Images of Medieval Sanctity by Debra Higgs Strickland (Visualising the Middle Ages: Brill Academic) Assembled on the occasion of Gary Dickson's retirement from the University of Edinburgh following a distinguished career as an internationally acclaimed scholar of medieval social and religious history, this volume contains contributions by both established and newer scholars inspired by Dickson's particular interests in medieval popular religion, including 'religious enthusiasm'. Together, the essays comprise a comprehensive and rich investigation of the idea of sanctity and its many medieval manifestations across time (fifth through fifteenth centuries) and in different geographical locations (England, Scotland, France, Italy, the Low Countries). By approaching the theme of sanctity from multiple disciplinary perspectives, this highly original collection pushes forward current academic thinking about medieval hagiography, iconography, social history, women's studies, and architectural history. See
DEBRA HIGGS STRICKLAND, Ph.D. (1993) in Art History, Columbia University, is Deputy Director of the Glasgow Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, University of Glasgow. Her major publications include Saracens, Demons, and Jews: Making Monsters in Medieval Art (Princeton, 2003).
During the crusades, Ethiopians, Jews, Muslims, and Mongols were branded enemies of the Christian majority. Illustrated with strikingly imaginative and still disturbing images, this book reveals the outrageously pejorative ways these rejected social groups were represented--often as monsters, demons, or freaks of nature. Such monstrous images of non-Christians were not rare displays but a routine aspect of medieval public and private life. These images, which reached a broad and socially varied audience across western Europe, appeared in virtually all artistic media, including illuminated manuscripts, stained glass, sculpture, metalwork, and tapestry.
Debra Higgs Strickland introduces and decodes images of the "monstrous races," from demonlike Jews and man-eating Tartars to Saracens with dog heads or animal bodies. Strickland traces the origins of the negative pictorial code used to portray monsters, demons, and non-Christian peoples to pseudoscientific theories of astrology, climate, and physiognomy, some dating back to classical times. She also considers the code in light of contemporary Christian eschatological beliefs and concepts of monstrosity and rejection.
This is the first study to situate representations of the enemies of medieval Christendom within the broader cultural context of literature, theology, and politics. It is also the first to explore the elements of that imagery as a code and to elucidate the artistic means by which boundaries were effectively blurred between imaginary monsters and rejected social groups.
Excerpt: For a long time, the religious history of medieval Christendom was identified with that of church institutions: the papacy, councils, episcopate, monastic and religious orders, parish authorities, pastoral visits, synod statutes, and still others. Such an approach, bearing the mark of legal historians, brought into being works strong on synthesis, some of which have retained their usefulness to this day.' However, this approach has its disadvantages: it places emphasis on the structural and administrative side of religious life and sometimes freezes changing realities into abstract or restraining patterns. Between 1950 and 1970, Gabriel Le Bras and Bernard Guillemain—to name only French historians—are to be credited with giving a new dimension to the history of the structures of the central and local government of the Church by treating them as social organisms with rather multifarious recruitment techniques but common outlook and behaviour.' From 1970 onwards, the interest in the history of mental habits and the taste of a growing number of scholars for anthropology triggered the tremendous growth—still notable today—of the history of religious practices, especially among laymen. The result has been that within a generation, the history of the Church, in the classical meaning, has been replaced by the history of religious experience, stressing the study of the ways in which the `Christian people' express and manifest their sensibilities.'
