Constructing a Cult

The Life and Veneration of Guðmundr Arason (1161-1237) in the Icelandic Written Sources

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The figure of Guðmundr Arason (1161-1237) and especially his role in the history of medieval Iceland has provoked many strong opinions for decades. This book uses a variety of extant written sources to reexamine those views. It discusses a discrepancy between the popularity of the saint as suggested by the sagas and that reflected by other sources. One of the study’s main claims suggests that the clergy from Northern Iceland had a vital impact upon the construction of the cult. A variety of means applied to achieve it demonstrate the authorial knowledge of the vernacular and international traditions, as well as of living conditions in Iceland at the time when the sources were put down in writing.
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Biographical Note

Joanna A. Skórzewska has a Ph.D. (2007) in Medieval Nordic History from the University of Oslo. She has published on the cultus of Scandinavian royal saints, female piety and attitude towards children in medieval Iceland.

Table of contents

Acknowledgements ... ix
Conventions ... xi
Abbreviations ... xiii

Introduction ... 1

Chapter One. The Source Material ... 17
1.1. Saints’ lives in Iceland ... 18
1.2. Sagas ... 20
1.3. Jarteinabók ... 28
1.4. Annals ... 30
1.5. Charters ... 33
1.6. Laws ... 36
Chapter Two. The Childhood of a Saint ... 41
2.1. “[. . .] he had never heard such a child’s voice before” ... 42
2.2. The role of the family ... 45
2.3. Upbringing and education ... 57
Chapter Three. Adolescence and First Steps Towards a Clerical Career ... 65
3.1. The first ordination ... 65
3.2. The second ordination and the events that followed ... 73
3.3. The death of Torgeirr Brandsson and Gudmundr’s metamorphosis ... 76
3.4. Participation in the translatio process ... 79
Chapter Four. In Vita Miracles; the Means, the Performance and the Criticism ... 83
4.1. Gudmundr’s priesthood (1185–1203) ... 83
4.1.1. The use of relics in miracle making ... 83
4.1.2. The holy water and other means ... 88
4.1.3. Dealing with the natural and supernatural ... 91
4.2. In vita miracles in the years of Gudmundr’s episcopacy (1203–37) ... 97
4.2.1. The significance of consecrated water ... 97
4.2.2. The bishop as a food provider ... 100
4.2.3. New territories and new abilities ... 102
4.3. A critical view on the wonders ... 105
4.4. Arngrimr Brandsson and his interpretation of miracles ... 108
Chapter Five. Gudmundr’s Relationship with Powerful Laymen ... 111
5.1. Kolbeinn Tumason ... 111
5.2. Sigurdr Ormsson ... 117
5.3. Arnorr Tumason ... 119
5.4. Torvardr Torgeirsson ... 122
5.5. Ogmundr Torvardsson ... 123
5.6. Sighvatr Sturluson ... 125
5.7. Tordr Sturluson ... 126
5.8. Snorri Sturluson ... 127
5.9. Hrafn Sveinbjarnarson ... 128
5.10. Aron Hjorleifsson ... 130
Chapter Six. The Infallible Supporters: Women and Saints ... 137
6.1. The Virgin Mary and other saints ... 137
6.2. The presence and role of women ... 150
Chapter Seven. “The Father of the Poor”? ... 165
7.1. “By now he had a large following” ... 165
7.1.1. The respectable ... 165
7.1.2. “The needy”, “the dependants” and “the poor” ... 171
7.1.3. The unpopular ... 173
7.2. The resident poor ... 178
7.2.1. Relatives ... 178
7.2.2. Friends ... 182
7.3. The prodigies and the vengeance of the saint ... 184
7.3.1. Provision miracles ... 184
7.3.2. Rescue miracles ... 188
7.4. Severe living conditions and the need for a miracle ... 190
7.5. The support for the poorest in documentary material ... 198
Chapter Eight. The Death of the Saint and His Posthumous Fame ... 207
8.1. Pre-mortem prophecies ... 208
8.2. Death and funeral ... 211
8.3. The bishops of Holar and their role in the cult ... 216
8.3.1. The first exhumation ... 216
8.3.2. The translation ... 223
8.3.3. Ormr Aslaksson’s initiative ... 232
8.3.4. Jon Eiriksson’s vow ... 234
8.4. After the translations ... 239
8.4.1. Posthumous miracles ... 239
8.4.2. The relics in focus ... 246
8.4.3. The cult in annals and documentary evidence ... 251
8.4.4. The poems ... 262

Conclusion ... 269

Appendices ... 279
Appendix 1. Offerings listed in miracle stories (GJtb, GB and GD) ... 279
Appendix 2. Miracle stories that mention provision of food ... 280
Appendix 3. Translatio of Gudmundr’s bones performed by Bishop Audunn Torbergsson as recorded in the Icelandic annals ... 282
Appendix 4. The cult of the vernacular saints as recorded in the Icelandic annals ... 282
Appendix 5. Obituaries of ‘holy men’ in the Icelandic annals ... 284
Appendix 6. Days honouring the Icelandic holy bishops as recorded in charters ... 286
Appendix 7. The geographical distribution of images and sagas of the Icelandic holy bishops ... 288
Appendix 8. Episcopal sees and religious houses in Iceland ... 292

Map 1. Episcopel sees and religious houses in Iceland ... 293

Tables
Table 1. Gudmundr’s priestly career till his mother’s death ... 179
Table 2. Gudmundr Arason’s family I ... 294
Table 3. Gudmundr Arason’s family II ... 295

Bibliography ... 297
Index ... 307

Readership

All those interested in the history of the Middle Ages, Icelandic history and literature, lay and clerical piety, hagiography, and the social history of Northern Europe.

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