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Emotion and Devotion

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Miri Rubin

Chapter 1. The Global “Middle Ages”

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  • 1 Some of these thoughts were developed by me in the Timothy Reuter Lecture 2006.

1I continue to follow the autobiographical strand with which I began. Coming to the world of historical research in the mid-1980s was tantamount to an exhilarating immersion in a gushing fountainhead. So much was fresh and new, and there was more to come. Gender was becoming established as a necessary tool of knowledge and historical understanding; groups traditionally neglected or indeed condescended to by historians—women, peasants, children, artisans, Jews, gypsies, lower clergy—had found their champions too. The tedious claim by some that these groups could not be studied simply because they had left no sources was being countered by the ingenious strategies of determined historians who possessed welltuned archival antennae: and so, new types of sources were being identified, for the study of lives, feelings, experiences, resistances. Historians almost always encounter these lives through sources produced by bureaucracies and administrations, be they royal, seigneurial or ecclesiastical. There is a truly sensuous de-light in eking out of the most unpromising source the stuff of human drama: as Natalie Davis herself has done when working with petitions for pardon to the French king, and another great historian, the late R. W. Scribner, in appreciating cheap and seemingly crude propaganda woodcuts of the early Reformation. Much of this historical enterprise was animated by the de-sire to give respect, by recovering voices, cherishing experiences, and recounting the suffering.1

  • 2 In Natalie Zemon Davis’s forthcoming book.

2This capacious history of men and women, high and low, their lives and hopes and fears is here to stay: the materials have been identified and the emergent histories are so subtle and compelling that they are all but becoming the mainstream. The spheres of historical interest are now more integrated than ever before. Where in the past one had to choose whether to look high or low, to choose which domain to inhabit, we now investigate the terrain of encounters, the circumstances of the interaction itself, the shared space: worker and master, owner and slave, husband and wife and children, mystic and confessor, missionary and indigenous people, neighborhoods in their diversity, regions comprising towns and villages. These interactions involve state officials and local communities, law and neighborhood; they can be banal or traumatic. I suggest that the terrain of encounter, with its ingredients of conflict, coercion and difference encompasses the frontier of exacting historical work: criminal and judge, the townsperson and the beggar on the street, the vendor and the purchaser, parent and child. This is a terrain which Natalie Davis has probed and conceptualized, not least in her current project on braided lives.2

3All these remarkable achievements resulted from a combination in historians of ethical commitment and the imaginative deployment of traditional skills: archival, linguistic, and quantitative. They resulted from the willingness of historians—even before they were labeled cultural historians—to open their minds to other disciplines, and to the challenges that these posed. Natalie Davis was a pioneer in harnessing anthropology to historical research; ethnography taught the skills of observation of ritual; literary criticism helped make texts speak against their most obvious grains; feminism and gender theory helped situate the disparate cases of men and women within patterns of sexual politics; social theory offered ways of understanding the interaction between disparate agents within communities. Post-colonial theory came later, theorized both in the Anglo-American academic world and by scholars in countries where the post-colonial was the inescapable reality, to make meaning and history of the experience of colonized people all over the globe. This made historians think—including those researching much earlier periods not touched by modern European colonization—about issues of domination and race, subjugation and conquest, in the First World too.

  • 3 Jeffrey Hamburger, “To Make Women Weep: Ugly Art as ‘Feminine’ and the Origins of Modern Aesthetic (...)
  • 4 Ursula Weekes, Early Engravers and their Public: the Master of the Berlin Passion and Manuscripts (...)

4Another terrain of expansion in cultural history gave pre-modern historians less cause for anxiety— and this is the incorporation of images and the visual into historical work—what we might call the ‘visual turn,’ led by friendly and welcoming art historians such as Michael Baxendall, Hans Belting and Michael Camille. Unlike the unsettling challenges of seemingly unhistorical “theory,” images are reassuringly of the historical period under discussion. They were available to the people of the past in homes, parish churches, on street corners, and were made to be used, “read.” The venerable and elegant world of art history, through interaction with literary theory and anthropology, generated its own “new art history,” which like the “new history” sought to illuminate the life of the many, their attitudes and mentalities. Some art history moved from the “beautiful” to the “ugly,” as Joseph Koerner and Jeffrey Hamburger have starkly named it;3 from “high quality” to the “low,” from the costly to the cheap. The religious art of parishes, hitherto practically untouched by most historians—and long the domain of antiquarians and local histori—came to be studied through its images for common religious instruction and admonition: the Crucifix, the Virgin Mary and Child Christ, the Mouth of Hell. New images were discovered, too, sometimes in unlikely places, “ugly” images, which made women weep in their devotions, or woodcuts, cheap and cheerful.4 Images and texts, sometimes combined in genres like Books of Hours, chap-books and ballad sheets, required studying by liturgical scholars, historians and art historians leading to fruit sharing of expertise. Few historians now omit the consideration of visual and material culture; images are used not only as illustrations to the books of his, they are its very subject matter, as in Eamon Duffy’s The Stripping of the Altars. The move to expand “downwards” further leads to the enrichment of approaches to those images which have been traditionally deemed elevated. A complex cultural history of religion has revised our understanding of the masters themselves: Grünewald and Botticelli, van der Weyden and Dürer.

