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The cult of St Nicholas in medieval Italy
By Sarah Burnett
PhD Dissertation, University of Warwick, 2009
Abstract: St Nicholas was one of the most popular saints in medieval Italy. His cult attracted the attention of popes, kings and emperors, and his shrine at Bari became an important international pilgrimage destination. This thesis asks how the cult of St Nicholas came to be so widespread and popular in Italy, and why the saint attracted the attention of diverse groups and individuals. This thesis is structured around four chapters. The first demonstrates that through a process of Latinisation the cult of St Nicholas became integrated within Italian literary traditions and within a new spiritual era. Chapter Two reveals that this Latinisation also occurred within the saint’s iconography. Chapters Three and Four are case studies of the cult in Puglia and Venice, locations which claimed possession of the saint’s relics. These case studies show that the general developments that the cult of St Nicholas underwent in Italy, identified in Chapters One and Two, did not apply universally. Instead, the presence of the saint’s relics resulted in a different profile of the saint in Bari and Venice. Through the process of Latinisation, the cult of St Nicholas became updated and remained relevant for its new Italian audience; Chapters Three and Four show alternative ways that the cult of St Nicholas gained widespread popularity. This thesis presents for the first time an iconographical study of St Nicholas in Italian art, which develops existing research of the saint’s Byzantine iconography. Chapter Four presents a profile of the cult of St Nicholas in Venice in the Middle Ages, which is a significant oversight in the literature. The thesis uses a variety of visual and textual sources, in particular fresco and altarpiece representations, archival documents from Venice and Rome (including the Apostolic Visitations), and under-exploited contemporary and antiquarian Venetian sources.