One of the basic features of this fundamentally renewed questioning in religious history consisted in switching the starting point from church institution to 'popular religion', a long-discussed phrase eventually accepted for lack of a better one. Popular religion is a double concept. On the one hand, it comprises a number of individual and collective religious practices pertaining to simple piety, including the cult of saints and relics, pilgrimages, the founding of perpetual chantries, and participation in religious brotherhoods. On the other hand, it also includes the vast motions of crowds as well as "panic impulses"—to quote Alphonse Dupront—spreading like a shock-wave over the whole region, a country, or several countries, such as the First Crusade or the processions of flagellants marching across Europe in 1348 and 1349. Besides Dupront, whose work is little-known outside France because of his impenetrable style and on account of its belated publication, one must of course acknowledge Norman Cohn, whose major book, The Pursuit of the Millennium, first published in 1957 but revised and enlarged later, had great influence in spite of a somewhat weak treatment of medieval documents and of a propensity to explain religious phenomena in light of social tensions.5 To Cohn's mind, the collective outbreak of religious emotion in medieval and modern times constitutes "the combined product" of social dislocation and apocalyptical belief, and bore the mark of "collective enthusiasm of the poor and the disoriented rooted in crisis, messianism and revolutionary apocalypticism" ultimately aimed at a complete overturn of the social order.'
However stimulating it may have been in its day, this interpretation of medieval religious movements was bound to trigger considerable reservation, from both methodological and interpretive perspectives, and indeed did so rapidly. As Gary Dickson wrote with acumen, "Cohn's argument bathes the full range of medieval Latin enthusiasm in a false light of impending social upheaval... Not all its manifestations were overt (or covert) movements of social protest, as they include for instance peace movements and officially sanctioned crusades."' Besides—last but not least—there is no evidence that all the popular religious movements of the Middle Ages were under the influence of millenarianism or apocalyptic prospects. Norman Cohn along with Herbert Grundmann, Raoul Manselli, Etienne Delaruelle, and Christopher Brooke brought historical research forward a good step in pointing at the importance of mass upheavals and collective outbursts of fervour or revolt in the religious life of the closing centuries of the Middle Ages; but they have also driven it up blind alleys when submitting these movements to readings based on rather sketchy Marxism and mob psychology.
Then came Gary Dickson. From 1980 onwards, he began publishing a series of very detailed studies based on a thorough knowledge of medieval sources and international bibliography, and centred on the most significant episodes of what he called 'religious enthusiasm', an original concept that led him to state that "religious enthusiasm, whatever its varied manifestations, constituted a distinctive, identifiable and significant strand in medieval Christianity . . . one of Christianity's most characteristic expressive forms." With this notion he associated another, with a roughly similar content although more sociological in character, that of 'revivalism', as in the title, "Studies in Medieval Revivalism," chosen for his collection of studies devoted to the 'Children's Crusades' of the thirteenth and beginning of the fourteenth centuries, as well as to the Perugian and Italian flagellant movements. According to Dickson, medieval revivals were collective enthusiasms; initially orthodox in intent; responsive to crisis; welcoming to prophecy; conversionary in nature; perceived as 'extraordinary'—marked, that is, by the miraculous, the charismatic, the astonishment of observers; behaviourally varied; archetypically tripartite (crowd, movement, and eventually institutionalized sect, order or confraternity) and generally unpredictable in outcome.
But far from dwelling on the detailed analysis of the various trends that expressed, at the close of the Middle Ages, this religious enthusiasm and these tendencies to renewal; Dickson's reflections from 1990 on took on a more systematic turn as demonstrated by the title of his collected studies, Religious Enthusiasm in the Medieval West (2000) and his most recent articles, in which he emphasizes the charismatic nature of these 'revivals' and of the men who launched them." Most of the movements partake of what Dickson calls a "quasi-mystic marriage between charismatic leaders and religious crowds." He notes among the elements of success of some of them, such as St. Francis of Assisi, their "fervent or ecstatic personality," their "preacher's gift for words of evangelical power" as well as their reputation as prophets. At this point, our paths could not but cross on intellectual and personal levels in our work on sainthood in the West in relation to canonization processes. We concurred that the cult of saints had become of prime import in thirteenth and fourteenth century Christendom, and was first and foremost at stake in power struggles: the control of new forms and expressions of sainthood, which the papacy attempted systematically to achieve beginning with Innocent III, was a means of doing away with 'spurious' saints (impostors, quacks, deviants, heretics) but also of directing popular enthusiasm towards models and men consistent with Roman orthodoxy, such as the founders of the two large mendicant orders, the preacher and theologian Anthony of Padua, and the inquisitor Peter Martyr. We were on common ground—and still are—in our conviction in the historical significance of sainthood and also, on a larger scale, of the importance—long underestimated among historians—of the charismatic or supernatural power in the religious life of men and women in the Middle Ages. It gives me great pleasure to have a chance, in this symposium, to continue the interesting and friendly earlier discussions we had in Edinburgh and Erice.
