[St. Pachomius Library]

James of Voragine

XIII Century
The hagiographer James of Voragine is today remembered chiefly as the author of The Golden Legend, a compilation of saints' lives which influenced Roman Catholic piety throughout the Middle Ages and later became arguably the first printed "best seller". Although The Golden Legend is not a reliable source even for Western hagiography and has no authority in Orthodoxy, its influence can be felt occasionally in the Orthodox world, especially but not exclusively in the Orthodox communities of the West.

Born in what is now called Varraze around 1230, James of Voragine became Provincial of the Dominicans of Lombardy at a remarkably early age. He was later sent to Genoa by Pope Nicholas V to reintegrate that city, then under interdict for political reasons, into the Catholic Church. Eventually, and much against his will, he became Archbishop there (1292- 1298); in the six years of his reign, spent mainly attempting to reconcile the warring Guelph and Ghibelline factions, he also managed to endow a number of hospitals and repair the city's decaying parish churches. Soon after his death, he was being revered locally as a saint; although never formally canonized, he was beatified in 1896. His feast day is July 13th.

James was a prolific author and may also have produced an Italian vernacular translation of the Bible. By far his most influential work, however, was Legenda Aurea, written before 1267. Although based on the work of earlier hagiographers, in particular Vincent of Beauvais, Jean de Mailly, and Bartholomew of Trent, The Golden Legend rapidly eclipsed all previous works of its kind in the West and dominated the genre for centuries; from 1470 to 1530 it was the most printed book in Europe.

Norman Hugh Redington


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