Although the academic study of hagiography continues to flourish, the role of comparative methods within the study of sanctity and the saints remains underutilized. Similarly, while much valuable work on saints and sanctity relies on materialist methodologies, issues of critical bibliography particular to the study of hagiography have not received the theoretical attention they deserve. This essay takes up these two underattended approaches to argue for a comparative materialist approach to hagiography. Through a short case study of the Latin Vita
of Lutgard of Aywières (1182–1246) written by the Dominican friar Thomas of Cantimpré (c. 1200–1270), I suggest that comparative material research into the textual history of hagiographic literature can provide us with a more comprehensive and nuanced picture of the production of any specific holy figure, as well as the evolving discourses of sanctity and holiness in general. While this suggestion emerges from my own work on medieval hagiography from the Christian Latin West, it resonates with recent arguments by Sara Ritchey and David DiValerio to call for a materially comparative approach to narratives of holy lives in any religious tradition in any time period. Furthermore, I suggest that medieval studies, and in particular medieval manuscript studies, may have much to offer to scholars of sanctity working in later periods and other settings. Offering a view of material textual scholarship as intrinsically comparative, we may expand our theoretical definitions of the comparative and its possibilities within the study of sanctity.
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