Between the Limousin and the Holy Land: Prisoners, Performance, and the Portal of San Leonardo at Siponto

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This article discusses two little-studied reliefs on the north portal of San Leonardo at Siponto. Long noted as a site on the road to the important sanctuary of St. Michael on Monte Gargano, the north facade of the church contains some of the most celebrated sculpture of twelfth-century Apulia, which has traditionally been viewed in relation to pilgrimage. Through consideration of the cult of its titular saint, Leonard of Noblat—patron of prisoners, whose main shrine is located in the Limousin region of central France—I argue that the carved figures represent one of the saint’s principal miracles, first recorded at the beginning of the twelfth century. Additionally, they provide insight into a significant and overlooked aspect of Leonard’s cult and its gestation, explaining how a little-known saint purportedly born in sixth-century France became the focus of one of the most popular cults in twelfth-century Europe and the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. The interpretation proposed here participates in current scholarly discussions of sacred topography and the potentially “global” dimensions of medieval saints’ cults, offering an understanding of the dynamics of the cult-body-image relationship. It demonstrates how the study of individuals’ mobility can enrich our understanding of the devotion to saints beyond the geographically bound locations of the shrines that housed their bodies, and it shows the critical role images play in recording and revealing these processes. I investigate the ways in which facade imagery might simultaneously address varied audiences and carry multivalent meanings, potentially shaping practice and moderating social behavior. Finally, I show how sculpture could form part of a dynamic and complex relationship among miracles, performance, and votive offerings.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)165-194
Number of pages29
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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