5The task of understanding life in the pre-modern past has thus become complex and variegated; it incorporates quite habitually wide ranges of sources, often used comparatively, and with telling juxtapositions. A strong sense of the diversity of pre-modern cultures has also emerged—in a Europe of regions—then as now. The Europe of regions is not one of regional isolation or misrecognition between parts. Medieval Europeans were travellers; they journeyed to markets, on pilgrimage, as soldiers, as students, forging marriages and alliances, buying and selling, or just getting away from it all. They were restless Europeans. They travelled and they also returned, sharing tales, experience and expertise. Moreover, they were Europeans in a Eurasian sphere and nowhere is this more evident than in Hungary.

  • 5 Norman Housley, Religious Warfare in Europe, 1400–1536, Oxford, 2002, especially chapters 3 and 5.

6Be it of Europe or Eurasia, that past is increasingly seen as an integrated system—economically, dynastically, and administratively. This was not a Europe at peace, but it was able to feed its tens of millions, to maintain a vast network of exchange, and to offer a modicum of safety to most people, on the road and in public spaces. It was a culture that habitually imagined its own transformation, through fantasies of purity gained at the price of purging the inner dangers: in different places and at different times these were Jews, heretics, lepers, and witches. Europe was also able to mobilize its resources and enthusiasm against external dangers such as the Mongols or the Turks.5

7Inasmuch as Europe in the Middle Ages is now understood to be diverse and varied, it remains none the less, bounded by the strong sense of its European, continental destiny. It is still treated as closed. Even though medieval Europe sent missionaries and merchants to large parts of the world then known, even as its demography oscillated in response to disease which traveled from afar, even as its foods, medicines and pigments were made available thanks to the longest possible trade routes, pre-modern Europe is still studied as a sole and separate entity, above all its “Middle Ages.” In a brilliant article Timothy Reuter challenged this approach and offered a clear alternative:

  • 6 In Timothy Reuter, Medieval Polities and Modern Mentalities, ed. Janet L. Nelson, Cambridge, 2006, (...)

The one substantial alternative on offer—in a number of variant forms—in effect does away with stages of development altogether, and by implication perhaps also with synchronic and diachronic comparison: instead, it attempts to see all human history as a linked whole, with shifting core and hegemonic regions which influenced peripheries not just in the era of increasingly European domination after AD 1500 but long before that.6

8In her practice, so evident in her books Women on the Edge and in her recent Trickster’s Travels, Natalie Davis, more than any other historian, has attempted to see Europe in just that way.

***

  • 7 See Miri Rubin, Mother of God: a History of the Virgin Mary, London, 2009.

9How might we experience this reach beyond Europe, this linkedness? In this chapter I shall discuss the possibilities as these became more apparent to me over my years of research and study of the figure of the Virgin Mary.7 Here I also offer some suggestions of ways in which historians of medieval Europe may develop a practice that is global.

10All historians of European religious cultures know a great deal about Mary, but I began to study her more closely when working on Jewish-Christian relations: Marian miracles often had Jewish protagonists; Jews were accused of blasphemy and enmity towards the Virgin Mary; Jews were seen as agents of the Crucifixion, an event which was increasingly seen in later medieval centuries as a drama about Mary; in the wake of late medieval expulsions synagogues were often turned into Marian shrines. The figure of Mary accompanied initiatives of reform and renewal, such as those of Gerson and Savonarola, of Bernardino da Siena and Vincent Ferrer. I became interested in the potent dichotomy between this figure of utmost purity and nurture, and the construction of utmost perversity and pollution in the late medieval Jew, the Jew of conspiracy and desecration, the Jew of treason and blasphemy.

11It would have been the easiest thing to write a book on Mary in the Middle Ages, or Mary in the Renaissance; there is so much to be learned and said about both subjects. But I found myself intellectually drawn in other, and new, directions, new to me both in time and in space. One led me backwards, to Mary’s life narratives, traditions that emerged in the early Christian centuries. They never gained canonical status as scripture, but circulated widely and persistently as apocrypha. These narratives are only slightly younger than the gospels, and they provided an utterly necessary set of answers to questions about the circumstances of Christ’s birth and background, through the life of his mother. This story of Mary’s emergence in the Near East at the dawn of Christianity is an interesting and instructive part of the history that saw Mary reach in European cultures the heights of ubiquitous and much-cherished devotion.

  • 8 Averil Cameron, Christianity and the Rhetoric of Empire: the Development of Christian Discourse, B (...)
  • 9 On these issues see Kate Cooper, “Empress and Theotokos: Gender and Patronage in the Christologica (...)

12And so from medieval Europe—my starting point— I was led to study the creation, translation and dissemination of stories about the Jewish maiden who bore God. Besides the accounts of the Gospels—above all Matthew and Luke with their narratives of Annunciation and Nativity—there was the text of the mid-second century, The Protogospel of James, which filled in the gaps in the Gospel stories, working out “their logical implications.”8 This spurred me to engage with the earliest poetry on Mary, Syriac poetry, and with the making of the story of Mary’s end, the Dormition, followed by her Assumption; it led me to consider the powerful political and cultural milieu of emergent imperial Christianity, which produced a majestic and hieratic, frontal and penetrating image of Mary. Here was a blend of feminine imperial iconography with the power of Mary as Bearer of God, as she came to be officially known from the time of the Council of Ephesus (431), though this elevation of Mary was not to the liking of many Christians, like those in the eastern, Syriac regions.9 Additionally, there was an Egyptian influence in the making of Mary, one that emphasized Mary’s maternity, her nurturing breast. Images of Mary drew upon the tradition of Isis, especially in Egypt. When Christianity came to dominate in Upper Egypt some Isis temples were turned into churches dedicated to the Mother of God. Isis was perceived as fecund, curing and protective; Mary was the woman who bore a God and brought salvation into the world.

