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saint [O.Fr., from Latin sanctus=holy], in Christianity, a person who is recognized as worthy of veneration.

Nature of Sainthood

In the Hebrew Scriptures God is "the Holy One" or "one who is holy" (Isa. 1.4; 5.19; 41.14). "His people share His holiness" (Ex. 19.6). To the New Testament authors the church is the community of saints (Acts 9.13 and the Pauline epistles). Although the creeds, with the phrase "communion of saints," maintain that usage, in later Christianity the term saint came to be used for those who are in heaven.

Generally in the Roman Catholic Church the title saint is limited to the canonized if they lived after the year 1000; otherwise the title is used according to custom. In East and West criteria for recognition of sainthood are martyrdom, holiness of life, miracles in life and after death (e.g., with relics), and a popular cultus. The addition of the name of a person to the official list of saints occurs through the process canonization. The Virgin Mary is the chief saint, and the angels are counted as saints. In 1969 the Roman Catholic Church dropped a number of saints from its liturgical calendar because of doubt that they ever lived; among them was the popular St. Christopher.

Religious Role of the Saints

In traditional belief, as taught by Roman Catholic and Orthodox Eastern churches, faithful Christians on earth and the saints in heaven are all members of the church, and just as living members seek the prayers of others and share in the merits of others, so the living ask those in heaven for their prayers and share in their merits (see indulgence). An aspect of the same cooperation of the living and the saints is prayer for those dead who are not yet saints (i.e., in purgatory).

Prayer to the saints ( "veneration" or "honor" ) is distinct in kind from prayer to God ( "worship" or "adoration" ), who is the source of all their glory. In the liturgy saints are commemorated and their intercession sought on special days ( "saint's day" ; see also All Saints' Day), usually the anniversary of their death. In the ancient churches each member has at least one patron saint from baptism, and in the West another is adopted at confirmation; patrons are expected to have a mutual relation of affection with their earthly charges. Saints vary in popularity: St. Joseph, very popular today among Catholics and Orthodox, had scarcely any cultus 1,000 years ago; St. Nicholas, for centuries a favorite in the West, has today few devotees among Roman Catholics. Examples of nonliturgical devotions to saints are pilgrimages (see pilgrim), many forms of litany, images and icons, novenas, and annual celebrations in honor of patron saints.

Accounts of the Lives of the Saints

Accounts of saints' lives have been favorite reading material for many, and at times their composition (hagiography) has become a real art. Apart from those that are simple, contemporary records, they often become miracle-studded tales. Two immortal collections of saints' lives are the Golden Legend and the Little Flowers of St. Francis (see Francis, Saint). In the modern Roman Catholic Church the Bollandists have been charged with the task of separating the true from the false in hagiography. The effort entails the revision of official books, e.g., the Roman Martyrology, a compendium of saints' lives.


See G. H. Gerould, Saints' Legends (1916, repr. 1969); H. Thurston and D. Attwater, ed., Butler's Lives of the Saints (4 vol., 1956, repr. 1965); P. McGinley, Saint-Watching (1969); D. Attwater, The Penguin Dictionary of Saints (1970); D. Farmer, ed., The Oxford Dictionary of Saints (2d ed. 1987).

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Wali, the word roughly defined as "saint," which is derived from the Arabic root w-l-y and has a root meaning of proximity, generally is found in the construct wali Allah, that is, someone who is close or intimate with God. It is a designation that Muslims use to define a holy person, and can refer to overlapping categories of pious people, religious scholars, Sufis, and Shi˓i imams. In English wali is translated variously as protégé, intimate, friend of God, or "saint." A wali who has power over others has wilaya (being a protector or intercessor) while a wali with walaya focuses on the closeness or nearness to God (being a friend of God). Both of these meanings can be harmonized with interpretations of Qur˒anic usage. Except for hairsplitting grammatical discussions, popular usage conflates these meanings since one close to God has power to protect and intercede and vice versa.

The popular idea of wali, an heir of the Prophet, is a post-Qur˒anic development whose first textual source, the writings of al-Hakim al-Tirmidhi (d. c. 910), dates to the second half of the ninth century. Tirmidhi proposed a "seal of God's friends" that was later claimed and subsequently popularized by Ibn al-˓Arabi (d. 1240). This "seal" corresponds to the creedal notion of Muhammad as the final prophet or the "seal of the prophets," while assiduously subordinating awliya˒ (plural of wali) to prophets. The developing doctrine of wali accounts for non-prophetic expressions of the sacred, for example, ilham (non-prophetic divine inspiration) versus wahy (prophetic revelation) in a way that explained extraordinary phenomena without violating creedal dictates.

