Jacobus de Voragine (c. 1230 - July 13, 1298) was an Italian chronicler and archbishop of Genoa. He was the author of the Golden Legend, one of the most popular religious works of the middle ages, a collection of the legendary lives of the greater saints of the medieval church.
Born at the little village of Varazze, near Genoa. He entered the Dominican order in 1244, and besides preaching with success in many parts of Italy, taught in the schools of his own fraternity. He was provincial of Lombardy from 1267 till 1286, when he was removed at the meeting of the order in Paris. He also represented his own province at the councils of Lucca (1288) and Ferrara (1290). On the last occasion he was one of the four delegates charged with signifying Nicholas IV's desire for the deposition of Munio de Zamora, who had been master of the order from 1285, and was deprived of his office by a papal bull dated April 12, 1291.
In 1288 Nicholas empowered him to absolve the people of Genoa for their offence in aiding the Sicilians against Charles II. Early in 1292 the same pope, himself a Franciscan, summoned Jacobus to Rome, intending to consecrate him archbishop of Genoa with his own hands. He reached Rome on Palm Sunday (March 30), only to find his patron ill of a deadly sickness, from which he died on Good Friday (April 4). The cardinals, however, propter honorem Communis Januae, determined to carry out this consecration on the Sunday after Easter. He was a good bishop, and especially distinguished himself by his efforts to appease the civil discords of Genoa.
He died in 1298 or 1299, and was buried in the Dominican church at Genoa. A story, mentioned by the chronicler Echard as unworthy of credit, makes Pope Boniface VIII, on the first day of Lent, cast the ashes in the archbishop's eyes instead of on his head, with the words, "Remember that thou art a Ghibelline, and with thy fellow Ghibellines wilt return to naught."
Jacobus de Voragine left a list of his own works. Speaking of himself in his Chronicon januense, he says, "While he was in his order, and after he had been made archbishop, he wrote many works. For he compiled the legends of the saints (Legendae sanctorum) in one volume, adding many things from the Historia tripartita et scholastica, and from the chronicles of many writers."
The other writings he claims are two anonymous volumes of Sermons concerning all the Saints whose yearly feasts the church celebrates. Of these volumes, he adds, one is very diffuse, but the other short and concise. Then follow Sermones de omnibus evangeliis dominicalibus or every Sunday in the year; Sermones de omnibus evangeliis, i.e a book of discourses on all the Gospels, from Ash Wednesday to the Tuesday after Easter; and a treatise called Marialis, qui totus est de B. Maria compositus, consisting of about 160 discourses on the attributes, titles, &c., of the Virgin Mary. In the same work the archbishop claims to have written his Chronicon januense in the second year of his pontificate (1293), but it extends to 1296 or 1297.
To this list Echard adds several other works, such as a defence of the Dominicans, printed at Venice in 1504, and a Summa virtutum et vitiorum Guillelmi Peraldi, a Dominican who died about 1250. Jacobus is also said by Sixtus of Siena (Biblioth. Sacra, lib. ix.) to have translated the Old and New Testaments into his own tongue. "But," adds Echard, "if he did so, the version lies so closely hid that there is no recollection of it," and it may be added that it is highly improbable that the man who compiled the Golden Legend ever conceived the necessity of having the Scriptures in the vernacular.
His two chief works are the Chronicon januense and the Golden Legend or Lombardica hysteria.
The former is partly printed in Muratori (Scriptores Rer. Hal. ix. 6). It is divided into twelve parts. The first four deal with the mythical history of Genoa from the time of its founder, Janus, the first king of Italy, and its enlarger, a second Janus "citizen of Troy", till its conversion to Christianity "about twenty-five years after the passion of Christ." Part v. professes to treat of the beginning, the growth and the perfection of the city; but of the first period the writer candidly confesses he knows nothing except by hearsay. The second period includes the Genoese crusading exploits in the East, and extends to their victory over the Pisans (c. 1130), while the third reaches down to tha author's days as Archbishop. The sixth part deals with the constitution of the city, the seventh and eighth with the duties of rulers and citizens, the ninth with those of domestic life. The tenth gives the ecclesiastical history of Genoa from the time of its first known bishop, Saint Valentine, " whom we believe to have lived about 530 A.D., " till 1133, when the city was raised to archiepiscopal rank. The eleventh contains the lives of all the bishops in order, and includes the chief events during their pontificates; the twelfth deals in the same way with the archbishops, not forgetting the writer himself.
The Golden Legend, one of the most popular religious works of the Middle Ages, is a collection of the legendary lives of the greater saints of the medieval church. The preface divides the ecclesiastical year into four periods corresponding to the various epochs of the world's history, a time of deviation, of renovation, of reconciliation and of pilgrimage. The book itself, however, falls into five sections: —(a) from Advent to Christmas (cc. 1—5); (b) from Christmas to Septuagesima (6-30); (e) from Septuagesima to Easter (31-53); (d) from Easter Day to the octave of Pentecost (54-76); (e) from the octaye of Pentecost to Advent (77-180). The saints' lives are full of puerile legend, and in not a few cases contain accounts of 13th century miracles wrought at special places, particularly with reference to the Dominicans. The last chapter but one (181), "De Sancto Pelagio Papa," contains a kind of history of the world from the middle of the 6th century; while the last (182) is a somewhat allegorical disquisition, " De Dedicatione Ecclesiae."
The Golden Legend was translated into French by Jean Belet de Vigny in the 14th century. It was also one of the earliest books to issue from the press. A Latin edition is assigned to about 1469; and a dated one was published at Lyon in 1473. Many other Latin editions were printed before the end of the century. A French translation by Master John Bataillier is dated 1476; Jean de Vigny's appeared at Paris, 1488; an Italian one by Nic. Manerbi (? Venice, H75); a Czech one at Pilsen, 1475-1479, and at Prague, 1495; Caxton's English versions, 1483, 1487 and 1493; and a German one in 1489. Several 15th century editions of the Sermons are also known, and the Mariale was printed at Venice in 1497 and at Paris in 1503.