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The Legenda Aurea: From Holy Mediator to Icon of Idolatry Open Access

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The Legenda Aura is a collection of hagiographies and apocryphal stories compiled by Dominican friar Jacopo de Voragine around 1290 A.D. The book’s colorful retellings translate easily to artistic rendering, with countless paintings and frescoes through the ages drawing inspiration from its pages. One of the Legenda Aurea’s most significant triumphs, however, remains the visual syntax of sequential images that emerged from the narrative structure of the text, allowing the illiterate population of Christians to access the narrative foundations of the Christian faith. This paper investigates the rise and fall of the Legenda Aurea in both popular regard and religious authority. The ascendance of the Legenda Aurea in Europe during the late Middle Ages will be assessed by analyzing how its original popularity engendered an easily accessible visual syntax of apocryphal images while still retaining religious authority. The sharp decline in the Legenda Aurea’s reputation and legitimacy will be studied through the text’s translation from Latin to the vernacular English by a publisher known for printing irreverent tales of fiction. The Legenda Aurea may have made Christianity more accessible than ever in the Middle Ages; however, the unique way in which this accessibility was born — through the development of a visual syntax while leaving the Latin word intact — allowed the text’s authority to remain protected. Once the source language of the translation shifted from Latin, the language of the Church, to the English vernacular, this authority was lost and the high regard for the Legenda Aurea ruined.

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