Research Focus

Hagiography and Monastic Networks

This sub-project concentrates on the so-called Magnum Legendarium Austriacum (MLA), one of medieval Europe's largest and most important hagiographical collections, with a view to gaining an understanding of its significance within the ecclesiastical and political context of the Duchies of Austria and Styria in the decades around 1200, and to tease out what notions of community and processes of community-building may have underpinned the compilation and transmission of this prestigious compendium.

The multi-volume legendary, which contains more than 500 hagiographical texts, is preserved in six exemplars from Admont, Heiligenkreuz, Lilienfeld, Melk, Zwettl and the Austrian National Library. The first stage in the project saw the digitalisation of all 21 surviving manuscripts under the supervision of Martin Haltrich and the construction by Peter Gretzel of a detailed database itemizing their content. A version of this database is now available together with the digital images at and hosted by the Austrian Academy of Sciences.

Research carried out to date has been principally concerned with the manuscript tradition of the MLA, the clarification of the stemmatic relationship between the six surviving exemplars being regarded as essential in order to provide a sturdy platform from which to reconstruct the social context of the collection and to examine what light the transmission throws upon the monastic landscape of contemporary Austria/Styria. These studies have led to the construction of a new model of transmission for the MLA, which differs in many respects from that which has represented the state of the art since Albert Poncelet published his standard-work on the subject in 1898. One interesting aspect of the new model is the apparently minor role played by monastic affiliation, copies of the legendary instead passing between houses belonging to different orders. The investigation of the MLA's transmission has also helped to shed light on the place of the collection's compilation and the sources used, as well as elucidating the position and importance of the MLA within the legendary tradition of Central Europe in the high and later medieval period.

The results of the research to date have recently been published: Diarmuid Ó Riain, The Magnum Legendarium Austriacum: a new investigation of one of medieval Europe's richest hagiographical collections, in Analecta Bollandiana 133 (2015), pp. 87-165.

This research is tied in closely with a project concerning Central European Monastic Landscapes, coordinated by Christina Lutter and Martin Haltrich, which will provide comparative data on all monastic foundations of the “old monastic orders”, i.e. Benedictines, Cistercians, Regular Canons, Carthusians and Premonstratensians, between the 8th century and 1350 in Austria, Styria, Bohemia, Moravia, and Hungary (external cooperation with, among others, the CMS, Prague and the participants in the ESF Exploratory Workshop, Monasteries in the Shadow of Empires). Once the initial phase has been completed, it is planned to extend the scope of the database to include other orders (e.g. Mendicants) and those houses founded after 1350.

An associated FWF Lise-Meitner cooperation project on Church Advocacy and Lordship in the Holy Roman Empire, undertaken by Jonathan Lyon (University of Chicago), aims to examine interactions between religious communities and their advocates – the secular nobles who exercised judicial authority on their estates – during the Middle Ages. It complements the VISCOM "Social and cultural communities in late medieval Europe" project by seeking to understand how religious institutions were embedded within the local and regional framework of territorial lordships.

Researcher: Diarmuid O'Riain

Research associate: Martin Haltrich: Stiftsbibliothek Klosterneuburg

Research associate: Jonathan Lyon: University of Chicago

Illustration: Zisterzienserstift Zwettl, Stiftsbibliothek, Hs. 2/1, fol. 8r, 13. Jhdt.: Stifterbuch „Bärenhaut“

Last Update: 05.12.19