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The Concept of Sainthood: Background information when reading The Guineveres

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The Guineveres

by Sarah Domet

The Guineveres by Sarah Domet X
The Guineveres by Sarah Domet
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2016, 352 pages
    Jul 2017, 352 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Emily-Jane Hills Orford
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About this Book

The Concept of Sainthood

This article relates to The Guineveres

Print Review

In The Guineveres, Sarah Domet weaves the stories of eight saints—Rose of Lima; Cecelia; the sister saints, Irmina and Adela; Ita; Agatha; Alice and Christina the Astonishing. These holy figures have a relevance to certain themes in the novel including the concept of sacrifice, the sanctity of the female body, and the recognition of various mental illnesses. All these saints have their place in the Roman Catholic Church even though a few were not officially beatified.

Saint Christina the Astonishing was referred to as a saint during her lifetime and long after. She is also known as Saint Christina Mirabilis or Saint Christine the Admirable. Christina lived in Belgium in the twelfth century. She was born into a peasant family and orphaned as a child. After a severe seizure, possibly epilepsy, she made a surprising recovery in the church in front of the parishioners mourning her passing. Perhaps the most interesting connection to the Guineveres is Saint Christina's patronage of people with various mental illnesses and disorders and the professionals who care for them.

Saint Christina the Astonishing The sister saints, Irmina and Adela, were two seventh-century princesses who chose to found their own convents, when their father, the Frankish King Dagobert's plans for their marriages fell apart, one before marriage, the other shortly after. The two sisters devoted their cloistered lives to helping the very sick, particularly those suffering from the deadly plague.

The word "saint" is derived from the Latin word sanctus meaning holy; which is itself a translation of the Greek hagios, meaning to set apart.

While the overall concept of a saint as someone who is set apart from others by a degree of holiness is consistent across most Christian groups, there are differences at the doctrinal level as to what defines holiness and the necessity of saints as intermediaries with God. Also, the process by which someone is declared a saint has changed over time.

The early Christians held that a saint was any person who believed in Christ and in whom Christ dwelt. But over the following centuries many cults of sainthood sprang up at the local level and saints were declared by popular acclaim. Thus it is to be presumed that a distinction developed between those who simply believed in Christ and those who had died having done something particularly exceptional for their faith.

In 993 Pope John XV canonized Saint Udalric. This was possibly the first time that a Pope had used his authority to canonize a saint, that is to say to proclaim that Udalric was added to the sanctioned list (a.k.a. canon) of saints. Almost 200 years later in 1170, the Roman Catholic Pope Alexander III decreed that the prerogative of canonization was reserved only for Popes.

Broadly speaking, the Catholic Church teaches that anyone who is in heaven is a saint; but only proclaims a select few as saints after much investigation of their lives and undisputed miracles being attributed to them after their death. In proclaiming saints the church is not making saints, simply identifying them as such. Catholics believe that a person can ask a saint to intercede with God on their behalf.

In general, Protestant churches hold that any person who professes to be a Christian is a saint. It also teaches that individual believers can communicate directly with God; thus, to ask a saint to intercede on their behalf is unnecessary, even blasphemous.

With so many different understandings of the idea of a saint, it is no wonder the young Guineveres struggled with their own idea of sainthood.

Picture of Saint Christina by Patrick Lopez

Filed under Cultural Curiosities

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Guineveres. It originally ran in November 2016 and has been updated for the July 2017 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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