Saturday, I collected a package at the local post office which contained a very useful tool for my current research, namely the latest edition of The Book of Saints, an encyclopedia that has grown out of generations of Benedictine scholarship on the cult of saints. Considering that my current job consists in part of entering names of saints from medieval calendars into a database, this book is immensely valuable for determining some of the many cases where a saint's identity is uncertain. And while I had known for quite a while that there are numerous instances where several saints share the same name, I had rarely had to deal with this in my own research. Previously, I have mostly worked on saints whose cults were extensive and whose figures were easily identifiable - if sometimes confused - and there have been very few cases where I have spent a lot of time trying to ascertain the identity of a specific saint. This situation was to change very rapidly as I started in my current job.
The main part of my current work is centred on fragments of medieval calendars used in Sweden, many of which were either imported from England, or produced by copying an older English calendar, and together these fragments span the period c.1100 to c.1500. For the most part, identifying the saints in these calendars is easy enough to do, as the majority of saints are sufficiently well established in Latin Christendom, and sufficiently well known by scholarship. In some cases, the name is all that is necessary for determining which saint we are dealing with, or the date of the feast. And some saints are so well established that even in the cases where the name is misspelled or the feast is misplaced, it does not require a lot of effort to piece the puzzle together.
However, in some cases there are saints whose inclusion in the calendar is essentially a vestige of a practice established a long time ago which has essentially fallen into oblivion, maintained only because the name can be found, even though the ministrants might have no clear idea of who this saint is or when and where the saint operated, or perhaps not even what patronage the saint is supposed to have. These are saints so minor in their fame and popularity that not even the shortest chapters of Jacobus de Voragine's Legenda Aurea from c.1260 - which arguably brought a lot of saints out of complete oblivion - have saved them from becoming skeleton cults, names serving as echoes of a lost past. It is when saints attain this level of near-forgottenness that they become problematic for the modern-day scholar. Saints such as these are often perfunctorily recorded in calendars because they are included in the older calendar used as a model - and sometimes they are misspelled, or misplaced, or simply confused with other saints of a similar name.
In the course of my work on Swedish calendars - about which I will not go into great detail here - I have several times spent more time than I had anticipated, indeed hoped, in trying to establish which Victor, which Eusebius, or which Maximus is actually meant in a badly water-damaged calendar fragment. And in cases such as these, where the name is shared by a great number of individuals - many of which are of such an uncertain historicity that their legends have become confused with one another - it is extremely needful to have several tools such as The Book of Saints. Because even though they might not shed all the required light on the errors of a scribe centuries ago, they might help in the process of narrowing down the possible options. This is especially useful when encountering a Maximus - or a variant of that name - who is merely identified as a martyr, a confessor, and a priest, because there are, as the pages below demonstrate, a long, long list of possible candidates. There is, indeed, a multiplicity of Maximuses - and Eusebiuses, and Victors and others - that need to be carefully sifted through in order to arrive at some sort of conclusion. And even then it is entirely possible that that conclusion is wrong.