History Department
History Department

Harrington Fellow studies headless saints in medieval Latin verse

Thu, March 23, 2006
Harrington Fellow studies headless saints in medieval Latin verse
Harrington Dissertation Fellow Anna Taylor studies headless saints in medieval Latin verse for historical significance

Taylor decided to use the Mellon Fellowship last year to travel to Paris, Northern France, Brussels, Rome and Oxford to conduct research for her dissertation and deferred receiving the Harrington Fellowship until this year. She spent last year in libraries pouring over manuscripts of saints' lives written in verse form, called vitae metricae, looking for notations written in the margins and other evidence of how these books were actually used.

"These particular Saints' lives are written in verse and most historians don't delve into Latin poetry," Taylor said, "I'm looking at saints lives in verse in order to put them in a historical context."

"Through putting the evidence from the manuscripts together with information from the letters exchanged between teachers and students, and the histories of the monasteries that produced the vitae metricae, we can see how these texts were used by their writers,readers and copyists," Taylor said. "Monks wrote these vitae metricae about their monasteries' patron saints, such as Saint Dionysius, the Parisian martyr who carried his own decapitated head to his burial site."

Taylor's research showed that the vitae metricae had several important functions for the monasteries where they were produced:

-- They were incorporated into the monasteries' school curriculum as textbooks, so that the young monks would assimilate the stories of their founding saint's life along with their lessons in Latin grammar and verse.

-- They were sent to powerful patrons to impress them with the monastery's culture and learning, as well as the saint's power.

-- They were written to promote a monastery's political interests.

-- They were excerpted for use in the daily rites and prayers conducted by the church.

This year Taylor is using the Harrington Fellowship to work on completing her dissertation, "Patronage and Education in Ninth-and Tenth-century vitae metricae."

Besides already knowing Latin and ancient Greek, Taylor had to work on her French. At the beginning of her year in Paris, she once wrote the Graduate Program Coordinator Marilyn Lehman how it was going: "I'm getting lots of research done here, between manuscripts and microfilm and my French is getting a tiny bit better-at least I now tell the librarian that I have finished (with the book) rather than that I am dead." (Note: in the French language, the words for "I am finished" and "I am dead" are easily confused.)

Harrington Dissertation Fellows must be nominated by their departments for a Continuing University Fellowship, which automatically makes them eligible to be considered for the Harrington Dissertation Fellowship. The Harrington Board selects students for their scholarly achievements, individual character, and potential to contribute to both outstanding scholarship and society at large. But it is the President of the University that makes the final selection.

Recipients become lifetime members of the Harrington Society. The Society has functions year round that Fellows can attend such as seminars, guest speakers and informal luncheons in an endeavor to create a community of individuals working together to become leaders in their field and contributors to society and future generations.

The Donald D. Harrington Fellows Program was established by Sybil B. Harrington in memory of her late husband in 1985. The Program was started with a $30 million endowment from the Sybil B. Harrington Trust and The Don and Sybil Harrington Foundation. Fellows are awarded a stipend of $30,000 and also have their tuition and fees paid for one year.

The couple created the Foundation in 1951 in order to fund projects which would benefit the community. Their philanthropy has become quite extensive ranging from history museums to medical centers as well as academic scholarships for professors and graduate students.

Photo of Taylor by M.G. Moore; photo of Saint Dionysius by Anna Taylor

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