Bellum iustum: hagiography and Venetian imperialism in the later Middle Ages


The presence of the relics of Mark the Evangelist in Venice, and the myth of his providential link to the city, gave rise to Venetian assertions of religious and moral superiority throughout the Middle Ages. Considering their city an apostolic foundation and God’s pre-eminent locus sanctus, Venetian mythology perpetuated this view by suggesting the city had a special calling to spread the word of God. Their perceived vocation was articulated at the end of Mark’s gospel, where Christ commands the apostles to “Go to all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” [Mark 15: 16] Girded by Augustinian and Thomistic theories of bellum iustum or just war, the passage was often cited in defence of Venetian imperialism in Eastern Europe and the Holy Land. The allegory appears quite early in Venetian hagiography, both written and visual. This paper seeks to explore the political nuances of Venetian hagiography, with regard to the Lives of Gerardo da Venezia and Leone Bembo. It will highlight the role of these saintly biographies in promoting and indeed justifying Venetian hegemonic powers within an incontestable hagiographic tradition.


Venetian hagiography, Gerardo da Venezia, Leone Bembo


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