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(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Traditionally, saints are distinguished by the quality of their lives. Many are associated with miracles. Also, many saints are Christianized versions of old pagan gods and goddesses. In the Old Testament the term "saint" was applied to any Israelite as one of the "chosen people." It was not until the sixth century that the term came to be applied as a title of honor.

The original Christian saints were actually martyrs, and the veneration of those who had died a martyr's death was a local affair, acknowledged and sanctioned by the local bishop. These martyrs were people who had died at the hands of persecutors rather than deny their faith—ironically similar to the later slaughter of so many Witches who died at the hands of their Christian persecutors. Later, the Christians acknowledged "confessor saints"—those who had confessed to their faith and consequently placed themselves in danger, but had not necessarily been killed for it. Throughout the first millennium of the Christian era, bishops could allow public veneration of martyrs and confessors on their own authority. By the thirteenth century it was the Pope alone who declared that a person had attained the beatific vision and was then canonized, with veneration of that person as a saint imposed on the entire Church. This formalization of the process was brought about because of the rapid naming of saints by the unscrupulous, who then made money at shrines and from selling relics.

The list of saints has become something of a hodgepodge of real, legendary, and mythical people. Many of the ancient gods and goddesses became known as saints in the Christian church simply because their worship was so ingrained with the local populous that the Church was unable to eradicate it. They therefore decided to adopt the deities and make them Christian saints. One of the best known examples is that of Bride, the Great Mother goddess of England and Ireland. She became Saint Brigit. Lugh, after whom the Sabbat of Lughnasadh is named, became St. Michael. Lugh was equated with the sun and is also Lucifer, the Lord of Light. St. Michael then became an archangel associated with light. Mabon, also known as Maponos, the Celtic god associated with Apollo, became St. Andrew.



mythical or historical personages whom various religions, including Christianity and Islam, hold to be pious, just, and pleasing to god; the role of intercessor between god and men is also ascribed to them.

The veneration of saints introduces elements of polytheism into monotheistic religions. The cult of heroes in Greco-Roman mythology greatly influenced the establishment of the veneration of saints in Christianity, and the church often included local gods as saints in the Christian pantheon in order to propagate Christianity among pagans. In the fourth century the local councils of Gangra and Laodicea legitimized the veneration of saints, a doctrine that was developed by church writers of the fourth century, including Ephraem the Syrian, Basil the Great, and Gregory of Nyssa. The church struggled energetically against opponents of such veneration, among whom were the Paulicians, Bogomils, Albigenses, and Hussites; the second Council of Nicaea (787) anathematized all who refused to venerate the saints.

The church established a day in remembrance of each saint. Initially, the individual Christian communities had their own saints, but recognition of a new saint and the establishment of a cult later became centralized through the process of canonization.

The ranks of saints included martyrs, podvizhniki (ascetics), and “those who suffered for the faith”; many popes (including Gregory I, Leo III, and Leo IX), princes (such as Vladimir Svia-toslavich, Alexander Nevsky, and Boris and Gleb), and rulers (such as Charlemagne and King Louis IX of France) were also declared saints. The church compiled biographies of the saints (seeLIVES OF THE SAINTS). The images of saints become cult objects in the Christian religion (seeICON), and sainthood was symbolized by a halo.

There is no veneration of saints in Protestantism; however, in some Protestant sects, such as the Lutheran Church, saints may be venerated as remarkable individuals. Such individuals are not addressed as intercessors between men and god or as protectors.

In Islam, the veneration of saints became established as Sufism spread, beginning approximately in the tenth century. There is no official canonization of Islamic saints. The recognition of a given person as a wali (“saint”; in North Africa, marabou) and consequently of his capacity to intercede between god and men begins in the individual’s lifetime and becomes established by tradition. Muhammad’s first associates, a number of commanders during the period of Arab conquests, and early “martyrs for the faith” have come to be regarded as saints in retrospect. In addition, figures regarded as saints in Islam include several local pre-Islamic divinities, a number of Christian saints, the eponyms of certain tribes, and the founders of Sufi orders. There is a special hierarchy of saints. The cult of each usually extends only over a certain region, sometimes quite large, or is found only within a certain sect or Sufi order. There is an extensive hagiographic literature. In early Islam, the veneration of saints was opposed by the Mutazilites and Hanbalites as a violation of monotheistic principles. In modern times, it was attacked by the Wahhabis and certain other sects.

The veneration of saints is alien to Judaism. However, in Hasidism, a sect that arose within Judaism in the 18th century, the zaddikim are essentially invested with the functions of saints. The zaddikim are already regarded during their lives as intercessors between god and men; they are held to be divinely inspired, and people make pilgrimages to them, seeking advice.


Ranovich, A. Proiskhozhdenie khristianskogo kul’ta sviatykh. Moscow-Leningrad, 1931.
Ranovich, A. Kak sozdavalis’ zhitiia sviatykh. Moscow, 1961.
Belov, A. V. Pravda pravoslavnykh “sviatykh.” Moscow, 1968.
Goldziher, I. Kul’t sviatykh v islame. Moscow, 1938. (Translated from German.)
Klimovich, L. I. Obriady, prazdniki i kul’t sviatykh v islame. Groznyi, 1959.


Saints, Doctors, Missionaries, and Martyrs Day

November 8
Since the Reformation the Church of England has not added saints to its calendar. Although there have certainly been many candidates for sainthood over the past 450 years, and many martyrs who have given their lives as foreign missionaries, the Church of England has not canonized them, although a few are commemorated on special days. Instead, since 1928 it has set aside November 8, exactly one week after All Saints' Day, to commemorate "the unnamed saints of the nation."
See also St. Charles Day
AnnivHol-2000, p. 187
DaysCustFaith-1957, p. 284
RelHolCal-2004, p. 105
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