This introductory chapter provides an overview of lay saints. Between the twelfth and early fourteenth centuries, in the independent citizen-governed communes of Italy, numerous civic cults dedicated to contemporary laymen and laywomen appeared. Joining long-established cults for early Christian martyrs and holy bishops were new cults dedicated to midwives, goldsmiths, domestic servants, and merchants. These new cults promoted the idea that it was these laymen and laywomen who had lived model Christian lives and personified civic ideals. Although only one lay saint from the Italian communes would be canonized by the Roman church in the Middle Ages, the vitae, miracle collections, civic statutes, tombs, and altars dedicated to pious men and women provide convincing evidence that their cults were of great local importance. This book argues that the phenomenon of contemporary lay civic sanctity had a meaning and significance that went well beyond the confines of particular Italian cities. Moreover, it contends that the rise of lay sanctity in the Italian communes illuminates a complex debate that was taking place between the laity, the church, and civic authorities over the source of religious power and charisma.
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