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Vigils

(1,378 words)

Author(s): Brenda Gardenour
In the eleventh through fourteenth centuries, medieval Europe witnessed an intensification of piety including an increased participation in pilgrimage, sacred journeys to relics and reliquaries throughout the sanctified micro-regions of Christendom and beyond. During this period, which the eleventh-century chronicler Raoul Glaber described as one dressed in a "shining white robe of churches", devout Christians sought the intercession of saints with such fervor that they were willing to visit the…

Fire

(881 words)

Author(s): Brenda Gardenour
Fire is a powerful element in the symbolic, spiritual, and physical worlds of the Middle Ages. One of the oldest religious symbols, fire is a means of sacrifice and purification in the Hebrew Bible; in the book of Genesis, Noah makes a burnt offering to God in thanks for the recession of the flood waters, and in the book of Exodus, God appears to Moses as fire in a burning bush. In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit appears as a flame at Pentecost, and those who received the gift spoke with tong…

Barefootedness

(825 words)

Author(s): Brenda Gardenour
Traveling barefoot was a characteristic of both late medieval saints and their supplicants and in both cases was a sign of poverty and humility. Barefootedness was a symbol of otherworldliness in Gospel passages such as Luke 10:3-4, in which Christ sends His disciples among enemies, commanding them not to take a change purse or sandals, and Matthew 10:9-11, in which Christ commands His disciples not to take money, a purse, extra clothes, a staff, or sandals. In this context, barefootedness signa…

Tomb Dust

(755 words)

Author(s): Brenda Gardenour
Tomb dust can be defined as the sediment that has settled on the reliquaries of saints, scrapings taken from the tombs of saints and soil from around those tombs. The tradition of healing soil is found in early Greek medicine, which promoted the use of the sigillated earth of Lemnos for the cure of disease. The thaumaturgic power of tomb dust resided not in its medicinal properties, however, but in its classifications among tertiary relics: items that came into contact with the corpse of the sai…

Pilgrim Prayers

(2,229 words)

Author(s): Brenda Gardenour
Pilgrimage as Prayer In the Middle Ages, the act of pilgrimage, when undertaken for spiritual reasons, was from beginning to end a form of prayer. The impetus to undertake a burdensome journey through rugged terrain and hostile territories was often a response to some event or condition that caused the individual to seek reconciliation with God and His church. For instance, an individual might be called to pilgrimage because of a grave sin for which he or she desired to be absolved; in extreme case…

Weather

(873 words)

Author(s): Brenda Gardenour
Weather, and particularly the four winds, determined the state of health, types of illness, and the physical nature of the medieval body, which was open to both supernatural and natural elements. Because of the permeability of body, the four winds, which according to Hippocratic medical theory were characterized by different qualities, being either hot or cold, and moist or dry, could enter into bodies and affect an individual's health and well-being. Weather not only influenced health and disea…

Lactation

(876 words)

Author(s): Brenda Gardenour
Miraculous lactation has precedence in the martyrologies, in which the moment of death is marked not only by the flow of blood but also by the changing of this blood to milk: lac pro sanguine. As he awaits his martyrdom, Saint Christopher tells his persecutor that, as proof of the power of Christ, his innocent blood applied to blind eyes will cure them. To this end, the tyrant anoints his ailing eyes with Christopher's blood and is healed. (See also Blindness). The miraculous power of blood is directly linked to the thaumaturgic…