By Uta Kleine
Paper given at the International Medieval Congress, University of Leeds (2006)
Introduction: Medieval miracles can be considered as an emotionally exceptional topic in a double sense. Historically spoken, they were regarded as acts of divine interference which provoked admiration – according to medieval notions a strong and complex feeling including awe and amusement, confusion and curiosity, fear and delight, stupor and horror. Wonders such as miraculous healings, rescue from danger or death, but also natural phenomena like monsters, dragons, marvellous stones or springs, though extraordinary events (super/praeter naturam) in the ontological sense, were at the same time ‘normal’ every-day experiences to most medieval people: expected, evoked, instrumentalized, but also criticized and called in doubt. What may seem contradictory to the modern mind was of fundamental importance (and so to say ‘natural’) in pre-modern understanding: miracles were wondrous not because they were rare, but because they had a secret ‘reason’ that had to be examined – reason not in the sense of a ‘hidden cause’, but of a spiritual significance or a moral usefulness. This is why in medieval Latin they were called miracula as well as signa or portenta.