When it comes to religious matters, the notion of power cannot be restricted to constitutions, however powerful and extensive they may have been. Even at the time of the Avignon papacy, as the administrative cogs of the Church and papal court achieved extraordinary intricacy and their influence reached over the whole of Western Christendom, there were other forces—perhaps less evident but nevertheless not to be overlooked—linked with a supernatural power either possessed or claimed. One may wonder at a contrast between the religious and the supernatural: was not the superiority of clergy over laymen, stated vigorously once more by Boniface VIII in 1296 in the Clericis laicos bull, linked with their greater familiarity with the sacred? Yet, there was an important turn at the close of the Middle Ages, as Peter Brown has demonstrated: whereas, in the high Middle Ages, the supernatural was likely to be considered a set of discontinuous realities remote from daily life, from the thirteenth century it began to evolve into a pledge of intense personal involvement and the fulfilment of individual experience.' In point of fact, from 1300 onwards, the Church institution, in the role of managing the sacred it had so far somehow carried out, found itself in competition with various figures—holy women, visionaries, prophets, mystics who had no regard for established hierarchies. It was also confronted with proliferating sacred representations—pious images, multifarious visions—whose authentic or miraculous nature was ever more difficult to assert.
What indeed was the true nature of such supernatural power? It corresponds to a large extent with what Max Weber termed 'charismatic power'. The German sociologist has revealed alongside constitutional powers embodied in most Western societies in Church and State the existence of another form of power bearing, according to him, the seal of creativity: that of prophets capable of raising crowds—indeed, a whole population—to outbursts of religious enthusiasm. In his view, the prophet "bears charismatic features all of his own and, owing to his mission, proclaims a religious doctrine or a commandment from God." Unlike a priest who is in charge of a sacred tradition and metes out the benefits of salvation by virtue of his ministry, the prophet affirms that his authority emanates from a divine call or a revelation which may appear either under the form of clairvoyance in the present or the future, or as specific power over demons or evil forces. Generally speaking, however, a prophet will stay away from magic and rather will try to gain recognition through morally exemplary behaviour and the appeal of his or her message. The main objective, to be sure, is to bend the conduct of others so as to lead them surely to salvation, an objective that can bring the prophet, in some cases, to behave as "an utterly independent demagogue whose aim is to replace traditional priestly grace with systematic conviction ethics" and to attempt, together with lay followers, an 'emotional community' favourable to the execution of his or her program." However, as Weber makes clear, the power of the prophet is precarious and the fickle crowd—ready to set on fire one day what it had adored the day before—will let institutions get the better of it.
The way Max Weber sets the prophet against the priest, the man of God against the man of the cloth, is still valid at least in principle, even though one may regret its overly systematic nature. The sociologist had in fact anticipated some objections when admitting that a priest—he probably had Savonarola in mind—could also hear the call and enjoy personal charisma. In that case, he would argue, the priest drew his legitimacy from his function within the institution. Weber's real prophet could only be a layperson who seized a power never intended for this purpose and who based his or her authority on the adhesion of followers, themselves largely mere members of a congregation.
