From the Martyr’s Mountain to the Hermit’s Cave: Hagiography and the Sacralisation of the East-Central European Landscape, 11th-15th Centuries
The role of space, place, and landscape in the perception and function of a cult
site is complicated and varied, however it is a necessary one if we want to understand
the way in which medieval people — pilgrims, writers of hagiography, the Church —
perceived of and interacted with this very important manifestation of medieval
religiosity. In this study I identify those cult sites in medieval East-Central Europe that
have a significant “natural” element, that is, holy wells, mountains, hills, or any such
site that is largely defined by its relationship with nature, and secondly answer how and
why these natural places became “sacred” while other natural sites and landscapes did
not. Finally I analyse how medieval people interacted with and perceived these sites
and what role these sacred landscapes played in the bigger picture of medieval religion
in Central Europe.
Analysis of the relevant hagiography related to a representative sample of cult
sites in East Central Europe that feature prominent, even defining, geographical or
natural features can help make significant revelations concerning this role. The sites
considered in this study are: Skalka nad Váhom, a cave in modern-day Slovakia; Gellért
Hill, which overlooks the Danube River in Buda, Hungary; Margaret Island, also located
on the Danube in Budapest, Hungary; the Pool of St. Stanislaus, at the edge of Cracow,
Poland just outside St. Michael’s Church; and Jasna Góra, a mountain located in
Częstochowa, Poland. All of these places possess associated foundation legends, saints’
vitae, or miracle accounts dating from the eleventh to sixteenth centuries that, when
considered together, illustrate some of the major trends in the sacralisation of landscape
in medieval East-Central Europe.
Hungary, Poland, space, cult, sanctuaries.