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New donations of materials for study of Western sanctity

5 June 2014

New Donations to University Special Collections

University Special Collections receive rare Vatican volume

The University of Bristol has been chosen to receive a copy of a book, printed by the Vatican only in very limited quantities and originally intended solely for internal use, that laid the foundations for the canonization of the medieval abbess, artist, composer, doctor, mystic, saint, scientist and theologian, Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179).

The 736-page document was studied at the Vatican by George Ferzoco, Research Fellow in the University’s Department of Religion and Theology, in preparation for a book he has recently co-edited on Hildegard of Bingen. ‘I was writing, for this book, an article on Hildegard’s 2012 canonization’, explained Ferzoco. ‘I was permitted to study this amazing document that had been collated by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. It contains a summary and an analysis of all of Hildegard’s writings, and a thorough history of her cult. This evidence was used by the Roman Catholic Church in deciding not only to declare Hildegard to be a saint, but also to make her a Doctor of the Church – an exceedingly rare honour.’

The Prefect of the Congregation, Angelo Cardinal Amato, and the general co-ordinator of the Church’s canonization processes, Rev. Vincenzo Criscuolo, exceptionally granted George Ferzoco a copy of this document, for it to be placed in the University’s Special Collections. Thus, the University of Bristol has become one of a very limited number of institutions, and the only one outside of the Italian peninsula, to possess this rare and authoritative work. ‘Studying this unique book brings to light the meticulous efforts made by the Roman Catholic Church in preparing for the canonization and doctorization of a person deemed to be especially holy. It is easily the starting point for a doctoral dissertation, not only on Hildegard and her cult but also in relation to the history of sanctity in the West.’

The University of Bristol’s Arts and Social Sciences Library, along with its Special Collections, has become one of the U.K.’s most specialized collections dealing with hagiography, the discipline of writings related to sanctity. It possesses the authoritative and massive Acta Sanctorum, a series of documents first published in 1640, and last year it became one of a handful of British universities to acquire the fifteen-volume Bibliotheca Sanctorum, a recent scholarly reference work on saints and their cults.

Added to this are recent donations, received through the generosity of Dr Timothy Bolton, of precious medieval manuscript fragments dealing with aspects of Christian holiness. All of these add up to make the Department of Religion and Theology, as well as the Centre for Medieval Studies and the University of Bristol more generally, very well equipped -- for students and for professional scholars alike -- for the study of Western sanctity.

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