The World of Miracles: Science, and Healing in Caesarius of Heisterbach’s Dialogus miraculorum (ca.1240) in Competition with Magic
By Albrecht Classen
Quidditas: Online Journal of the Rocky Mountain Medieval and Renaissance Association, Vol. 40 (2019)
Abstract: This paper offers a close reading of some of the miracle tales dedicated to the Virgin Mary as contained in Caesarius of Heisterbach’s Dialogus miraculorum (ca. 1240) in order to shed light on the fundamental narrative structures of this genre, the association between the narratives and their material background, and to build a case to argue that medieval miracle narratives actually shared much in common with the discourse on magic.
After a critical examination of magic itself and its properties as imagined or realized in the Middle Ages, the analysis highlights the ‘miraculous’ or maybe even ‘magical’ features of Caesarius’s tales. Those prove to be not only important narrative documents of the religious mentality of the late Middle Ages, they also reveal the extent to which they served as a complimentary discourse to or even substitute of the narrative of magic. As much as the latter was mostly repressed in the pre-modern world and also beyond, its presence can be observed particularly ex negativo where it seems to be completely absent, in the miracle tale.
Top Image: The beginning of the Dialogus miraculorum in the manuscript Düsseldorf, Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek, Ms. C 27, fol. 1r, with a portrait of the author in the initial letter.