13So a medievalist became immersed in the materials and concerns of peoples in the centuries of intricate interaction between Judaism, Christianity and Pagan religions. These concerns were well beyond the familiar terrain of an historian of the Middle Ages, and yet they were so vital to the questions raised by involvement with medieval religious cultures. The interest in the making of Mary thus provided a prompt that we may call “global,” inasmuch as it goes beyond the period and place of the imagined medieval. Global is an orientation in space that draws in other parts of the world, beyond that which is most immediately suggested. Global may also mean that glances at the European continent are challenged, so as to include, or indeed reorient study towards regions otherwise treated as marginal and peripheral.

  • 10 Robert Bartlett, The Making of the Middle Ages: Conquest, Colonization and Cultural Change, 950–13 (...)

14Let us think of a few examples. The study of the cult of the Virgin Mary is most usually associated by medieval historians with the regions of Western Europe, with centers such as Rocamadour, Chartres and Loreto, with Romanesque facades, Gothic statues and Early Renaissance icons; with the poetry of Gautier de Coinci and Dante. When we find examples of the cult in areas outside the center, these are usually treated as examples of “influence,” and this implies subordination, or marginality. Yet the move inspired by Robert Bartlett in his The Making of Europe, suggests ways in which the very zone on which influence is brought to bear—through conquest, missions or trade—becomes the sphere of creativity and definition.10 Periphery becomes center, provincial avant-garde.

  • 11 Gábor Klaniczay, Holy Rulers and Blessed Princesses. Dynastic Cults in Medieval Central Europe, tr (...)

15This vision may be developed as a “global” insight whereby we identify particular creativity in the process of encounter implied in, say, the adoption of the cult of Mary in millennium Hungary, or the use of the Gothic in Prague, or the making of Icelandic versions of Marian miracle tales. Gábor Klaniczay has demonstrated compellingly how around the end of the first millennium the Hungarian Christian dynasty adopted and adapted the cult of Mary into the political culture of their nascent sacred kingdom.11 This was part of a move towards political autonomy and hegemony, one that situated the kingdom in a newly defined position between the Byzantine imperial and Holy Roman imperial spheres. The Virgin was chosen as the kingdom’s patron and protector; liturgy and ceremony centered on her and soon artifacts and spaces were made, inspired by her shape and qualities. Where did the political theology of Mary come from? King Stephen of Hungary—St Stephen—was as much aware of Byzantine courtly traditions as he was of the Marian devotion of Adalbert, the missionary who had made Hungary Christian.

16A globalizing sensibility would encourage us to see the world from Stephen’s point of view: to appreciate with him and his advisors the potential embedded in the figure of Mary, a figure which transcended political contingency, and was unrivalled by any other saint. Another political-religious entity, the congregations associated with Cluny Abbey, was moving in a similar direction. There, too, a new formation was created, linked to the patronage of a great lord, and to the devotional tastes and lifestyle that suited the social class that produced cohorts of monks. Originally hubs of liturgy and intercession, Cluniac houses developed into centers of political influence throughout western Europe. Here, too, something about the cult of Mary was appreciated, long before Europeans began to transform Mary into the immaculately pure ever-present nurturing mother, the Madonna of every street-corner of later centuries. Her majesty and her purity, her universal status—unlike local saints and cherished martyrs—made her an emblem for the new enterprise that radiated from the mother-house in Burgundy and under the auspices of the papacy in Rome. Taken together, the moves made towards Mary by the King of Hungary and by the leaders of the Cluniac congregation seem more akin than apart, more alike than not. They suggest that events at the “center” and the “periphery” are often best looked at in different combinations, within globalizing frames that suggest comparison where such had never been attempted before.

17If we take a “global” approach to the adoption of Mary, we see the qualities of a cult—in this case of the Virgin Mary—through use and application. Moreover, as we consider Cluny and Hungary both, and their sources of inspiration—in ideas, liturgy and art—we are struck by an intricate affinity: both shared important and defining relations with the imperial court at Aachen, itself a polity closely bound dynastically and culturally to the mother of all imperial Christianity, Byzantium. So we have come full circle, and as a circle is without beginning or end, so must the process we describe be without centers and peripheries. The global turn subverts the hierarchy within Europe and reveals the flows of encounters and influences which are to historians both intriguing and suggestive. As to the interest in Mary, cherished in both places, at opposite ends of Europe, here is a precocious appreciation of the qualities which were to be widely and forcefully valued in the following centuries; the cult of Mary avant la letter.

***

18By engaging with the rich materials of the early centuries I sought to understand how this figure of Mary— quintessentially of the eastern Mediterranean—came to be the ubiquitous spiritual companion of monks, pilgrims and then of parishioners all over Europe.

19Some eight years of research have truly tested my training as a medievalist. Medieval historians treasure their ability to engage directly with their sources: to be able to read them from manuscript or authoritative edition, to appreciate genre fully, to have the languages necessary for reading the pertinent secondary literatures. Medieval historians are trained to attain a certain degree of self-sufficiency in skills, more perhaps than historians of other periods. We expect to be able to sustain conversations with medievalists around the world, and with writers of the past in the many languages and styles in which medieval sources were written. We expect to be able to assess a wide range of genres, and to possess interdisciplinary awareness; the Medieval Studies program at the Central European University is a good example of that vision.

