Read no further: the Golden Legend in Reformation England

Legenda Aurea, or The Golden Legend, was the most widely circulated and most influential medieval collection of saints’ lives. First gathered in the thirteenth century by the Genoese archbishop Jacobus de Voragine [c. 1229–1298], versions of the text were translated into many different European languages, including a version in English known as the Gilte Legend. This fifteenth-century manuscript is one such variation on the theme: 118 of the 142 lives contained in this collection are taken from The Golden Legend. For Protestants this and similar hagiographies represented some of the worst excesses of what they saw as the abused cult of the saints in late medieval Christianity; evangelical polemicists attacked such collections of saints’ lives as historically inaccurate and misleading legends. It was perhaps such sentiments that inspired one reader to write the warning visible on what is now the first page of this manuscript: ‘Read this no further’. Reinterpreted in the Reformation, this medieval text took on new layers of meaning and, perhaps, a new and dangerous power. CL

Golden Legend in English

LPL: MS 72

Further reading

Helen Parish, Monks, Miracles and Magic: Reformation Representations of the Medieval Church (London, 2005).

Morgan Ring, ‘Translating the Legenda Aurea in Early Modern England’, in Simon Ditchfield, Charlotte Meuthen and Andrew Spicer (eds), Translating Christianity (Studies in Church History 53; Cambridge, 2017), pp. 118–131.

Michelle M. Sauer, ‘Saints Praxedis and Prudentiana in The Golden Legend and The Stacions of Rome: Fragments from MS Lambeth Palace 72 and MS BL Additional 222831’, ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes and Reviews, 19, (2006), pp. 10–16.

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