The bishop and the monk: Desiderius of Vienne and the Columbanian movement


  • I am very grateful to Prof. Yitzhak Hen for reading and commenting on several versions of this article. I would also like to thank Prof. Rosamond McKitterick, Prof. Barbara Rosenwein, Prof. Patrick Geary and Dr Iris Shagrir for their comments, as well as Dr Susan Vincent for her editorial work.


This paper analyses the uses made by hagiographers and chroniclers of the character of Desiderius of Vienne. Desiderius, a bishop in Merovingian Burgundy, was the protagonist of two seventh-century Lives, and appears in numerous other hagiographical works and chronicles. Desiderius also figures prominently in works composed within the context of Columbanian monasticism, most notably Jonas of Bobbio's Vita Columbani. His appearance in these works paints a multifaceted picture not only of his own political activities, but also of the agendas of the hagiographers themselves, who exploited his literary image to further their ends. It is the contention of this paper that despite the frequent mentions of Desiderius in Columbanian compositions, he did not, in fact, play a part in the Columbanians' success.