For more than two thousand years, the legends and stories of the Christian saints have greatly affected the course of Western civilization. The saints have influenced our holidays, our school systems, the boundaries of nations, our poetry, music, and visual arts. They have been great philosophers, uneducated savants, mystics, administrators, farmers, housewives, and soldiers, hailing from every social strata of society.
Every town and country has saints that are familiar to the local residents and obscure to the rest of us. Since it is estimated that there are more than ten thousand formally recognized saints, it was possible to profile only a very few for this book. Instead of brief biographies and images of many significant saints, we opted to go into detail about a varied handful that have an ongoing influence in modern life. The saints we have chosen are in no way the most important or exalted; many are extremely popular, some less well known. They bring with them a mix of personalities and ethnic cultures that reflect the makeup of today’s diverse society.
For this book, we have divided the first two thousand years of Christianity into ancient and modern time periods. The ancient saints span from prehis-tory to the year A.D. 1000. These saints tend to have more legendary aspects to their stories, resulting from the strong oral tradition in which they thrived. However, the modern saints are well documented by contemporary historical texts. These comprise the second thousand years. Some of these saints have influenced whole nations while others, through their particular state of life, encourage us to have a more personal relationship with them.
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