The contemporary theological war over legitimate religious authority, often initiated and funded by scripturalist groups such as Salafis or Wahhabis, denies that anyone can be a friend of God. Instead, they assert that all Muslims have equal access to God through the written scriptural sources of Qur˒an and hadith, absolutely undercutting any possibility of intercession or of spiritual hierarchy. Presently a growing minority of Muslims shares this scripturalist perspective. They are mostly concentrated in Arabic-speaking countries and in countries like the United States, which are influenced by Salafi interpretations of Islam.

On one hand, wali is a socially constructed concept based upon a recognizable community consensus. Generally Muslims recognize a wali Allah on the basis of four overlapping sources of authority: spiritual/genealogical lineage, religious experience (spiritual traveling), acquisition of transmitted religious knowledge, and exemplary behavior in harmony with the Prophetic sunna. Hagiographic literature has established a narrative paradigm that reinforces these sources of authority in the popular imagination. On the other hand, in the Sufi environment wali is a technical term based on consensually verified phenomena allowing specialists to classify types of proximity to God.

In terms of religious practice, the concept of wali provides a basis for the development of shrine rituals at the tombs of deceased saints located throughout the Islamic world. Often at these shrines the descendants of the deceased holy person, considered to be walis, act as mediating shaykhs who "pass requests to God" instead of acting as spiritual masters teaching a person how to arrive close to God through a set of contemplative practices. Although the legitimacy of these shrine rituals is strongly denied by scripturally oriented Muslims, these shrines provide meaningful religious experiences for many pious visitors. Functionally, the multivalent concept of wali varies historically and geographically so as to include scholars, saints, spiritual mentors, counselors, healers, and intercessors, both living and deceased.

See alsoIbn ˓Arabi ; Mi˓raj ; Silsila ; Sunna ; Tasawwuf ; Tariqa ; Ulema .


Buehler, Arthur F. Sufi Heirs of the Prophet: The IndianNaqshbandiyya and the Rise of the Mediating Shaykh. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1998.

Chodkiewicz, Michel. Seal of the Saints: Prophethood and Sainthood in the Doctrine of Ibn˓Arabi. Cambridge, U.K.: Islamic Texts Society, 1993.

Cornell, Vincent. Realm of the Saint: Power and Authority inMoroccan Sufism. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998.

Radke, Bernd, and John O'Kane. The Concept of Sainthood inEarly Islamic Mysticism. Richmond, Surrey, U.K.: Curzon Press, 1996.

Arthur F. Buehler

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Saint (Lat., sanctus, ‘holy’). The title is given to exemplary Christians who are venerated and invoked in prayer—as also to the angels Raphael, Gabriel, and Michael. (For individual saints, see under name.) In the New Testament the word ‘saint’ is synonymous with ‘Christian’. The first Christians to receive special veneration were martyrs, beginning with Polycarp whose followers treasured his relics and celebrated the ‘birthday’ of his martyrdom. From the 4th cent., devotion to the saints increased and included ‘confessors’ (those who suffered but did not die in persecutions) and ascetics. From the 6th cent. onward, diptychs of martyrs and confessors began to have a place in the liturgy, and from the 8th cent. the lives of saints were read at matins. At an early date saints were also believed to effect miracles after their death. At the Reformation the cult of saints was rejected.

The modern cult of the saints in the Roman Catholic Church is regulated by canon law, which recommends the veneration of the saints and especially of Mary. The attitude of Eastern churches is akin to that of Rome. See also CANONIZATION; PATRON SAINT. Major saints are commemorated on particular feast days; the commemoration of All Saints occurs on 1 Nov.

In Islam, there is a veneration of holy people who are often referred to in English as ‘saints’. The ‘friends of God’ (walī) are important (cf. Qurʾān 10. 63), as are the pure and blessed ones (ṭāhir) and many Sūfī teachers. The veneration of saints and of their tombs, while widely popular, is resisted by conservative Muslims. For a remote resemblance in Judaism, see ZADDIK. ‘Saint’ is then used widely of holy and revered persons in all religions: see e.g. NĀYAṆMĀRS; SANT TRADITION.

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saint a person acknowledged as holy or virtuous and typically regarded as being in heaven after death; (in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches) a person formally recognized or canonized by the Church after death, who may be the object of veneration and prayers for intercession. In pictorial representations, a saint is typically shown with a halo, and often with a symbol particularly associated with them.

