Delve into the global history of Christian sainthood in The Surprising Lives of Christian Saints. Over the course of 24 in-depth lectures, Professor Emily Graham of Oklahoma State University takes you on an enlightening journey through time, revealing the profound lives of individuals who have left an indelible mark on our world.
The Surprising Lives of Christian Saints
Emily Graham is an Associate Professor of History at Oklahoma State University, where she teaches religion, gender, and medieval history. She received her PhD and MLitt in Medieval History from the University of St Andrews. She is a recipient of the Regents Distinguished Teaching Award, Oklahoma State University’s highest teaching honor. Her work has appeared in the Journal of Medieval History and Studies in Church History.
01: Saints and the People Who Make Them
The course begins with the seemingly outlandish story of a dog, Guinefort, who allegedly had healing powers. Where did this legend come from? And what does that have to do with Christian saints? In a roadmap for this course, Professor Graham shows how you’ll delve into the mystery of legendary saints and their historical records.
02: Philip Neri: Playful Pragmatist
The first saint you explore is the 16th-century Florentine Philip Neri, who developed a congregation of followers and founded the early Oratory—a community which gathered for discussion, prayer, and meditation. Explore his pragmatic teaching as well as his wry humor and determined independence.
03: Peter and Mary Magdalene: Early Saint Stories
Learn about the earliest Christian saints in the New Testament. Here, you’ll examine two important—and mysterious—figures in Christian history: the apostle Peter and the biblical Mary Magdalen. Consider how their lives have been interpreted compared to what we know about them from history.
04: Perpetua and Felicity: Mothers and Martyrs
Shift your attention to the city of Carthage, which was home to a fledgling community of Christians in the third century. Here, the martyrdom of two women—Perpetua, the daughter of a wealthy civil servant, and Felicity, a young slave in the household—sheds light on the role of women and the uneasy state of Christianity in its early centuries.
05: Empress Irene and the Veneration of Images
Delve into the intersection of power and religion with the story of Irene of Athens. During her reign, she negotiated a conflict between people for and against the use of imagery for veneration (iconophiles versus iconoclasts). Explore her rule, her reforms of the Byzantine Church, and her legacy as a savior of images.
06: Radegund: Survivor, Queen, Abbess
The medieval St. Radegund gives us a powerful story of political violence, liberation, and humble servitude. Born in a Germanic kingdom amid political strife, Princess Radegund negotiated a pathway for female sanctity, before settling into a simple life near Poitiers, in modern-day France, where she founded a monastery.
07: Saint Making in the Middle Ages
In this lecture, you’ll take a pause from examining the lives of specific saints to reflect on the nature of sainthood. Initially, saints were recognized based on local acclaim, but the Catholic Church gradually developed a system for officially identifying and approving saints. Also, survey the history of canonization.
08: Mendicants: Francis of Assisi and Louis of Toulouse
Francis of Assisi and Louis of Toulouse both came from comfortable family backgrounds, but over the course of their lives, they lived in poverty and ministered to the poor as part of the Franciscan order. As you uncover their biographies, you’ll reflect on the changes to canonization in the 13th and 14th centuries.
09: Margaret of Cortona: Midwife and Mystic
Continue your study of Franciscan saints with a look at the extraordinary life of Margaret of Cortona. After a luxurious life as a lover’s companion, she became homeless and a penitent. With her life of self-denial as well as her mystical visions, she attracted followers and eventually became the patron saint of the midwives, orphans, single mothers, and more.
10: Thomas Aquinas: The Saintly Scholar
Thomas Aquinas is arguably the most important theologian of the Middle Ages, and his work continues to inspire scholars today. Delve into heady issues such as the relationship between faith and reason, the existence of God, and the nature of the soul, in this examination of Aquinas’s life.
11: Tekle Haymanot: Ethiopian Hermit-Teacher
The oldest, continuously inhabited Christian monastery is located in the Kingdom of Aksum, in what is Ethiopia today. There, 800 years ago, the saintly figure of Tekle Haymanot founded monasteries, trained religious leaders, and evangelized in Ethiopia and beyond.
