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All Saints Day(s)

A page from a medieval calendar of saints

So many saints, so little time to figure out who’s who. Linguistics professor Cynthia Vakareliyska has spent the past year developing an online database of medieval calendars of saints from the Eastern Orthodox Church.  (Right: A page from a medieval calendar of saints.)

Calendars of saints are found in medieval manuscripts such as Psalters (psalms), gospels and acts or epistles. They provided instruction to clergy regarding daily hymns and readings, and identified which saints should be celebrated or prayed to on which days.

During the medieval period, the Eastern Orthodox Church spanned a huge region encompassing Greece, Russia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Macedonia and Romania, but it had no central governing body to oversee the canonization of saints. As a result, scribes would add locally venerated figures to their calendars, delete saints, shift them to different days, leave out descriptions and misspell names.

As part of the project, a colleague of Vakareliyska’s at the University of Pittsburgh, professor David Birnbaum, created a computer program for searching a large corpus of medieval calendars that permits the text of the calendars to be read online in the Greek, Old Cyrillic and Roman alphabets.

Vakareliyska and linguistics graduate student Holly Lakey are entering information into the program from several hundred calendars that Vakareliyska collected from archives in Russia, Bulgaria and England.

The text-encoding of each calendar in the database will allow scholars to search for particular saints by name, gender and country, and thus enable analysis of both individual calendars and a large corpus of them. Vakareliyska will be adding data from hundreds of other medieval calendars to those already available online and hopes other scholars will contribute.

Once enough calendars are encoded, Vakareliyska also plans to examine them for patterns: Calendars often contain borrowed or dialectspecific words and translations, and spellings can reveal regional pronunciations, helping establish where a specific calendar originated.

— Amanda Miles

photo: Petar Peev

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