20Yet the more capacious the theme we address— and the growth of the figure of Mary is a capacious one indeed—the more inadequate our training appears to be. We are forced to rely on the expertise of others; several scholars have turned in the last decade to projects of co-authorship, as one solution to the dilemma. In the course of my research on Mary I have depended on translations from medieval Hungarian, from Armenian, from Ethiopian and Croatian, and more. So the application of a more global methodology results in discomfort within the historian, a rethinking of the relation between historical curiosity and intellectual authority which traditionally draws on a specific set of technical and analytical skills.

21The challenge is not only related to linguistic capacities. Studying Mary led me to the world of liturgy, music and song. Mary is song, from the moment of the Visitation, when she (or some would have it Elizabeth) burst into a song of praise—the Magnificat. Her praises have been expressed poetically and rhythmically from the hymns of Ephrem the Syrian to the kontakia of Romanos and on to the tradition of the Akathistos, later to the Latin Salve Regina and the chants of confraternities. The hitherto relatively silent Middle Ages, became for me a place of vibrant sound—in liturgy, prayer and communal singing.

22Historians have inhabited the silent world of text for too long, but this is changing very fast. With the guidance of historians of music and liturgy—Susan Boynton, Margot Fassler, Anne Walters Robertson, Craig Wright—the history of religious life is becoming engaged with sound as well as imagery. Architectural spaces offered not only surfaces for decoration—in painting, and carving—but spaces within which sound reverberated according to careful routines. In Christopher Page, historians find a historian of music who is also an accomplished performer; thanks to him we can appreciate the ways in which Hildegard of Bingen (d. 1179) celebrated the Incarnation as a musical happening within Mary’s body, in her antiphon Ave generosa. In another antiphon, Splendidissima gemma, Hildegard explores the power of light:

Resplendent jewel and unclouded brightness
of the sunlight streaming through you,
know that the sun is a fountain leaping
from the father’s heart,
his all-fashioning word.
He spoke and the primal matrix
teemed with things unnumbered—
but Eve unsettled them all.

  • 12 O splendidissima gemma
    et serenum decus solis
    qui tibi infusus est,
    fons saliens
    de corde Patris,
    quod (...)

To you the father spoke again
but this time
the word he uttered was a man
in your body.
Matrix of light! through you he breathed forth
all that is good,
as in the primal matrix he formed
all that is life.12

23This spirited translation provided by Barbara Newman is another example of historical work that is multifaceted and audacious, and which brings light and sound to the Middle Ages. The possibilities inherent in and conveyed by music for the understanding of the religious cultures with Mary at their hearts are a new challenge to us all.

  • 13 Eyolf Østrem, “Luther, Josquin and des fincken gesang,” in The Arts and Cultural Heritage of Marti (...)

24It is customary to think of liturgical music as a quintessential facet of medieval religion and one reduced, if not abolished, in Protestant Christianity. Yet one of the spheres of continuity and indeed dependence on tradition was that of the music associated with the feasts of Mary. Indeed, Luther appreciated the musical Mary lore greatly, above all the Magnificat.13 No one wrote as movingly as Luther about the biblical moments of Mary’s life, as in his translation and commentary on the Magnificat, 1521:

Now I do not know in all the Scriptures anything that so well serves such a purpose as this sacred hymn of the most blessed Mother of God, which ought indeed to be learned and kept in mind by all who would rule well and be helpful lords. Truly she sings in it most sweetly of the fear of God, what manner of lord He is, and especially what His dealings are with those of high and of low degree. …It is a fine custom, too, that this canticle is sung in all the churches daily at vespers, and to a particular and appropriate setting that distinguishes it from the other chants.14

25Indeed, there was real appreciation of song’s power to construct and to elevate. To familiar melodies were now attached new words, in an attempt to infuse hymns with the message of scripture and an evangelical vision. Luther envisaged the reformed mass as being full of song, and helped make it so:

  • 15 Martin Luther, An Order of Mass and Communion, trans. Paul Zeller Strodach, Philadelphia (PA), 196 (...)

I also wish that we had as many songs as possible in the vernacular which the people could sing during mass… For who doubts that everybody sang these songs originally, which the choir now sings or responds to while the bishop is consecrating?15

26Luther imagined Protestants participating in music in a familiar vernacular. Such song mirrored the personal responsibility and unmediated access to scripture which were so central to the reformed vision. English Protestant churches also became spaces for the chanting of psalms and congregational hymnody. This too is the historian’s terrain.

27So the medievalist is drawn to a wide range of sources to be considered historically, looks back in time to origins, and is drawn forward too. Momentous changes in ideas about and representations of Mary took place in the sixteenth century, just across the boundaries observed by most medievalists—the year 1500. For as Europe withnessed the dawn of a new century, religious communities engaged anew with Mary. Mary’s place in late medieval religious culture became both varied and ubiquitous, it also became increasingly vexing, tendentious, and disturbing. As Mary soared, so did worries about her proper status within the religious culture. Was religion becoming too “marianised”? Were there too many feasts? Was she immaculately conceived? Was it proper to present her as queen when scripture told of a birth in a manger?

