Joyful and rewarding work
Saints are inspirational, even when they seem to belong more to the realm of folklore or imagination. For two thousand years, aside from being the leading force of renewal in Christianity, they have been influencing our world, our culture and our thinking in ways few people realise. From the early martyrs whose exploits sustained generations of readers, to the great mystical authors, from pilgrimages and the trade in relics, to accounts of prodigious healings and other miracles: the saints have inspired innumerable writers and artists, their very names identify towns and villages all over Europe and America, their patronage still animates countless feasts and processions.
This precious field of study, part of mankind’s cultural heritage, has been developed by the Bollandists over more than four centuries. Our team of scholars, now both Jesuit and lay, is dedicated exclusively to the critical study of the saints, their lives and their cults. Our laboratory is the Bibliotheca Bollandiana, a 500,000 volume library with a unique collection.
During 240 years the only vehicle of the bollandist research were the imponent volumes of Acta Sanctorum (1643-1940). Many Greek and Latin text editions can still be found only there! The November volumes, published at the turn of the 20th century, contain the monumental editions of the Synaxarion of Constantinople, the Hieronymian Martyrology and the Roman Martyrology (with historical commentary).
The journal Analecta Bollandiana was launched in 1882, initially as a complement to the Acta Sanctorum. But it soon acquired a life of its own with articles written by bollandists and other scholars, text editions, book reviews, etc. After 135 years it remains the main reference in the field of critical hagiography.
The series Subsidia hagiographica started a few years later, as a vehicle for larger reference works. It includes catalogues of the hagiographic manuscripts of important European libraries, indexes of medieval hagiographic texts (the famous Bibliotheca hagiographica Graeca, Latina and Orientalis), but also methodological treatises and hagiographical monographs.
Tabularium hagiographicum was born in 2002. This series of books is dedicated to host the archives, mostly the correspondence, of the hagiographers – bollandists and their correspondents.
BHLms (Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina manuscripta)
This database combines the resources of the repertory of Latin hagiographic texts known as Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina (BHL) with those of the catalogues of hagiographic manuscripts published in the series Subsidia hagiographica and Analecta Bollandiana. Entering the Latin name of a saint, one has access to his “dossier” (the various texts relating to him, as listed in BHL). A specific text can also be found by entering its BHL number. A list of all the manuscripts containing that text is then provided. The manuscripts can be ordered either in the alphabetical order of the places of conservation, or in chronological order.
BHLms is the fruit of a collaboration between a team headed by Prof. Guy Philippart of the University of Namur (M. Trigalet, Fr. De Vriendt, P. Bertrand, B. Legrain) and the Société des Bollandistes.
BHLms is hosted by the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters of the Université Catholique de Louvain (Louvain-la-Neuve).
The project has been illustrated in Analecta Bollandiana, 116 (1998), 250-252.
Acta Sanctorum Database
The Acta Sanctorum Database is an electronic version of the complete printed text of Acta Sanctorum from the edition published in sixty-eight volumes by the Société des Bollandistes in Antwerp and Brussels. It has been realized by Chadwyck Healey (now ProQuest, Cambridge ) with the assistance of the Bollandists.
The Acta Sanctorum Database contains the complete Acta Sanctorum including all prefatory material, original texts, critical apparatus and indices. BHL reference numbers, essential references for scholars, are also included.
Online access to Acta Sanctorum Database can be purchased from
BHGms (Bibliotheca Hagiographica Graeca manuscripta)
For more than one and a half century the Société des Bollandistes has been maintaining a unique card index of Greek hagiographic manuscripts kept in libraries all over the world. The contents of that extraordinary research instrument is accessible online in the broader frame of the Pinakes – Textes et manuscrits grecs database compiled by the Greek section of Institut de Recherche et d’Histoire des Textes (CNRS, Paris): http://pinakes.irht.cnrs.fr/recherche-generale.html.
This project is supported by the Laboratory of excellence “Religions et Sociétés dans le Monde Méditerranéen” (Labex RESMED, CNRS, Paris).
For more information, please consult Les manuscrits hagiographiques grecs de la Société des Bollandistes.
• Digitising printed repertoires and handwritten card indexes. They will be made accessible online in new electronic databases and continuously updated. Two projects are underway, in partnership with Louvain university and the Institut de Recherche et d’Histoire des Textes (CNRS, Paris), allowing every Latin or Greek hagiographic text prior to 1500 AD to be cross-linked to the manuscripts and the printed editions where they can be found.
