From Martyrs to Saints: The Stories of the Vita Kiliani

What does a bishop died in 689 have to do with a fourth-century woman died a virgin? The stories of Saint Kilian and Saint Margaret told in the Vita Kiliani might have more in common than you imagine. Read about it and see if you can find out!

The Vita Kiliani, containing the Passio Kiliani et Margaretae is a unique example in the field of early medieval illuminated manuscripts from 975. It is one of the very first “libelli“, a “small book” generally containing episodes from the life of a Saint, in a book form that was particularly popular during the Ottonian period.

The Lives of Saint Kilian and Saint Margaret

This beautiful illuminated book recounts the biography of two holy characters, whose deeds are illustrated in the manuscript by means of extremely detailed depictions. The first text, the Vita Kiliani proper, describes the life of Saint Kilian, the Irish missionary bishop who converted the populace of Franconia to Christianity.

Around 680, in the city of Würzburg, he suffered martyrdom as the ruling class refused conversion to the Catholic faith. Another text tells the story of St. Margaret. Another martyr, her cult was very popular during the high middle ages. Born at Antioch, she was tortured and eventually beheaded during the time of persecution under Diocletian (4th century).  

A Book For the Court

The scenes from the lives of the two saints are flanked by opulent golden illuminations. The text, however, also displays lavishly decorated initials and an intricate interlace: thus the decorative apparatus of the Vita Kiliani has made many scholars think that this beautiful manuscript was probably commissioned by someone in the Ottonian Court, likely in the city of Fulda.


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