The Encroaching Desert: Egyptian Hagiography and the Medieval West

This volume presents a series of case studies concerning the use and reuse of Egyptian hagiography in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. The first three contributions analyze the use of Egyptian hagiography in the context of late antique Egypt and, in particular, examine to what extent these texts can be used as historical sources for the reconstruction of traditional (“pagan”) religion. The other contributions illustrate the different contexts in which Egyptian hagiography was reused in the medieval West. The book is an important contribution to the current debate about the usefulness of Egyptian hagiography as a historical source for late antique Egypt and to the study of the reception of the desert fathers in the medieval West.

Contributors include: Lynda L. Coon, Mathilde van Dijk, Jitse H.F. Dijkstra, David Frankfurter, Conrad Leyser, Peter van Minnen, Claudia Rapp, Bert Roest, Eric L. Saak, Gabriela Signori, and Jacques van der Vliet.


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Biographical Note

Jitse H.F. Dijkstra, Ph.D. (2005) in Religious Studies, University of Groningen, is Assistant Professor of Classics at the University of Ottawa. His principal field of interest is Late Antiquity, and in particular Egypt and its papyrological sources. Mathilde van Dijk, Ph.D. (2000) in Medieval Studies, University of Groningen, is Associate Professor in the History of Christianity and Gender Studies at the same institution. Her research focuses on late medieval intellectual history, and in particular on the Devotio Moderna and virginity studies.

Review Quotes

There is much of interest in this collection of essays. [..] The first three papers work particularly well together, introducing the reader to the sophisticated debate over the use of Egyptian hagiography in the reconstruction of history. The other papers, while more tenuously bound together by a common interest in the continuing influence of the Egyptian ascetic tradition in the western Middle Ages, offer valuable evidence and intriguing methodological insights.’ James E. Goehring, College of William and Mary, Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists

Table of contents

Acknowledgements Introduction: The Encroaching Desert, Jitse H.F. Dijkstra and Mathilde van Dijk Hagiography and the Reconstruction of Local Religion in Late Antique Egypt: Memories, Inventions, and Landscapes, David Frankfurter Bringing Home the Homeless: Landscape and History in Egyptian Hagiography, Jacques van der Vliet Saving History? Egyptian Hagiography in Its Space and Time, Peter van Minnen Desert, City, and Countryside in the Early Christian Imagination, Claudia Rapp The Uses of the Desert in the Sixth-Century West, Conrad Leyser Collecting the Desert in the Carolingian West, Lynda L. Coon The Franciscan Hermit: Seeker, Prisoner, Refugee, Bert Roest Ex vita patrum formatur vita fratrum: The Appropriation of the Desert Fathers in the Augustinian Monasticism of the Later Middle Ages, Eric L. Saak Nikolaus of Flüe († 1487): Physiognomies of a Late Medieval Ascetic, Gabriela Signori Disciples of the Deep Desert: Windesheim Biographers and the Imitation of the Desert Fathers, Mathilde van Dijk Index of Names


This book will be of interest to students of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, as well as to those interested in Coptic, ancient history, Church history, theology, religious studies and the history of ideas.