However productive these concepts may have been, one cannot but admit that they leave historians of today unsatisfied, insofar as they do not allow full comprehension of the phenomena they are trying to study. The opposition between priest and prophet, already extant in the Bible, constitutes to be sure an essential fact and a permanent source of tension in Judeo-Christianity. But it must not be unduly stiffened or made too systematic: Gary Dickson acutely remarked that preaching, generally the work of priests, is indeed "a potentially charismatic office" and that medieval texts often describe crowds that followed preachers from one city to the next to hear their sermons or to define the power they had of modifying at will the communal statutes of a given city where their message had induced a deep emotion among their audiences." Moreover; the difference between priestly power and charismatic power depends less on the signs which render them visible than on their origin, namely the priest and even more the bishop. The medieval priest and even more so, the bishop, were in the position to work miracles through the practice of exorcism, the imposition of hands on the sick or quite simply by the sacrifice of the Eucharist. From the point of view of the Church, such capacity had no relation to their personal merits but resulted from the powers it had bestowed on them through the sacrament of orders. True to the Roman tradition, in emphasizing the distinction between office and incumbent, the Church asserted both the permanent character of priestly power and the fact that its supernatural efficacy was not called into question by the insufficiencies or the sins of those in charge. But alongside this institutional mediation were other mediators between this world and the next which, in the minds of laypeople, often gave a clearer picture of this function insofar as their power proceeded from divine inspiration. Among the latter were the prophets, in the full meaning of the word, but also the saints, the visionaries, and the mystics.
Much has been said in the last twenty years on the powers of the saints, an ambiguous designation with various significations according to circumstances.' It may refer to "a cold and deliberate manipulation of the sacred" in favour of church or political powers as well as the virtues attached to a man of God or his mortal remains "which subdued the powerful and the humble alike" and was "the only thing capable of uniting men in a common political project."" To me, the opposition between these two conceptions is somewhat artificial since the first one implies the existence of the second one: the recuperation by any institution of the sacred prestige of a man or woman makes sense only in a society where sainthood is considered the utmost form of human achievement and the source of a power akin to the supernatural. Conversely, it was all-important for authorities or social groups eager to be recognized as legitimate to have their worldly or spiritual demands guaranteed by supernatural characters or phenomena without any mandatory hypocritical or underhand manipulation by those who had a more or less artificial connection with a divine protector.
To the members of a congregation, at any rate, a
saint was first and foremost a patron and a thaumaturge,
and the very objects of his passion—his specific attributes—made up both the
signs and the source of his power. As Franco Cardini
It is thanks to the arrows that pierce him that the holy Sebastian has become the supreme protector against epidemics and it is thanks to their teeth, eyes and torn breasts that Apollonia and Agatha could protect their followers against diseases affecting these organs. Lucy did not end up protecting eyesight because she was a saint and therefore a mediator between the human species and God, but became a saint on account of her protecting and curing human eyesight.
The theological discourse is simple and straightforward: the saint refers to God, the only source of his or her powers. But in popular lore, ambiguity and a suspicion of idolatry were still present at the close of the Middle Ages and even later in such a way that the Protestant Reformation chose to uproot the cult of saints rather than to purify it.
