2013 Balzan Prize for Medieval History
The work of the historian of the Middle Ages André Vauchez demonstrates a consistently high level of scholarship. Its central focus is spirituality, something which profoundly marked the mentality of the Middle Ages in Western Europe. With unimpeachable scrupulousness Vauchez has shed light on the multifarious aspects of spirituality in the sometimes conflicting realms of organized religion and popular piety, illustrating in particular their importance in everyday medieval life.
In his volume La spiritualité du Moyen Âge occidental (1975; Spirituality of the Medieval West, 1993), his studies regarding the conception of perfection promulgated by the Papacy and the acceptance of such ideas by the faithful in La sainteté en Occident aux derniers siècles du Moyen Âge (1198-1431) from 1981 (Sainthood in the Later Middle Ages, 1987), and on popular piety in Les laïcs au Moyen Âge (1987; The Laity in the Middle Ages, 1993), Vauchez spans the whole timeline of the Middle Ages, thus illustrating the dynamics of medieval spirituality and its forms of expression. His book Saints, prophètes et visionnaires: le pouvoir surnaturel au Moyen Âge (1999) is an attempt at understanding, with due critical care, what remains for us one of the most inaccessible aspects of the Middle Ages and which today is often held to be no more than superstition.
In an anthology of his work in Italian, Esperienze religiose nel Medioevo (2003 – Religious Experience in the Middle Ages), he demonstrates his usual combination of detailed and innovative scholarship on the topics of “The holiness of the laity”, “Holiness in women”, “Medieval Man and the Sacred: Locations of encounter” and “Time and Space in Medieval Religiosity”, constantly building new bridges between spirituality and its “place in life”.
Indubitably the summit of Vauchez’s achievement in the understanding of medieval religiosity is his work François d’Assise. Entre histoire et mémoire (2009; Francis of Assisi. The Life and Afterlife of a Medieval Saint, 2012). In his presentation of the life, work and influence of St. Francis of Assisi he succeeds in bringing to life, without any false mythologizing or anachronism, one of the most colourful and influential figures of the Middle Ages to have left his imprint on the collective imagination, while at the same time continuing to pursue, with great lucidity, an analysis of the myths that have been constructed around this central figure and their elaboration down to today.