28Early in the last century the Dutch scholar Johann Huizinga created a powerful and enduring image of the later Middle Ages as a period marked by the expectation of infantile excitation, instability of spirit, and inherent desire for change for its own sake. None of these stereotypes is made any better by the fact that sometimes a gesture is made towards the Middle Ages, when the term Renaissance is expanded so as colonize the oeuvres of Giotto and Dante and Christine de Pisan, of the Pisani brothers and even Chaucer; similarly when the Reformation is cast so as to include phenomena such as “early Reformation” Wycliffism, Hussitism, or indeed the Devotio Moderna. The Middle Ages become shorter, millions of lives and letters are deemed less medieval, but that is only to make the others more intensely “medieval” as a new “ending” is drawn, where? in 1300? in 1250? At the same time many scholars have begun to use years as denominators, 1200–1600, 1400–1600—rather than “medieval” or “late medieval”—to describe their books and courses. It is interesting to experiment with the excision of the term “medieval” in favor of alternative periods of years that make sense for the investigation of a particular problem.

  • 16 Beth Kreitzer, Reforming Mary: Changing Images of the Virgin Mary in Lutheran Sermons of the Sixte (...)
  • 17 Joseph Leo Koerner, The Reformation of the Image, London, 2004; and on Mary, Bridget Heal, The Cul (...)
  • 18 Glenn Ehrstine, “Motherhood and Protestant Polemics: Stillbirth in Hans von Rüte’s Abgötterei (153 (...)

29When the medievalist follows through into the sixteenth century, many familiar concerns come into very sharp relief. Europe was about to become a battleground in which images and liturgies were both the subject and the symbolic articulations of aggression. But communities also tolerated and accommodated, and above all re-formulated, like the Lutherans who retained scripture-based feasts, and even some hymns.16 Images made in the medieval centuries by medieval artists for medieval patrons—individuals, groups or institutions—were being assessed afresh by Protestant eyes: some were destroyed, some were “corrected,” others were left for continued use.17 The very mood of polemic that engaged Europeans—in universities, church councils, as well as in neighborhoods—was bound to keep alive knowledge of the traditions of religious life, even as these were being lampooned and derided. So, for example, the play performed in Evangelical Bern around 1518, aimed at deriding the shrine at Oberbüren, so famed for its powers to revive stillborn babies, described the rituals of pilgrimage in detail even as it mocked the female pilgrims and excoriated their faith.18 The medieval continued to be performed as polemic, and to adorn, indeed contain, the spaces of worship of Protestant religious life.

30Some Protestant female poets turned Mary into a potential sinner, like themselves. Brought down to earth she offered a model to women because like them she had striven to avoid the many sins which loomed and tempted. Reworking the medieval theme of sorrowful and affective concentration on Mary’s pain, the English poet Amelia Lanyer (1569-1645) resolved her sorrow into a providential note of joy. In Lanyer’s “The Salutation and Sorrow of the Virgine Mary,” she reworks the tradition of mater dolorosa, one bound so closely to the memory of Jewish guilt:

When spightfull men with torments did oppresse
Th’afflicted body of this innocent Dove,
Poore women seeing how much they did transgresse,
By teares, by sighes, by cries intreat, nay prove,
What may be done among the thickest presses,
They labour till these tyrants hearts to move;
In pitie and compassion forebeare
Their whipping, spurning, tearing of his haire.

But all in vaine, thie malice hath no end,
Their hearts more hard than flint, or marble stone;
Now to his griefe, his greatnesse they attend,
When he (God knows) had rather be alone;
They are his guard, yet seeke all meanes to offend:
Well may he grieve, well may he sigh and groane,
Under the burthen of a heavy crosse,
He faintly goes to make their gaine his losse.

  • 19 The “Salutations” form part of Lanyer’s 1611 volume Salve Deus Rex Iudaeorum; see Isabella Whitney (...)

His woefull Mother wayting on her Sonne,
All comfortlesse in depth of sorrow drowned;
Her griefes extreame, although but new begun,
To see his bleeding body oft shee swooned;
How could shee choose but thinke her selfe undone,
He dying, with whose glory shee was crowned?
None ever lost so great a losse as shee,
Being Sonne, and Father and Eternitie.19

  • 20 2 vols., Ingolstadt, 1657. I learned a great deal from attending Professor Christin’s seminar sess (...)

31The medieval institutions of council and papacy, of activist bishops and reforming preachers, were all deployed in response to the Protestant challenges. The Council of Trent led the initiatives for Catholic renewal. As Olivier Christin and Philip Soergel have shown, shrines and relics, among them many associated with Mary, were now treated forensically, examined and documented anew. Like their Protestant equivalents, some were retained, and some discarded under the bright light of scrutiny. By the seventeenth century tasks of listing and describing the heritage were imagined, like that of the Jesuit Wilhelm Gumppenberg, who sought to create an atlas of Marian shrines—atlas marianus. At the meeting of the Order in 1649 for the election of the Jesuit Master General he distributed 600 copies of an outline—a mission statement Idea Atlantis Mariani—and 266 informants sent in returns, with letters and sketches, detailing shrines and images. Gumppenberg sought accurate, almost tangible evidence of the antiquity, shape, and historicity of such shrines, in the face of derision and abuse. This resulted in the Atlas Marianus sive de imaginibus deiparae per orbem Christianum miraculosis.20 Although the cult of Mary was flourishing in the Americas and in parts of Asia, his was a European compilation; Gumppenberg’s view was less global than our own interests are now.

***

32So the cultural history of Mary directed me both backwards and forwards from the terrain of the medieval historian. Yet as the dramas of religious polemic and strife were enacted in large parts of sixteenth-century Europe—and these were struggles over political control of the routes to salvation—Mary reached new domains. While she was tested in Europe—rejected by some, embraced by others— Mary was also becoming a truly global figure, as knowledge of her reached all known continents. Here were whole new vistas and challenges to the figure of Mary and its uses. But is this the terrain of historians trained to understand the medieval centuries? Is this the terrain of the historians of Europe?

