The Social Uses of Religious Literature: Challenging A uthority in the Thirteenth-Century Marian Miracle Tale
Flory, David A.
Essays in Medieval Studies, vol. 13 (1996)
The Marian miracle tale, which proliferated widely during the thirteenth century, needs to be considered within the specific framework provided by social and Church history. Isolated from that intertext, it can seem to be a hopelessly sentimental and doctrinally exaggerated literary form designed to palliate or fascinate a gullible and unsophisticated audience. Claims made in the tales for the extreme even indulgent intercessional grace of the Virgin Mary cannot be supported scripturally and the apostrophic style of many tales can appear idolatrous. Sometimes especially in the work of the thirteenth-century French monk Gautier de Coinci the tales are characterized by an only slightly concealed eroticism and show clear parallels with the amour courtois tradition of the troubadours. At other times, for example in Gonzalo de Berceo’s El Clerigo Simple, Mary appears as an enraged divinity, even threatening death to a bishop who has harshly cast out a simple missacantano who was unable to learn any mass except the “missa de la Sancta Maria.” In Gautier’s De l’enfant que mist l’anel ou doit l’image, Mary is characterized as a jilted bride, livid with anger. Mary Mother of God as fury or harpy is, however, theologically offensive and poetically dissonant, and these extraordinary characterizations clearly call for a more careful and considered analysis.