Performing Medieval Narrative Today

A Video Showcase

Golden Legend: St. Nicholas

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About the scene and clip:
The solo performer tells about St. Nicholas, projecting onto a screen drawings she has done of the saint’s life and miracles.

About the work:
The work known as the Legenda Aurea (The Golden Legend) is a massive compilation of stories about the saints by an Italian Dominican, Jacobus of Voragine (or Varazze), Archbishop of Genoa, writing around 1260. Organized around the Catholic liturgical year, The Golden Legend tells the lives and stories of many important saints, as well as of Christ and the Virgin Mary. It was very widely known; preachers and storytellers often told stories from The Golden Legend, and it inspired much medieval art. The work as a whole and stories drawn from it were translated into many vernacular languages. About 900 manuscripts of the The Golden Legend survive, and at the end of the Middle Ages it was even more frequently printed than the Bible.

About the genre:
Stories about the saintly wisdom, heroism, or miracles of remarkable men and women exist in many religious traditions, such as Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Such stories are termed “hagiography.” In medieval Europe, the saint’s life or legend was an extremely popular type of work. A great many stories (and plays) about male and female Christian saints exist in Latin and in all the vernacular languages. These works may focus on the saint’s dramatic death by martyrdom, or recount the remarkable miracles performed by the saint, or may relate the entire life of the holy man or woman. Among the most important collections of saints’ lives and legends is The Golden Legend by Jacobus of Voragine. Chaucer’s “Prioress’s Tale” in The Canterbury Tales is a tale of martyrdom. Miracle and pious tales about the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, constitute a special, and highly important, category of saintly legends.

This story also belongs to the tale tradition. The tale, like the epic, is an ancient genre and one found everywhere in the world. Many tales are firmly rooted in oral tradition and are recited or told by amateur and professional storytellers and performers. Other tales are the work of literarily sophisticated authors and are often intended to be read aloud or silently from written texts. Some tales circulate separately, while others are part of collections, which may be set in complex frames (as in the case of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Boccaccio’s Decameron and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales). There are many sub-groups of tales with specific characteristics; see for example the “lai” and the “fabliau.”

About the edition/translation:
From The Golden Legend or Lives of the Saints, Compiled by Jacobus de Voragine, Archbishop of Genoa, 1275, first edition published 1470. English edition by William Caxton, first edition 1483, ed. F.S. Ellis, Temple Classics, 1900 (reprinted 1922, 1931), p. 49. Latin: Iacopo da Varazze, Legenda Aurea, ed. Giovanni Paolo Maggioni, 2nd ed., Firenze, SISMEL, Edizioni del Galluzzo, 1998, 2 vols.

About the performer/ensemble:
Jenn Jordan is completing a MA in the Draper Program at New York University (2008).

About the production:
This clip was created for this website, for pleasure. It was videoed in a meeting room at New York University in spring 2008. Nitzan Rotschild was the videographer.