33Yes. It is, and it must be. The emergent global Mary revealed to me several new potentialities of a medievalist’s work, for it was the late-medieval Mary that reached the Canaries, West Africa and Goa in the fifteenth century. Medieval Mary traveled to new places with the extension of Christian religious cultures westwards as part of the enterprises of trade, conquest and mission initiated by European rulers, above all, those of Spain. The late-medieval Mary of shrine and miracle—and in her Iberian form, so pure and sometimes immaculate—was offered to the bruised and shattered survivors of the encounter with Cortes’s men, the builders of a New Spain. Franciscan and some Dominican friars were accustomed to teaching Mary to Europeans, to people who were reared on Mary at hearth and home. For centuries they had directed their sermons and the images of their churches to people who had learned about Mary at their mother’s knee, from the rhythms of family life and parish religiosity. They knew what to expect—doubt, jokes, sarcasm, incredulity. The new task in worlds new brought them in touch with people without such immersion in a Christian culture from the cradle. Here were new challenges aplenty, and the techniques applied were the tried and tested combination of making familiar and vernacular the narratives of Christianity. These had served friars in Europe; they were to serve them in care of the traumatized New Christians.

34And so an avenue for deploying the medievalist’s knowledge in a global setting became apparent, and it led me beyond Europe. The realization, so simple yet so rarely acknowledged, that the techniques of missions and conquest, were forged in the “medieval” centuries, was a revelation and a welcome one at that. It meant that medieval historians could contribute to the task of decoding and appreciating the emergent global religious cultures. Like Columbus and Luther, the Franciscans of New Spain are best understood within the traditions of medieval religious cultures and the politics of European courts.

  • 21 For a subtle analysis of these, as a process of “occidentalization” see Serge Gruzinski, “Occident (...)
  • 22 See image of the arrival of the Franciscans in the Description of Tlaxcala c. 1583–5, Serge Gruzin (...)

35A barrage of conflicting influences assailed the men who were charged with the task of bringing Christianity to the people of Mexico.21 The dozen Franciscans, who arrived in Vera Cruz in 1524, were an apostolic group geared towards mission.22 These friars possessed a developed Marian sensibility linked with themes of Passion and compassion, in words and images. Their habits of thought, prayer and contemplation were deeply touched by association with Mary. The music they brought, which served as a tool of mission, was inspired by the polyphony of the Burgundian court, as it had been adapted and developed by the Spanish court.

  • 23 John Leddy Phelan, The Millennial Kingdom of the Franciscans in the New World, second edn., Berkel (...)

36In New Spain they used some of the skills honed in Old Europe: accommodation to local idioms, provision of useful examples in texts and images, and preaching in the language of the people they sought to convert. The great difference was that in New Spain the friars were very few indeed and the people they aimed to convert were many. They devised a new type of church to accommodate the multitudes coerced and enticed into the new religion. These were open chapels in walled courtyards with a large cross in the middle and a central chapel facing the courtyard. While people assembled in the courtyard they could hear and watch the services conducted in the central chapel. This is where most Mexicans first encountered Mary displayed and celebrated.23

37The materials which such men offered to the indigenous people, to the new Christians of New Spain, were those most common in European instruction within parishes, at the core of devotional lore. An excellent example is the use of narratives about the Virgin Mary, presented in images and tales above all, just as they were in Europe. Louise Burkhart has studied Codex 7 of the John Carter Brown Library Collection, a book of Marian miracles in Nahuatl. The tales were chosen from the hundreds which were composed and compiled in the Middle Ages—some of which we will examine in Chapter 2—and were translated for the use of recent converts. Originally the work of monks in the twelfth, and of friars from the thirteenth century, Marian tales told of interventions in the daily lives of Europeans. These were consoling, and even more often chastising encounters. Mary showed herself an appreciative recipient of even a single act of good faith in a Christian’s lifetime, and a vengeful chastiser of those who wantonly ignored the possibilities of her grace. By the early sixteenth century, works for parish instruction and devotional poetry and tale traveled with the bearers of Christianity to new peoples and places, the genres available in most European vernaculars: English and French, German and Icelandic, Galician and Catalan. In Mexico these were soon remade in the native tongue, Nahuatl. The process of translation is always one of interpretation, and so it was when European tales of a powerful female figure, protective and seemingly all-knowing, were translated and offered in a new language to people who knew female goddesses and powerful matriarchs too.

  • 24 Louise M. Burkhart, “‘Here is another marvel’: Marian miracle narratives in a Nahuatl manuscript,” (...)

38The contents of the collection are of great interest to medieval scholars, even we who have no knowledge of the language in which it is written. For access to the contents we must rely on Burkhardt’s considerable expertise, but once we have gained access to the material through her guidance we discover a very interesting array of highly familiar narratives, which none the less possess emphases and turns of phrase that ring unfamiliar. The collection was based largely on the Scala Coeli by the Dominican preacher Johannes Gobi the Younger who was active in the 1330s.24 They were called tlamahuizolli—stories of events that stir wonder and awe—an indigenous genre, which easily absorbed the rich tradition of miraculous tales rendered as didactic exempla in medieval Europe.

