Medieval Saints in Late Nineteenth-Century French Culture: Eight Essays

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Legends, tales, and mysteries featuring saints captivated the French at the end of the nineteenth century. As Jean Lorrain pointed out in an 1891 article for the popular weekly Le Courrier Français, the seemingly simple language of the saints’ lives, their noble battles between good and evil and the atmosphere of religious mysticism appealed to many, especially those involved in the visual and performing arts. Ironically The Third Republic (1870–1940), a regime that claimed to reinforce and institute the secular ideas of the French Revolution, was witness to this great popular interest in the saints and religious imagery. The eight essays in this work explore the popularity of the saints from the 1850s to the 1920s. The essays evaluate the role they played in literature, art, music, science, history and politics, examine portrayals of the saints’ lives in both low and high culture (from children’s literature, shadow plays and the popular press to literature, opera and theological studies), and reveal the prevalence of the saints in fin-de-siècle France.