Natalie Van Deusen

Remnants of Catholicism

The Saints in Early Modern Icelandic Poetry

Tuesday November 11, 2014, at 16.30
Árnagarði 422

Natalie Van Deusen copy
Natalie Van Deusen

The past few decades have witnessed a veritable renaissance of academic interest in Old Norse-Icelandic hagiography, or saints’ lives from medieval Iceland. However, the Old Norse-Icelandic saints’ lives treated in recent scholarship are almost exclusively prose ones, and medieval Icelandic hagiographic poetry—which constitute a much larger corpus of Icelandic hagiographic texts overall—has remained virtually untouched, as have the hundreds of extant poems about saints from early modern Iceland. Indeed, the little that exists of secondary and reference literature on medieval and early modern Icelandic religious poetry is outdated (mostly from the first half of the twentieth century), and in desperate need of revision to meet the needs of students and scholars today.

The Legends of the Saints in Old Norse and Early Modern Icelandic Poetry, which I am co-writing with Professor Kirsten Wolf (University of Wisconsin-Madison), seeks to renew scholarly interest in this genre of Icelandic literature by providing a thorough guide to all Old Norse and early modern Icelandic poetic saints’ lives in a bibliographic format. The book is intended as a sequel to Wolf’s recently published guide to Old Norse-Icelandic prose saints’ lives (The Legends of the Saints in Old Norse-Icelandic Prose, University of Toronto Press, 2013).

This paper, which is based on this larger project, focuses on the composition and dissemination of poems about saints in early modern Iceland. It examines the continued (and in some cases, increased) popularity of stories about holy men and women in Iceland during the centuries after the Reformation, and using the poems as a cultural mirrors, considers what they can tell us about the continued relevance of Catholic saints in Protestant Iceland.

Natalie Van Deusen is an assistant professor in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies at the University of Alberta, where she teaches courses on Scandinavian language, literature, and culture from the Middle Ages to the present day. Her areas of research specialization include Old Norse-Icelandic philology, hagiography (poetry and prose), and gender studies. She is currently co-writing a book on saints in medieval and early modern Icelandic poetry with Dr. Kirsten Wolf (University of Wisconsin-Madison).