A saint's day is a day on which a saint is particularly commemorated in the Christian Church; the term is recorded from late Middle English.

The Saint is the nickname of Simon Templar, a fictional character created by the thriller writer Leslie Charteris (1907–93). The Saint, a debonair criminal whose lawbreaking excludes such areas as treason and drug-running, signifies his intervention in a case by leaving the sketch of a stick figure surmounted by a halo.

The word comes (in Middle English, via Old French) from Latin sanctus ‘holy’.
St Helena a solitary island in the South Atlantic, a British dependency, which from 1659 until 1834 was administered by the East India Company. It is famous as the place of Napoleon's exile (1815–21) and death.
St Leger an annual flat horse race at Doncaster for three-year-olds, held in September, and named after Colonel Barry St Leger (1737–89), who instituted the race in 1776 (see also sell in May and go away, come back on St Leger's day).
St Sophia the key monument of Byzantine architecture, originally a church, at Istanbul. Built by order of Justinian and inaugurated in 537, its enormous dome is supported by piers, arches, and pendentives and pierced by forty windows. In 1453, when the Turks invaded, orders were given for St Sophia's conversion into a mosque and minarets were added. In 1935 Atatürk declared it a museum. It is also known as Hagia Sophia and Santa Sophia.
St Trinian's a fictional girls' school invented by the English cartoonist Ronald Searle (1920– ) in 1941, whose pupils are characterized by unruly behaviour, ungainly appearance, and unattractive school uniform; St Trinian's later also became known through associated books and films.

See also the Devil was sick, the Devil a saint would be at devil, the greater the sinner, the greater the saint, Saint Monday, saints, young saint, old devil.

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saint / sānt/ • n. 1. a person acknowledged as holy or virtuous and typically regarded as being in heaven after death. ∎  (in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches) a person formally recognized or canonized by the Church after death, who may be the object of veneration and prayers for intercession. ∎  a person who is admired or venerated because of their virtue: he was considered a living saint by recipients of his generosity. ∎  (in or alluding to biblical use) a Christian believer. ∎  (Saint) a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints; a Mormon. 2. (Saint) (abbr.: St. or S.) used in titles of religious saints: the epistles of Saint Paul. ∎  used in place names or other dedications: St. Louis. • v. [tr.] [as adj.] (sainted) worthy of being a saint; very virtuous: the story of his sainted sister Eileen. DERIVATIVES: saint·hood n. saint·like adj. ORIGIN: Middle English, from Old French seint, from Latin sanctus ‘holy,’ past participle of sancire ‘consecrate.’

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saintacquaint, ain't, attaint, complaint, constraint, distraint, faint, feint, paint, plaint, quaint, restraint, saint, taint •spray-paint • greasepaint • warpaint •asquint, bint, clint, dint, flint, glint, hint, imprint, lint, mint, misprint, print, quint, skint, splint, sprint, squint, stint, tint •Septuagint • skinflint • catmint •varmint • spearmint • calamint •peppermint • enprint • screen print •offprint • blueprint • newsprint •footprint • thumbprint • fingerprint •monotint • mezzotint • aquatint •pint • Geraint •Comte, conte, font, fount, pont, quant, Vermont, want •Delfont • vicomte • Frémont •piedmont • Beaumont • Hellespont •passant • poste restante •avaunt, daunt, flaunt, gaunt, haunt, jaunt, taunt, vaunt

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saint Man or woman who manifested exceptional holiness and love of God during his or her life. In the New Testament, all believers are called saints, but since the 2nd century the title has usually been reserved for men and women of the most outstanding merit. In the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, individual saints are regarded as having a special relationship with God and are therefore venerated for their perceived role as intercessors. The Protestant reformers of the 16th century abolished the veneration of saints, saying that all believers have access to God through Christ. See also canonization

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saint holy (prefixed to a name, now regarded as the sb. used attrib.); sb. canonized person; one of the elect of God XIV; person of great holiness XVI. OE. sanct, superseded (XII) by seint(e), sa(i)nt (before a name with initial cons., sein, sayn) — OF. seint, (also mod.) saint, fem. seinte, sainte, prefixed occas. †sain :- L. sanctus sacred, holy, prop. pp. of sancīre (see SANCTION), used sb. in the Vulg., e.g. Ps. 29: 5.
Hence saintly (-LY1) XVII.

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Saint: For canonized and uncanonized saints, see under the proper name, e.g., Ambrose, Saint. For surnames and place names beginning thus, see in alphabetical position here: thus, Saint-Exupéry, Antoine de; Saint Louis. For persons not listed under Saint, use St.