To be sure, supernatural or charismatic power in principle sets itself against institutional powers but during the Middle Ages they rarely confront each other openly. Generally speaking, the latter occupy the foremost position whereas the former acts discretely backstage. Let us be clear: we are not dealing with contrary entities but rather with two poles that generate a permanent dialectical tension whose intensity varies according to fields of interest and periods. Even during the eleventh century, the pope had tried his best to reintegrate the Holy Spirit into the institution, urging the clergy to reform, so that holiness would not turn into a weapon against the Church in the hands of dissidents and heretics, but would permeate the various forms of church ministry. There is nothing excessive in viewing in that way the steps taken, particularly from the pontificate of Gregory VII, to render celibacy mandatory for the secular clergy as well as Innocent III's and the Fourth Lateran Council's endeavours to make the priest the necessary mediator between the congregation and the realm of the divine. Along with this, however, the Church hierarchy succeeded in retaining its hold over the community during difficult periods, such as the beginning of the thirteenth century, with its strong pressure of heresy, only by acknowledging the claims of religious revival movements that had grown spontaneously among laypeople and by granting some of their leaders a place in the institutions so as not to be cut off from the aspiration to renewal visible in many sectors. Thus, Gregory IX could catch for the benefit of the Roman Church the wave of religious fervour created by the testimony of the evangelical life and holy conduct of the poor man in Assisi. But the moment the Church hierarchy—evolving as it was towards bureaucratic centralism and the stifling legalism typical of the thirteenth century—lost the ability to welcome that it still possessed under Innocent III, there was a spontaneous growth of dissenting religious movements, such as the Shepherds' Crusades (1249-1250 and 1321) and the flagellant movements (1260, 1348-1350, 1399). There was also an uncontrollable proliferation of visions, revelations, and prophecies received and conveyed in most cases by laywomen who claimed they were speaking in God's name. The Avignon popes remained impervious to such expectations. The Council of Vienne (1311-1312) as well as John XXII's pontificate, with the numerous sentences passed by this pope, signal on the part of the Church a break with charismatic trends which were to reappear as soon as the Great Schism (1378-1415) and the conciliar crisis had weakened the papacy.
This alternation of tolerance and repression of outbursts of popular religious enthusiasm ultimately proceeded from a contradiction deep-rooted in Christian ideology which then permeated society: the Church conveyed a concept of authority based on hierarchy and that the sovereign—pope, emperor, king—was the representative of God here below, but its ultimate reference was sanctity. Appealing, at least briefly and as an exception, to those deprived of authority and of the Word, this concept was justified in a religion in which one of the founding texts—the Magnificat—stresses that God "overthrows the powerful" and "elevates the meek" without stating precisely whether such promises had to be postponed to the hereafter. In such a religious climate, it is not surprising that the very absence of power—or, even more, the renouncing of power—constituted for some a source of great supernatural prestige to which numerous hermits and voluntary poor testify, such as Celestine V or Saint Louis of Anjou. As Gary Dickson remarked, such ambivalence, which Christianity had inherited from Judaism, explains the uncertainties in some medieval sources: in describing the Shepherds' or Children's Crusades, many religious chroniclers alternate from one page to the next between tender emotion and exasperated calls for repression the minute the protesting minores, who had initially appealed to them, might threaten the supremacy of the maiores within the Church and society."
Supernatural or charismatic power does not exist of itself as an abstract entity, nor can it be defined as an immutable reality. There is no arguing that the Western world between the thirteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth century was subjected to a process of growing formalization and institutionalization of the ruling powers which resulted in reducing everything exterior to the system to secondary rank and more precisely, to ballast.23 In his stimulating book, Reason and Society in the Middle Ages, Alexander Murray describes the successive stages of such a victory of logical order and computational spirit.24 At the close of the Middle Ages, droves of lawyers, administrators, and theologians stormed the irrational and there is no denying a hardening of the institutions towards the champions of the 'inspired word'. Until the beginning of the fourteenth century, clashes between the two forms of power had been the exception: Marguerite Porète, sentenced and burned at the stake in 1311 for having challenged clerks and doctors in the name of her mystic vision and her personal relationship with God, remains a borderline case. In most cases, the commotion is avoided because the hierarchy chooses to compromise with the individuals or groups involved at a given time of social or religious authority free from any official function or rank. This was the case with the Italian Flagellants, who managed to keep their fundamental inspiration provided they entered the well-defined and accepted structure of the confraternities. But from the fourteenth century, the institutions became more ruthless and demanded total submission. The Church would admit visionaries and inspired shepherdesses solely in an emergency, when there was nothing to dampen their claim—every day more definite—to rule the whole of human existence, religion included. After 1430, old women were hunted in the remotest hamlets and mountains on account of their practical wisdom, renamed witchcraft, while Savonarola, the first prophet before Luther to raise the flag of rebellion against the corruption of the Roman Church, perished at the stake in 1498. Under such harsh and systematic repression, the informal powers were reduced to a marginal and clandestine position even though they would occasionally resurface as spasmodic outbursts in conjunction with such crises as the religious wars of the sixteenth century. But this leads us away from the Middle Ages, dear to Gary Dickson. His work permits a better interpretation and comprehension of a key aspect of this momentous period of history.
