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Gregory I the Great, Saint

gregory’s purgatory manuscripts medieval

Father of the medieval papacy" and a Doctor of the Church, the Roman-born aristocrat Gregory (c.540–604) was elected pope by acclamation in 590. He had previously held positions in the Roman civil government and had been a deacon and papal ambassador to Constantinople. He had founded seven monasteries and lived as a monk and later abbot of Saint Andrew’s in Rome. His importance rests primarily on his effective administration, keen political sense, and scholarship; he reorganized and greatly increased the power of the papacy during a period that was extremely troubled, politically and economically. He undertook defense and management of the city of Rome especially against the invading Lombards. Concerned with education and an ardent supporter of monasticism, Gregory is also responsible for the mission to England of Saint *Augustine (of Canterbury). His copious writings include 854 letters (the Registrum Gregorii ), numerous homilies and biblical commentaries, the Liber regulae pastoralis (Pastoral Care , c.591, a guidebook for bishops), the Dialogues, a collection of stories about Italian *saints, including Saint *Benedict), and the Moralia in Job (a long, somewhat mystical treatise on the book of *Job, emphasizing moral lessons for the edification of monks). He developed the concept of purgatory, promoted the veneration of *relics, made important changes in the liturgy, claimed papal supremacy based on the Petrine doctrine , and is credited with developing the Gregorian Chant. Gregory’s writings were copied and often illustrated in manuscripts throughout the medieval period.

His biography was written in the eighth century by Paul the Deacon and later elaborated in the * Golden Legend , from which sources derive most of the pictorial narratives featuring Gregory. One of the most common is Gregory’s representation as an *author working in his study while his secretary secretly observes him through a curtain and notes the dove of the *Holy Spirit perched on Gregory’s shoulder, inspiring his writing. This image first appears in the ninth century and is often found as a frontispiece in manuscripts of Gregory’s works, in other liturgical and hagiographic manuscripts, and in ivory and sculpture. The odd story of Gregory’s prayers releasing the *soul of the emperor Trajan from the flames of purgatory is told in the Golden Legend ; hence a small naked figure of the emperor may be seen with Gregory. Other legends include various *miracles (Christ appeared as the thirteenth guest in a supper Gregory Page 108  offered to the poor; his prayers released the soul of a disobedient monk from purgatory). The visionary appearance of Christ during the *Mass of Saint Gregory was also a popular image in later medieval art. Gregory often appears with the other Latin Doctors, wearing papal vestments and tiara, and holding a crozier.



Gregory, James [next] [back] Gregory, Frederick D.(1941–) - Astronaut, Changes Direction and Makes History, Chronology

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