39Here is an opportunity for collaboration and for rediscovery too. For if scholars of medieval religious culture are familiar with the miraculous lore of Mary, they will encounter it afresh, in the versions created by Europeans, scholars working in the lands and languages of their mission. As they translated they also assessed: what belonged quintessentially to the tale, what could be made to fit the Nahua social reality and states of mind, as they understood these to be. Conversely, they were recasting European habits of mind and emphases that had served for centuries. Mary emerges familiar yet new; de-familiarization, as ever, offers insight into that hitherto considered familiar.

  • 25 Daniel Mosquera, “Nahutal Catechistic Drama: New Translations, Old Preoccupations,” in Nahuatl The (...)

40Dealing with medieval Marian tales, the product of long centuries of translation and transmission, often from Greek originals, in their post-medieval forms, in languages no medieval historian can understand, is a challenge, but also an opportunity. For medieval scholars have become quite expert at appreciating religious cultures in practice, in the plenitude of their many registers, echoes and possibilities. Indeed, the Nahuatl scholar Daniel Mosquera found reading the work of Aron Gurevich on medieval popular culture to be conceptually helpful.25 The friars who penned the materials for instruction were few and their task was vast; they confronted a traumatized society and were obliged to learn new languages and come to understand the social mores of an unfamiliar world to which Europeans were both attracted and repelled. Yet their preoccupations with the use of the vernacular in speaking sacred truths, with the use of dramatic devices to attract their audience, with the accommodation of non-Christian traditions into a new local religion—all of these—were dilemmas lived by the priesthood and the friars of Europe too, at all times, and very explicitly in the late medieval centuries.

  • 26 For images and local cults see Jane Garnett and Gervase Rosser, “The Virgin Mary and the People of (...)
  • 27 Amos Megged, Exporting the Catholic Reformation: Local Religion and Early-Colonial Mexico, Leiden, (...)
  • 28 Nora E. Jaffary, False Mystics: Deviant Orthodoxy in Colonial Mexico, Lincoln (NE), 2004; William (...)

41Mary was remade in the parishes of New Spain into a goddess of fertility and protection. She was much more prominent in expressions of indigenous religious sentiment—when we can consider them from this distance—than was the figure of Christ. Just as in Europe Mary was celebrated not only in universal liturgies, but in myriad local manifestations of her power through images deemed holy.26 In the diocese of Chiapas there was Our Lady of the Rosary in Copanahuastla, guarded and served by a confraternity since its foundation on the Feast of the Purification 1561. The image was famed for its powers to cure the sick and dying. Like its European counterparts— French, Iberian, Bavarian—this rural cult attracted pilgrims and dispensed solace.27 Like so many apparitions of Mary in Europe, colonial America produced visionaries who imagined justice and comfort through encounters with Mary.28

42In these regions of mission and conquest we can also observe the seeds of discipline. Friars worried about the presence of figures of Mary in far-flung parishes served by native Christian priests: these had not been reared at the mother’s knee, their minds had not been habituated to Mary of story and miracle by a profusion of images in churches and marketplans. Fears of mis-possession and error were more evident in this world where social life did not provide the local, vernacular, familial context for a Mary of tale and song. But they were not absent from Old Europe where Mary seemed vulnerable and open to abuse in the imagined attitudes of Jews, and later in those of Protestants. Outside the comfort zone of ineluctable absorption in Mary, the clergy developed a more disciplining attitude to her. The encounters raised a mirror in which 1500 years of solace and ineffable possession of and through Mary are reflected sharply.

  • 29 David Abulafia, The Discovery of Mankind: Atlantic Encounters in the Age of Columbus, London and N (...)

43Historians of Europe have a great deal to learn and also to offer as the traditional borders around historical investigation soften. David Abulafia, a historian of trade in the Mediterranean, now traces his merchants and mariners into the Atlantic, in a book on the earliest encounters in the Canaries, Caribbean and Mexico. Sharon Farmer, a historian of the Parisian poor, is studying the transmission of patterns and know-how from Syria to the silk guilds of that great city. In her recent book Sabina MacCormack combines her understanding of early Christianity with the history of Mexico and Peru in a study of religion, conversion and empires. The literary scholar David Wallace has mapped the literary products of contact with non-Europeans in his elegant Premodern Places.29 The possibilities are many. Medieval people, artifacts and ideas ought not to be bounded by geographic borders, upon which, in any case, we are rarely able to agree. There is a global Middle Ages, and pre-modern historians have a great deal to contribute to the public conversations of our global world.

Notes

1 Some of these thoughts were developed by me in the Timothy Reuter Lecture 2006.

2 In Natalie Zemon Davis’s forthcoming book.

3 Jeffrey Hamburger, “To Make Women Weep: Ugly Art as ‘Feminine’ and the Origins of Modern Aesthetics,” Res 31 (1997), pp. 9–33; Joseph Koerner is the editor of the issue and contributed an introduction to it.

4 Ursula Weekes, Early Engravers and their Public: the Master of the Berlin Passion and Manuscripts from Convents in the Rhine-Maas Region, ca. 1450–1500, Turnhout, 2004.

5 Norman Housley, Religious Warfare in Europe, 1400–1536, Oxford, 2002, especially chapters 3 and 5.

6 In Timothy Reuter, Medieval Polities and Modern Mentalities, ed. Janet L. Nelson, Cambridge, 2006, pp. 19–37; at p. 36 [first published as Medieval History Journal 19(1998), pp. 25–45].

7 See Miri Rubin, Mother of God: a History of the Virgin Mary, London, 2009.

8 Averil Cameron, Christianity and the Rhetoric of Empire: the Development of Christian Discourse, Berkeley (CA), 1991, p. 104.

