Windills - The Middle Ages - Front Page

The Cult of Saints


The Dominican Friar Johannes
The Dominicans
The Birgittine Sister Katarina
The Bishops of Turku



Saints were important idols for people in the Middle Ages and they also acted as intercessors between God and men. Canonization could take place after the death of someone who had led an extremely holy life and who was considered to have found his way straight to heaven like the martyrs. From there the saints could help people who still lived on earth with their worries and sorrows. The saints could also transmit requests of prayer to God. It was easier to turn to a saint, who himself had lived a human life filled with worries and sorrow, than to God.

In the early Middle Ages, the cult of saints was local and canonization could be carried out by the local bishop. After the year 1234, only the popes had the right to canonize somebody. Canonization was thereafter preceded by a canonization trial, in which the holiness of the candidate was confirmed. Prerequisites of holiness were, in addition to a good and devout life, the miracles that the saint-to-be had performed in his life or after his death. Relics were believed to have special power, and saints were supposed to stay close to their remains. Therefore it was useful to pray for saints especially on their tombs. The saints also listened to people's wishes best on their own feast, which usually was the day they had died.

Saints were examples to people in how to lead a good christian life, but especially in the popular belief one approached saints with different kinds of wishes, because saints were believed to have supernatural powers. Saints were given so called ex-voto gifts: if a saint fulfilled a wish, e.g. healed somebody from an illness, the healed one also kept his promise by doing or giving what he had promised. This gift could be a pilgrimage to the saint's tomb or a donation for a new icon.

AuthorMeri Heinonen