What Was ‘The Golden Legend’


Golden legend

GOLDEN LEGEND, a popular 13th century book containing collections of readings for the Christian liturgical year, including medieval folklore of the saints. The work also contains “etymologies” (explanations of names). The Legenda aurea (Golden Legend) was written in Latin by James of Voragine (q.v.), a Dominican friar, who was later archbishop of Genoa. The work is not a legend in the sense of fiction. On the other hand, it was not presented as historically or seientifically accurate but rather was intended for use as an edifying spiritual narrative. It contains readings for the liturgical seasons and for the feasts of Christ and the saints, beginning with the season of Advent.

Some of the saints whose stories are told are now considered legendary. With regard to many of the other saints, only their names and their martyrdom are in any way historically reliable. Details of their lives given in the work are legendary. The longest and most accurate biographies are those of St. Francis of Assisi, St. Dominic, and St. Elizabeth of Hungary.

over 500 manuscript copies of the Golden Legend are in existence. During the first hundred years after the invention of printing more than 150 editions and translations were published. The first printed English version was produced by Caxton in 1483. By the 16th century the Golden Legend had been subjected to critical analysis, revealing the legendary nature of many of the stories, and the book consequently lost much of its popularity.

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