9 On these issues see Kate Cooper, “Empress and Theotokos: Gender and Patronage in the Christological Controversy,” in The Church and Mary: Papers Read at the 2001 Summer Meeting and the 2002 Winter Meeting of the Ecclesiastical History Society, ed. R. N. Swanson, Woodbridge, 2004, pp. 39–51.

10 Robert Bartlett, The Making of the Middle Ages: Conquest, Colonization and Cultural Change, 950–1350, London, 1994.

11 Gábor Klaniczay, Holy Rulers and Blessed Princesses. Dynastic Cults in Medieval Central Europe, trans. Éva Pálmai, Cambridge, 2002, pp. 139–42.

12 O splendidissima gemma
et serenum decus solis
qui tibi infusus est,
fons saliens
de corde Patris,
quod est unicum Verbum suum,
per quod creavit
mundi primam materiam,
quam Eva turbavit.

Hoc Verbum effabricavit tibi
Pater hominem,
et ob hoc es tu illa lucida materia
per quam hoc ipsum Verbum exspiravit
omnes virtutes,
ut eduxit in prima materia
omnes creaturas.

Saint Hildegard of Bingen, Symphonia, trans. Barbara Newman,
Ithaca (NY) and London, no. 10, pp. 114–15.

13 Eyolf Østrem, “Luther, Josquin and des fincken gesang,” in The Arts and Cultural Heritage of Martin Luther, ed. Eyolf Østrem, Jens Fleischer and Nils Holger Petersen, Copenhagen, 2003, pp. 51–79.

14 http://www.godrules.net/library/luther/NEW1luther_c5.htm

15 Martin Luther, An Order of Mass and Communion, trans. Paul Zeller Strodach, Philadelphia (PA), 1965, p. 35; on Luther and hymnody see Carl Axel Aurelius, “Quo verbum dei velcantu inter populos maneat: The Hymns of Martin Luther,” in The Arts and Cultural Heritage of Martin Luther, ed. Eyolf Østrem, Jens Fleischer and Nils Holger Petersen, Copenhagen, 2003, pp. 19–34.

16 Beth Kreitzer, Reforming Mary: Changing Images of the Virgin Mary in Lutheran Sermons of the Sixteenth Century, Oxford, 2004.

17 Joseph Leo Koerner, The Reformation of the Image, London, 2004; and on Mary, Bridget Heal, The Cult of Mary in Reformation Germany, Cambridge, 2007.

18 Glenn Ehrstine, “Motherhood and Protestant Polemics: Stillbirth in Hans von Rüte’s Abgötterei (1531),” in Maternal Measures: Figuring Caregiving in the Early Modern Period, ed. Naomi J. Miller and Naomi Yavneh, Aldershot, 2000, pp. 121–34.

19 The “Salutations” form part of Lanyer’s 1611 volume Salve Deus Rex Iudaeorum; see Isabella Whitney, Mary Sidney and Aemilia Lanyer, Renaissance Women Poets, ed. Danielle Clarke, London, 2000, pp. 205–74; at p. 257, lines 993–1016.

20 2 vols., Ingolstadt, 1657. I learned a great deal from attending Professor Christin’s seminar session at the Institute of Historical Research.

21 For a subtle analysis of these, as a process of “occidentalization” see Serge Gruzinski, “Occidentalisation,” in La pensée métisse, Paris, 1999, pp. 87–104.

22 See image of the arrival of the Franciscans in the Description of Tlaxcala c. 1583–5, Serge Gruzinski, Painting the Conquest: the Mexican Indians and the European Imagination, trans. Deke Dusinberre, Paris, 1992, p. 44, figure 28.

23 John Leddy Phelan, The Millennial Kingdom of the Franciscans in the New World, second edn., Berkeley (CA), 1970, p. 50.

24 Louise M. Burkhart, “‘Here is another marvel’: Marian miracle narratives in a Nahuatl manuscript,” in Spiritual Encounters: Interactions between Christianity and Native Religions in Colonial America, ed. Nicholas Griffiths and Fernando Cervantes, Birmingham, 1999, pp. 91–115; on the genre see pp. 95–9; for the Latin original see Jean Gobi, Scala Coeli, Marie-Anne Polo de Beaulieu, Paris, 1991.

25 Daniel Mosquera, “Nahutal Catechistic Drama: New Translations, Old Preoccupations,” in Nahuatl Theater I: Death and Life in Colonial Nahua Mexico, ed. Barry D. Sell and Louise M. Burkhart, Norman (OK), 2004, pp. 55–84; esp. pp. 56–7.

26 For images and local cults see Jane Garnett and Gervase Rosser, “The Virgin Mary and the People of Liguria: Image and Cult,” Studies in Church History 39(2004), pp. 280–97.

27 Amos Megged, Exporting the Catholic Reformation: Local Religion and Early-Colonial Mexico, Leiden, 1996, p. 135.

28 Nora E. Jaffary, False Mystics: Deviant Orthodoxy in Colonial Mexico, Lincoln (NE), 2004; William A. Christian Jr., Apparitions in Late Medieval and Renaissance Spain, Princeton (NJ), 1989.

29 David Abulafia, The Discovery of Mankind: Atlantic Encounters in the Age of Columbus, London and New Haven (CN), 2008; Sabine MacCormack, On the Wings of Time: Rome, the Incas, Spain, and Peru, Princeton (NJ), 2007; David Wallace, Premodern Places: Calais to Surinam, Chaucer to Aphra Behn, Oxford, 2004.

© Central European University Press, 2009

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