Saturday, 11 April 2015

Marta Szada: Life of saint Balthild and the Rise of Aristocratic Sanctity

In the two last chapters of the 7th-century Life of Balthild its anonymous author presents the short history of the pious Merovingian queenship - he mentions royal consorts from the past, Clothild, Ultrogotha, and Radegund, and their special contribution to the religious history of the Frankish kingdoms. Eventually, Balthild is introduced as the one who ‘surpassed her predecessors in the holy aspiration' and summed up in her charisma all their virtues (apostolic activity, charity, chastity, longing to monastic life). It would be tempting to accept somehow the hagiographer's perspective and consider Balthild an emanation of the idea of Merovingian royal sanctity. However, a close inspection of the passages in which Balthild's hagiographer is reproducing themes from the 6th-century Life of Radegund by Venantius Fortunatus shows that the former vita actually introduces a new model of sanctity in disguise of continuation. The apparent similarities highlight the essential differences. The hitherto indispensable virtues, the renunciation of the world, earthly privileges and pleasures, is now outdone by the clearly aristocratic aretalogy in which the wealth, power and social elevation play the crucial role. Therefore the comparison of the saint queens cannot serve to define a homogenous Merovingian spirituality or a special and distinctive royal sainthood, but rather to emphasise the dynamic change in the Christian spirituality in the Merovinagian era.

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