A team of researchers from the University of Cambridge have started creating an online database to categorize the miracles found in saints’ lives that were written in Britain and Ireland between 500 and 1300.
Known as Mapping Miracles, the project is run by Robert Gallagher, Julianne Pigott and Sarah Waidler of the University of Cambridge along with Jennifer Key of the University of St.Andrews. By developing this database, they hope to show what were the similarities and differences in the miracles recorded in saints’ lives, even those that were written in other different parts of the British Isles and centuries apart.
Robert Gallagher explained, “When we began work on this project each of us was struck by the differences in the miracle accounts we has each previously considered to be universal. We all have specialisms in a certain range of vernacular and Latin texts, but when we began this collaborative research, we realised that the assumptions we held as a result of our own work, may not hold true for texts produced in other regions.”
Pigott added, “The transformation of a baby, from girl to boy, attributed to Saint Abban is just one example of how the database might be used to categorise a miracle in several ways. It’s interesting on a number of levels: the sacramental setting of baptism, the mutability of gender, and the provision of service to a king and his political needs.”
While the project is in its early stages, they have already hosted a conference earlier this month. Mapping the Miraculous: Hagiographical Motifs and the Medieval World, featured seven speakers including Thomas Clancy and Robert Bartlett.
While the project is currently limited to looking at miracles and saints lives’ from the British Isles, the group hopes that they will eventually expand to cover other areas as well.
“Miracles were a strong feature of the extensive bodies of Latin and vernacular literatures produced in these islands throughout the medieval period,” Sarah Waidler notes. “Reading these texts today we are offered a window on the medieval mind, helping us to understand how people might have thought about not just the divine, but their own lives and personal concerns. The landscape itself, with its place names, is a record of how deeply the lives of the saints are scored into our culture.”
Gallagher adds, “Part of the fascination of miracles lies in the repetitive nature of narratives that have endured for so long – rather as pop music, much of it is very simplistic in form and content, yet it’s popular for exactly that familiarity.”
You can follow Mapping Miracles in Twitter @MappingMiracles
To learn more about the project see the article “And the girl he immersed in the font he took out as a boy” from the University of Cambridge