Hidden and Triumphant: The Underground Struggle to Save Russian Iconography by Irina Yazykova, Paul Greneir, with a foreword by Wendy Salmond (Paraclete Press) recounts the story of an aspect of Russian culture that fought to survive throughout the 20th century the icon. Russian iconography kept faith alive in Soviet Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution. As monasteries and churches were ruined, icons destroyed, thousands of believers killed or sent to Soviet prisons and labor camps, a few courageous iconographers continued to paint holy images secretly, despite the ever-present threat of arrest. Others were forced to leave Russia altogether, and while living abroad, struggled to preserve their Orthodox traditions. Today we are witness to a renaissance of the Russian icon, made possible by the sacrifices of this previous generation of heroes.
The author of Hidden and Triumphant, Irina Yazykova is a scholar of art history and the theology of the icon who lectures at St. Andrews Biblical Theological Institute and Kolomna Orthodox Theological Seminary. Translator Paul Grenieris is a writer, translator, and interpreter. Foreword author Wendy Salmond, a scholar of Russian and early Soviet art, architecture, and design is Professor of Art and Art History at Chapman University in California.
The 1920s through the 1930s were a time of mass arrests and executions. With churches demolished and defiled and monasteries disbanded, there was every reason to fear for the continued existence of the Church itself. Revisionist propaganda was decimating the clergy, and authorities were waging a campaign of anti-religious sentiment in every corner of the country. Not the best time, one would think, to be painting icons.
It is one of the many ironies of the past century that the celebration of Russian icons went hand in hand with a determined effort to eradicate the art of icon painting. In exchange for the icon's physical survival, Soviet ideology demanded a purging of its theological meaning and function, filling the void with content more palatable to a secular age. Histories written during that era tacitly accepted this state of affairs, taking for granted that the icon's home was now the museum and its relevance largely aesthetic and historical.
In Hidden and Triumphant, Yazykova challenges this familiar picture in the light of our own historical moment. Far from withering away during the Soviet years, she affirms, the practice of painting icons survived underground and with the fall of Communism emerged triumphant. The icon now stands on the threshold of a new epoch, and we are witnesses to the search for an iconic language that reflects the realities of our own experience.
So that readers may see the icon once more in its entirety, Yazykova invokes the centrality of the canon, the tradition of a precise language of visual signs by which the Orthodox believer experiences the presence of God. The icon preserves the canon by standing at the border between two worlds, awakening the viewer's spiritual vision through the workings of the physical eye.
A blinding flash of theological illumination has come out of Russia. The subject is the history of icon painting in Russia. How did this ancient tradition at the center of Russian spirituality, survive seventy years of persecution in the 20th century? It almost didn't, but the renewal of the tradition in the last twenty years is a remarkable story, beautifully told by Irina Yazykova. The introduction contains the best theology of the icon l have ever read. Canon Michael Bordeaux, founder, Oxford Keston lnstitute, UK
This is a much needed historical assessment of what has happened to the icon and iconographers since the Revolution, and an amazingly rich look at icons themselves their theological significance, place in the liturgy, and in the life of Eastern Christians. A most accessible yet comprehensive look at the entire history. I enjoyed it immensely. Michael Plekon, professor at Baruch College, and author of Living Icons: People of Faith in the Eastern Church and Holiness in Our Time
Hidden and Triumphant tells the dramatic and important history and theology of Russian icons for the first time.