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Hugh of Fleury: The Life, Translation, and Miracles of St. Sacerdos, c 1107

Sometime around 1107, the monks of Sarlat, in southern France, asked the well known historian Hugh of Sainte-Marie, a monk of Fleury, to rework the hagiographic traditions concerning their patron, St. Sacerdos. Hugh worked from an older life of the saint which the monks of Sarlat apparently recognized as being corrupt in many of its historical details. The following passage from the prologue describes Hugh's methodology and aims in correcting the earlier work. It is important to recognize that the manuscript which Hugh sent to Sarlat was not simply a copy of this text, but was arranged with marginalia containing information on relevant historical events which Hugh gleaned from the research which he had done for his historical works. Thus the (now lost) original manuscript was a unique work, containing both text and commentary (or, if you will, source material, in the manner of modern footnotes), much like a glossed manuscript of the Bible or of Gratian's Decretum.

Since I have had read through again the old rendering of the life of the glorious priest Sacerdos, in which many superfluous things were included, and since I have, moreover, noticed that certain details had been distorted through the fault of scribes, I have decided to correct it for modern times and to describe more decorously and clearly the text of the same history, transformed and improved in succinct brevity. In the course of smoothing and polishing the text, I have gathered together for myself many other stories, like so many trimmings, so that the text will include nothing except that which is splendid and honest. Thus I have adorned the text and divided it into eleven chapters. When I have had the opportunity, I have annotated these stories with yet other stories placed on the side of the text in the margins, so that from them the reader might learn the progression of time and thus, from short notices, collect much information. I have also added one chapter on the translation of this most blessed priest. I am not eager to transcribe word for word, nor to hammer out something entirely new in place of the old; but I am eager to translate the sense of the old text for a new sense by improving it, according to the poverty of my literary talent such as it is. Thus the skillful reader will be able, after investigating each text carefully, to accept mine easily as true. As Lord Abbot Arnaldus-the overseer of the very abbey of Saint Sacerdos [i. e. Sarlat]--mentioned that I should endeavor to rewrite this work, I did not desire, obliged by his great entreaty, to disobey his command. He pointed out to me the merit of this confessor and the miracles which frequently occur around his relics. When I saw in the histories of ancient tyrants the skill of an orator excellantly operating, I was despressed to find in the description of the life of this most holy and bright star, namely Saint Sacerdos, the negligence of scribes. The true account had been virtually hidden in that description by many ambiguities, as if the sun had been obscured by clouds. It seemed an unworthy work to me and I did not in any way wish him to suffer such an indignity, so I undertook to write something splendid and honest about him.

Otherwise, concerning the faculty of writing, I have faith in he who said, "Open thy mouth wide and I will fill it." [Psalm 81:11 in the RSV, or 80:11 in the Vulgate] My poor love for Sacerdos was enriched by God's help, to the praise of the confessor, but to add anything in the manner of the old text is not worthy praise, but a nefarious deed. For true sanctity and pure religion are not dependent on human lies. They are on the contrary obscured when wrapped up in a scheme of falsity. One ought to weigh the merit of any words before men are commended. Knowledge beautifies the praise of an orator. Surely the quality of anyone of merit is known to almighty God without the interpretation of speech.

Having said these things first, I now turn my attention to those critics who loathe the old and pursue the new. I advise them-lest they judge my little work worthy of full condemnation, since it is not new-that no one doubts that all old things become new. I beg them to remember that, since Moses was born in the fourth age, he began his history from the creation of the world. Josephus, however, the writer of the histories of antiquity, reworked the books of Moses into a differently worded version. Blessed Jerome, moreover, did not hesitate to transcribe that which had been translated by others, yet he added many things to his translations which had been omitted. I would be able, should I wish, thus to invoke many men and even to cite the example of moderns, but it suffices to insert these names. It is right for the wise man, as I think, to construct the truthful story about an ancient thing, and to replace uncultivated words with more decorous ones.

Source: Hugh of Fleury, Vita s. Sacerdotis, prologue in Patrologia latina, ed. Jean-Paul Migne, 221 vols. (Paris, 1844-1864), 163:979-81. For more information on this work, see Thomas Head, Hagiography and the Cult of Saints. The Diocese of Orléans, 800-1200 (Cambridge, 1990), pp. 91-3. The present translation is by Thomas Head.

This translation by Thomas Head has been made available to fellow students and researchers for private or classroom use. All other rights are reserved. Duplication for any other purpose, including publication, is prohibited. This translation was last updated on June 10, 1997.

From Thomas F. Head, An Anthology of Translated Texts Illustrative of the History of the Cult of the Saints (c 2000). [Link is to Internet Archive]. Thomas Head prepared these texts as part of the now defunct ORB: Online Reference Book for Medieval Studies [Link is to an archived and non-maintained version]. Dr. Head died on Nov 12, 2014 after an extended illness. I believe that he would have wanted his translated texts, marked for free personal use, and bibliographies to continue to be available and not just through the sometimes slow operation of the Internet Archive. They were marked "They may be reproduced for private use, but may not be reproduced for publication."

This text is part of the Internet Medieval Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use.

© Paul Halsall, January 2023
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