Max Harris

Position title: Emeritus Fellow (2018--)

Independent Scholar

Portrait image of Max Harris outdoors wearing a blue shirt and jacket.

The Creative Cult of Saint Anthony: Relics, Paintings, Plays, Puppets, and Fiestas

A saint’s cult is most commonly built around a claim (sometimes plausible) to have identified the saint’s burial site and physical relics. Athanasius’ Life of Saint Anthony ends in the Egyptian desert in 356 CE with Anthony’s insistence that his corpse be buried (not mummified and displayed) and that the site of his burial remain unknown to all but the two disciples responsible for carrying out his instructions. Anthony did not wish to be venerated. My study explores the many and varied ways in which, despite this prohibition, Anthony’s cult developed after 1070, when his reputed relics arrived in France. A new monastic order built an international healing franchise, paintings of the temptation of Anthony by terrifying demons multiplied, plays (often comic) told the story of what one scholar has called “a carnival saint,” and some puppet shows entertained children while others—and one of the first silent films—bordered on pornography. Catalan fiestas still celebrate Anthony’s annual feast day (Jan. 17) with fires and friendly dancing demons. My study explores the discrepancy between Anthony’s dying wish and the multifaceted and multimedia creativity to which his story has been subject.

Max Harris served as executive director of the Wisconsin Humanities Council, as well as teaching at the University of Virginia and, as a visiting professor, at Yale University. He is the author of six books: Theater and Incarnation (1990, 2nd ed. 2005), The Dialogical Theatre (1993), Aztecs, Moors, and Christians: Festivals of Reconquest in Mexico and Spain (2000), Carnival and Other Christian Festivals: Folk Theology and Folk Performance (2003), Sacred Folly: A New History of the Feast of Fools (2011), and Christ on a Donkey: Palm Sunday, Triumphal Entries, and Blasphemous Pageants (2019) on which he worked while a Solmsen Fellow at the IRH. His work has won the Otto Gründler Book Prize, and (twice) the David Bevington Award for the Best New Book in Early Drama Studies.