Landscape with Two Saints: How Genovefa of Paris and Brigit of Kildare Built Christianity in Barbarian Europe

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At a time when Europeans still longed to be Roman and were just learning to be Christian, two extraordinary holy women-Genovefa of Paris (ca. 420-502) and Brigit of Kildare (ca. 450-524)-began to roam their homelands. One of these saints raised an apostolic church in the imperial city that would become Paris. The other scavenged fragments of that dwindling empire for the foundations of a grand Roman basilica built deep in barbarian territory. Both brought Christianity and romanitas (Roman-ness) to their people. By examining the ruins of their cities and churches, the workings of their cults, and the many generations of their devotees, Lisa Bitel shows how Brigit and Genovefa helped northern Europeans map new religion onto familiar landscapes. Landscape with Two Saints tells the twin stories of these charismatic women but also explains how ordinary people lived through religious change at the very beginning of the Middle Ages.

Tales of ancient conversions on distant landscapes have much to teach us about lived and built religion, why people choose new beliefs, and how they act out those beliefs in meaningful ways. The combined history of Brigit and Genovefa explains not just how a couple of legendary peripatetic women could become targets of devotion, but how and where Europeans became Christian, and what it meant to them on a daily basis. The story of these two saintly cults-not just in the pages of manuscripts, but on the streets of cities, in the stones of cemeteries, and in the walls of churches-also demonstrates the pervasive influence of gender and ethnicity, as well as regional culture and material environment, on the whole process of religious change. Bitel contends that in the building blocks of their churches and the tracks they once traveled, Genovefa and Brigit show us what the written words of missionaries and theologians never can: the active participation of converts in the history of their own conversion.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Lisa Bitel's most recent book offers a fascinating window into two disparate late fifth-century landscapes: the first, Paris during the Hunnic invasions, and the second, rural Ireland following the conversions. ....Bitel's treatment of two highly enigmatic women makes a decisive contribution to our understanding of late antique and early medieval gender, hagiography, and religious history."
—Bonnie Effros, professor of history at Binghamton University (SUNY), author of Caring for Body and Soul: Burial and the Afterlife in the Merovingian World, Creating Community with Food and Drink in Merovingian Gaul, and Merovingian Mortuary Archaeology and the Making of the Early Middle Ages

"Lisa Bitel's Landscape with Two Saints is a wonderful book-scholarly, yet fascinating for anyone interested in the development of Christianity in the early Middle Ages. Bitel skillfully brings to life the world of Genovefa of Paris and Brigit of Kildare to highlight the often-neglected role of women in the medieval Church of western Europe."
—Philip Freeman, Orlando W. Qualley Chair of Classical Languages at Luther College and author of St. Patrick of Ireland

"This is a wonderful book - fascinating, provocative, and erudite. Utilizing a variety of sources, Bitel provides a detailed comparative study of the worlds of Saints Genovefa and Brigit and their remarkable accomplishments in the building of a new Christian society. No one knows these early sources better than Bitel who has been deeply involved in this research for many years. This will become a classic study of these important figures and the landscapes of Paris and Ireland during this formative period of early Christianization."
—Jane Tibbetts Schulenburg, Professor of History, Department of Liberal Studies and the Arts, University of Wisconsin-Madison, author of Forgetful of Their Sex: Female Sanctity and Society, ca. 500-1100

"A monumental work of hagiography of the first degree. This book is beautifully written, meticulously researched, and amazingly relevant to modern readers. ...Recommended for all academic libraries and libraries collecting Catholic biography." —Catholic Library World

Library Journal
Bitel (history, religion & gender studies, Univ. of Southern California) carefully studies the archival and material record to develop a persuasive account of the roles of two legendary and historical women of the fifth and sixth centuries in the transformation of Europe from pagan to Christian. The monumental extent of their impact is expressed not only in Bitel's architectural metaphors, but also in the actual churches and cities whose building these women inspired. The physical artifacts and ruins reveal a slow process of Christianization as converts adopted the new religion, participating in their own conversion by building Christian churches and cities. In a period of severe restrictions upon women's religious activity, these women traveled widely, inspired the financing and building of religious structures, increasing the spread of Christianity and of Rome's religious influence into Gaul and Ireland, a miraculous achievement. VERDICT Recommended for feminists, church historians, architects, archaeologists, and those interested in a well-written, accessible account of the activities of two remarkable women.—Carolyn M. Craft, emerita, Longwood Univ., Farmville, VA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195336528
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 5/19/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Lisa Bitel is Professor of History, Religion, and Gender Studies at the University of Southern California.

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