12: Saints and the Protestant Reformation
While Christianity has always had differing views on sainthood, the Protestant Reformation unleashed a wave of new religious groups across Europe. The Reformation and the Catholic Counter-Reformation led to new expressions of sainthood. Here, learn about Teresa of Avila, Benedict the Moor, Jesuit missionaries, and more.
13: Martín de Porres: Healer of Peru
The lives of saints often reflect the powerful connection between a person and his or her moment in history. As the first Black saint from the Americas, Martín de Porres faced social prejudice as he ministered to the poor and the sick in Lima, Peru. Reflect on the dispossessed lives under 16th-century Spanish law and Martin’s long road to sainthood.
14: Kateri Tekakwitha: Mohawk Ascetic
Although she only lived to age 24, Kateri Tekakwitha was recognized as a holy person within the Mohawk tribe in upstate New York. As a convert and ascetic, she’s been canonized as the patron saint of Native Americans, people living in exile, and ecology. Survey her short but fascinating life.
15: Absalom Jones: Abolitionist Priest
Born into slavery in the mid-18th century, Absalom Jones secured his family’s freedom, become an Episcopal priest, and founded one of the first Black churches in the United States. Find out about Philadelphia churches, Jones’s work as an abolitionist, and the relationship between freedom and religion.
16: Elizabeth Ann Seton: Convert and Caretaker
As a widow and Catholic convert, Elizabeth Ann Seton established a women’s religious community in Maryland, the Sisters of Charity. Today, both the Catholic Church and the Episcopal Church recognize her as the patron saint of widows, deaths of children and parents, and problematic in-laws.
17: Saints and Modernity
The world has changed rapidly in recent decades, and the process for saint-making has changed alongside it. Survey the changes ushered in during the 20th century, including the medical verifications for miracles. Then, take a look at the wave of recent canonizations that have diversified the saintly choir.
18: Joan of Arc: Peasant-General
Joan of Arc is an enigma, yet her story of leading France to victory during the Hundred Years War, followed by her execution by burning, is one of the most powerful tales in this course. Meet the woman behind the myth, survey her battlefield tactics, and reflect on the role of women in war.
19: Andrei Rublev: Artist-Monk
You can learn a great deal about religion by its art. In the 14th century, the artist Andrei Rublev ushered in a golden age of icon painting, combining Byzantine and Russian influences. Review some of his stunning compositions, including the icon of the Holy Trinity, his most famous artwork.
20: Josephine Butler: Victorian Feminist
Josephine Butler played an important role in the political changes of Victorian England. As an advocate for women’s rights—including women’s access to education and employment—Butler led the charge for numerous social reforms. She’s remembered for campaigns against child prostitution and human trafficking, among other causes.
21: Padre Pio: The Science of Miracles
The life of Padre Pio illustrates the tension between the modern need for evidence and the miraculous workings of a charismatic saint. In his long career as a Capuchin monk, he reportedly was responsible for miracles during both world wars, but he also faced accusations of fraud as well as doubts from the Vatican.
22: Josephine Bakhita: Freed from Slavery
Although her birth name has been lost to history, the saint we know as Josephine Bakhita is recognized around the world as a symbol of freedom from slavery. Born in Sudan, she was sold by traders an eventually landed in Italy, where there was a legal struggle for her freedom. She eventually became a nun and dedicated her life to public service.
23: Óscar Romero: Voice for the People
Archbishop Óscar Romero has been acclaimed a martyr and a hero of the popular movement in El Salvador since his assassination in 1980. But his life’s story was richly textured, and he was highly acclaimed even before his martyrdom. Delve into the political strife of the mid-20th century and his work for peace amid civil war.
24: Saints in Our Everyday World
The choir of saints continues to evolve alongside Christianity itself, meeting the challenges of each new generation. Reflect on the saints you’ve met in this course and then round out your study with a look at saints in our popular culture today, including St. Valentine and St. Nick.