers from the Martyrs to the Reformation

This book examines all of the most important aspects of the saints and their worshippers: miracles, relics, pilgrimages, shrines, and the saints’ role in the calendar, literature, and art.

Why can the dead do such great things CoverWhy Can the Dead Do Such Great Things?: Saints and Worshippers from the Martyrs to the Reformation
By Robert Bartlett
Princeton University Press 2013
ISBN-10: 0691169683
ISBN-13: 978-0691169682 

From its earliest centuries, one of the most notable features of Christianity has been the veneration of the saints: the holy dead. This ambitious history tells the fascinating story of the cult of the saints from its origins in the second-century days of the Christian martyrs to the Protestant Reformation. Robert Bartlett examines all of the most important aspects of the saints and their worshippers: miracles, relics, pilgrimages, shrines, and the saints’ role in the calendar, literature, and art.

The book explores the central role played by the bodies and body parts of saints, and the special treatment these relics received. From the routes, dangers, and rewards of pilgrimage, to the saints’ impact on everyday life, Bartlett’s account is an unmatched examination of an important and intriguing part of the religious life of the past–as well as the present.

Winner of the 2015 Otto Gründler Book Prize, The Medieval Institute of Western Michigan University
Winner of the 2013 PROSE Award in European and World History, Association of American Publishers


  • Part I Developments 1
  • Chapter 1 Origins (100-500) 3
    The Martyrs 3
    The Religious Revolution of the Fourth Century 7
    Translations 10
    Rituals of Commemoration and Invocation 13
    Confessor Saints 16
    The Birth of Hagiography 19
    The First Miracle Books 22
  • Chapter 2 The Early Middle Ages (500-1000) 27
    The View from the 590s 29
    Gregory the Great 43
    The Benedictine Centuries 47
    New Christendoms: Eastern and Northern Europe 52
  • Chapter 3 The High and Later Middle Ages (1000-1500) 57
    Papal Canonization 57
    Mendicant Saints 65
    Lay Female Saints 71
    New Devotions 77
  • Chapter 4 The Protestant Reformation 85
    Part II Dynamics 93
  • Chapter 5 The Nature of Cult 95
    Name, Body, Text 95
    Patronage and Invocation: The Mutual Relationship 103
  • Chapter 6 Saints’ Days 113
    Liturgy 113
    The Hierarchy of Feast-days 120
    Saints’ Days and Local Identity 129
    Holy Days and Holidays 133
  • Chapter 7 Types of Saint 137
    Counting Saints 137
    Categorizing Saints 150
    Saints as Patrons 221
  • Chapter 8 Relics and Shrines 239
    Body Parts 239
    Contact Relics 244
    The Shrine in the Church 250
    Running a Shrine 259
    Reliquaries 263
    Relic Collections 276
    Relics in Movement 282
    Relics in Law and War 311
    Relics in Dispute 324
  • Chapter 9 Miracles 333
    The Meaning of Miracle 333
    Patterns of Miracles 342
    Healing Miracles 349
    Miracles of Provision 365
    Visions, Prophecy, and Rapture 368
    Saints in War 378
    Saints and Demons 383
    Saints and Animals 390
    Liberation 398
    Punitive Miracles 401
  • Chapter 10 Pilgrimage 410
    Origins and Definitions 410
    Pilgrim Garb and Status 417
    Motives 421
    The Shrines of Medieval Christendom 425
    Logistics 433
    Pilgrim Guides and Pilgrim Badges 439
  • Chapter 11 Dedications and Naming 444
    Dedication of Churches and Altars 444
    Place Names 454
    Personal Names 459
  • Chapter 12 Images of the Saints 471
    The Image in Early Christianity 471
    Byzantine Iconoclasm 475
    Images in the Medieval West 480
  • Chapter 13 The Literature of Sanctity 504
    Types of Hagiography 504
    Reasons for Writing 510
    The Hagiographers 513
    The Life 518
    Legendaries 546
    Miracle Books 558
    Sermons 570
    The Literature of Canonization Proceedings 576
    Vernacular Hagiography 578
  • Chapter 14 Doubt and Dissent 587
    Early Polemics 587
    Western Heretics 591
    Sceptics and Scoffers 596
    Policing the Saints 602
    Chapter 15 Reflections 609
    Saints and Gods 609
    Saints and Nature 618
    Saints and the Dead 621
    Tomb-shrines in Judaism and Islam 626
    Saints and Ancestors 630
    Comparisons and Conclusions 633


Robert Bartlett is professor of mediaeval history at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

New Paperback edition out just in time for All Saints 2015


Modern Day Cult of a Saint: Padre Pio in his new tomb