Golden Legend, The, collection of saints' lives written in the 13th cent. by Jacobus da Varagine. Originally entitled Legenda sanctorum [readings in the lives of the saints], it soon came to be called Legenda aurea [the golden legend] because of its popularity, which continued until the Reformation. It is a saints' calendar, with an introduction for each division of the year and a section on each great feast day. It is a compilation of wonder stories, presenting the ideals of saintly living; not critical or historical in purpose, it is a devotional book rather than a collection of biographies. It was early translated from Latin into the vernacular languages, and William Caxton published one of the English translations. The fantastic nature of some of the stories and the simple, graceless style of the Latin brought the scorn of Renaissance humanists. Yet the immense popularity the book enjoyed is evident from the wide influence it had on medieval literature. An excellent, somewhat abridged adaptation by Granger Ryan and Helmut Ripperger appeared in 1941.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.