Richard of Verdun

Richard of Verdun (970–1046) was the abbot of the influential northeastern French Monastery of St. Vanne from 1004 to 1046.[1] Richard entered the monastery of St. Vanne as a young man, and upon his arrival he was shocked and dismayed by the relatively poor state of the monastery. So great were his feelings that he had attempted to be transferred from St. Vanne, but was eventually talked out of it by Odilo of Cluny.[2]

Richard succeeded Fergenius as abbot of St. Vanne in 1004. Due to his intimate connections with the local nobility, notably Gerard of Florennes, Bishop of Cambrai and Poppo of Stavelot, Richard was able to transform the simple monastery into a truly monumental repository of a variety of relics.[3] His network of connections and contributors even included William the Conqueror and Robert II, Duke of Normandy.[4] Modeling St. Vanne after Cluny Abbey, Richard undertook a number of building projects which some felt were overeager at best and needlessly wasteful and extravagant at worst. Peter Damian commented "...he had expended almost all his efforts constructing useless buildings and had wasted much of the Church's resources in such frivolities".[4]

Despite his critics, Richard was generally well-regarded and considered to be a man knowledgeable of "...corporate religious ideals and the needs of a whole community".[5] Like many of his Benedictine contemporaries, Richard viewed the cult of saints to be the best means of transmitting the Christian ideal to a nominally Christian populace.[6] In fact, his most extravagant construction was built especially to house the bones of the monastery's many patron saints and former bishops.[7] In 1027, he carried out his own pilgrimage to Jerusalem (at the head of a large group of pilgrims), further demonstrating his interest in the cult of saints and relics.

Many of Richard's reliquary acquisitions during his tenure as abbot of St. Vanne seem to be highly suspect; at times even illegal.[2] According to Patrick Geary, Richard "...saw nothing contradictory or immoral about his theft or falsification of important relics".[8] Instead, the overall spiritual power and protection that the relics of saints could offer outweighed any misgivings about the "rightness" of theft or falsification. In Richard's viewpoint, if the relic had not have chosen him to acquire it, it would have interceded on behalf of its original possessors.[9]


  1. Geary, Patrick "Furta Sacra: Thefts of Relics in The Central Middle Ages." Princeton University Press,1990, p. 65
  2. 1 2 Geary 1990, pp. 65-66
  3. Geary 1990, pp. 66-67
  4. 1 2 Geary 1990, pp. 67
  5. Geary 1990, pp. 68
  6. Geary 1990, pp. 68-69
  7. Geary 1990, pp. 69
  8. Geary 1990, pp. 65
  9. Geary 1990, pp. 65, 70
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