• A new, scientifically organised and presented catalogue of the saints, blessed and servants of God after 1500 CE, containing their earliest biographies as well as prime data regarding their cult and iconography.
• Specialised seminars and teaching programmes for doctoral and post-doctoral students.
• Annotated catalogue of correspondence between the Bollandists and other scholars throughout Europe in the 17th -19th centuries.
Useful websites dealing with hagiography
ΑΓΙΟΛΟΓΙΚΑ ΤΕΤΡΑΔΙΑ – Studies on Christian hagiography: a blog on Byzantine hagiography, based in Greece, with links and upcoming events.
Arbeitskreis für hagiographische Fragen: the German association of hagiographers, which organizes a yearly conference.
HagHis (Hagiographie et Histoire): web site of the Atelier français de recherches sur l’hagiographie médiévale. Announces (and organizes) conferences and seminars, proposes bibliographies and information about specific dossiers of saints.
Hagiography Society: activities and newsletters of the very active association based in the USA.
Hagiotheca. Croatian Hagiography Society
The study of hagiography
Ménestrel: a guide of Internet resources about Medieval hagiography, in a web site dedicated to the Middle Ages and run by a group of French and Belgian historians. The website has an English version.
ORB – Hagiography : an excellent introduction to medieval hagiography by the late Thomas Head.
General databases, texts and bibliographies
The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity (CSLA) database, from its origins to circa AD 700, across the entire Christian world.
Dumbarton Oaks Hagiography Database: an online database of Greek hagiographic texts from the 8th-10th centuries. English translations of Byzantine texts are available in another section of the same website: Translations of Byzantine Saints’ Lives listed either alphabetically or chronologically.
Feminae. Medieval Women and Gender Index: an ongoing bibliography of articles, many of which are related to hagiography.
Hagiografía hispánica : a virtual library (section of the Biblioteca virtual Miguel de Cervantes) of primary and secondary sources about medieval and modern Castillan and Catalan hagiography.
Medieval Sourcebook: this web site, edited by Paul Halsall (Fordham University), is dedicated to historical sources in general. The Saints’ Lives section provides links to a vast selection of late antique and medieval Saints’ Lives in English translation.
Narrative Sources from the Medieval Low Countries: gives an exhaustive and critical survey of all the narrative sources (including Saints’ Lives) originating from the medieval Low Countries (6th-16th cent.).
TASC – Transnational Database and Atlas of Saints’ Cults: Graham Jones’ project aims to establish a parish-by-parish, commune-by-commune inventory of religious devotion in Europe and beyond.
Hagiography Circle: an online resource on contemporary hagiography, it offers up-to-date information on saints, blessed, venerables, and servants of God from the time of the French Revolution (1789) to recent times.
Santi e beati: a useful although not entirely critical encyclopedia of saints, based in large part on the Bibliotheca Sanctorum (in Italian).
Censimento santuari cristiani in Italia: a database of sanctuaries in Italy.
Commemorations of Saints in Scottish Place-Names : a database of Scottish hagiotoponyms based in Glasgow University.
Coordinación de la edición de hagiografía castellana : offers textual and bibliographical resources on the hagiography of Castilla.
Databank Beschermheiligen: a database about protector saints in the Netherlands and in Belgium.
Dedications to Saints in Medieval Scotland: database completed in 2007, based in the School of History, Classics and Archaeology at the University of Edinburgh.
Franciscan Authors 13th – 18th century. A Catalogue in Progress: includes a section “Vitae et Miracula” offering bibliographical resources on a large number of saints.
Inventaire des sanctuaires et lieux de pèlerinage chrétiens en France : an ongoing project about French sanctuaries from the origins to the present time.
Nederlandse Bedevaartbank: a database of the 662 places of pilgrimage in the Netherlands from the beginnings to the present time.
Pilgerzeichendatenbank: a database of pilgrim signs from all over Europe.
Sacri monti : documentation centre about Europe’s sacred mounts, calvaries, and other devotional monumental complexes.
Sermones.net. Édition électronique d’un corpus de sermons latins médiévaux : a website on medieval preaching aiming to the electronic edition of Latin sermons collections.
Stigmatics : an ERC-funded project at the Ruusbroec Institute (University of Antwerp).
Symbols that Bind and Break Comunities: a collaborative research project about saints’ cults as stimuli and expressions of local, regional, national and universalist identities.
Thesaurus exemplorum medii aevi (Thema): a database of around 10,000 exempla from more than 50 collections (10th – 14th cent.).