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Miracles of the Virgin in Medieval England

Miracles of the Virgin in Medieval England: Law and Jewishness in Marian Legends

Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 230
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  • Book Info
    Miracles of the Virgin in Medieval England
    Book Description:

    Legendary accounts of the Virgin Mary's intercession were widely circulated throughout the middle ages, borrowing heavily, as in hagiography generally, from folktale and other motifs; she is represented in a number of different, often surprising, ways, rarely as the meek and mild mother of Christ, but as bookish, fierce, and capricious, amongst other attributes. This is the first full-length study of their place in specifically English medieval literary and cultural history. While the English circulation of vernacular Miracles of the Virgin is markedly different from continental examples, this book shows how difference and miscellaneity can reveal important developments within an unwieldy genre. The author argues that English miracles in particular were influenced by medieval England's troubled history with its Jewish population and the rapid thirteenth-century codification of English law, so that Mary frequently becomes a figure with special dominion over Jews, text, and legal problems. The shifting codicological and historical contexts of these texts make it clear that the paradoxical sign"Mary" could signify in both surprisingly different and surprisingly consistent ways, rendering Mary both mediatrix and legislatrix. ADRIENNE WILLIAMS BOYARIN is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Victoria (British Columbia).

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-888-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    When Anselm wrote his influential prayers to the Virgin Mary, he was not yet in England. Anselm of Bec could not have known, in the decades before William Rufus made him Archbishop of Canterbury, what importance he would have for England, for the growth of medieval private devotion, and for the development of Marian devotion in particular. Anselm’s personal and conversational appeal to Mary, and especially his consciousness of Mary’s doubleness – the simultaneity of her mercy and judgment, and the sinner’s inability to know which he may provoke – anticipated what R. W. Southern called the ‘caprice’ of later medieval Marian...

  7. 1 The Idea of English Miracles of the Virgin
    (pp. 13-41)

    The collective label ‘Miracles of the Virgin’ implies an easily gathered body of work, but it is unclear whether it was ever such a thing for readers of English. Paul strohm has claimed that, by the late Middle Ages, the English term ‘miracle’ probably suggested not miracle stories generally but writings on the Virgin specifically: ‘We learn to expect that amiraculumof the early Middle Ages will probably involve miraculous cures at the tomb of a saint and that amiracleof the fourteenth century will more likely involve the Virgin.’² But he readily admits that it is difficult...

  8. 2 The Theophilus Legend in England: Mary the Advocate, Mary the Jew
    (pp. 42-74)

    The legend of Theophilus ‘circulated in both the East and West for a long time before the beginning of the twelfth century’,² but it is so emblematic of English Miracles of the Virgin that the earliest groupings of Marian miracle stories in England, whether Latin or vernacular, are addenda to the Theophilus story.³ Though it did not originate in England, it was prominently positioned in two of the early Anglo-Latin collections that were important to R. W. Southern, and its long popularity in England played a significant role in the creation of the Marian miracle genre. It is the story...

  9. 3 The Theophilus Legend in England, Again: From the Devil’s Charter to a Marian Paradigm
    (pp. 75-103)

    In the first known Book of Hours, designed and illuminated by the Oxford Dominican William de Brailes sometime around 1240, illustrations of the ‘Legend of Theophilus’ complement the Hours of the Little Office of the Virgin. William ‘writes’ the story in ten historiated initials that run across half of the devotional day, adorning psalms and prayers for prime and terce.¹ The written narrative of the legend is not present, but short Anglo-Norman notations accompany the images. Below an illustration of Theophilus’s contractual agreement with the Devil, de Brailes writes, ‘Theofle fet humage au deable e lui escrit chartre de sen...

  10. 4 The Virgin and the Law in Middle English Contexts
    (pp. 104-137)

    The Middle Ages saw the rise of Marymediatrix. As Jaroslav Pelikan has summarized it, ‘the systematic clarification of the title Mediatrix was the principal objective expression of Mariology and the chief theological contribution to Christian teaching about Mary during this period’, but this was sometimes in tension with the dominant ‘literary form and devotional motif of the Mater Dolorosa’.² Nevertheless, both the human suffering of mother Mary and her superhuman (often aggressive) intercession and advocacy were internationally recognized. Eastern theologians often addressed her as ‘Mediatrix of law and of grace’,³ and this title, as it was reflected in medieval...

  11. 5 The Fate of English Miracles of the Virgin
    (pp. 138-170)

    As the Protestant Reformation reached England – bringing with it the rejection of the cult of saints and attacks, rhetorical and real, on shrines, pilgrimage, and associated miraculous events or items – belief in the kinds of Marian intercession described in Miracles of the Virgin could epitomize Catholic ‘superstition’. As Ælfric had insisted centuries earlier, the glut of Marian apocrypha that had developed independently of scripture had to be suppressed in favor of biblical accounts (in which Mary features only minimally), since false or unverifiable narratives posed a threat to the honor due to God alone. Marian feasts with apocryphal bases, which...

  12. Afterword
    (pp. 171-172)

    There are manydesiderataat the conclusion of this study. From some angles it seems as if all paths of inquiry lead to these texts. But any reader attuned to a single miracle or group of miracles, or to a particular century or language or genre, will be struck by what has not been said. There is important work to be done on the possibility of Marian miracles in English drama, on gender issues within and around these tales, on associated reading habits and patronage of royalty, on further source work and continental comparisons, on the relationships between local and...

  13. Appendix 1 ‘The Founding of the Feast of the Conception’ in the South English Legendary
    (pp. 173-177)
  14. Appendix 2 ‘Blood on the Penitent Woman’s Hand’ (Bodleian Library Ms e Museo 180)
    (pp. 178-180)
  15. Appendix 3 The Charter Group Miracles and Other Short Texts from British Library MS Additional 37049
    (pp. 181-187)
  16. Appendix 4 An Index of Miracles of the Virgin Collated with Existing Lists
    (pp. 188-196)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 197-208)
  18. Index
    (pp. 209-218)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 219-219)