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This new chapter considers the achievements of remarkable writer, composer and visionary Hildegard of Bingen. After an outline of her life and her writings, her views on creation, humankind as microcosm, fall and redemption receive particular attention.
How did medieval observers imagine kingship to be created? How did they apply biblical, classical and patristic models when writing about the origins of their own communities? The period c. 1000–c.1200 witnessed the emergence of several new realms. They fall into three broad, overlapping categories. Some were forged by conquest (like Sicily, Jerusalem and Cyprus). Some were established communities whose rulers, in the process of converting to Christianity, adopted the language and framework of Christian kingship (Denmark, Norway, Hungary, Poland). In a third group, powerful local or regional rulers assumed or were awarded the title of king (Bohemia, Portugal, Sicily). All faced a similar problem: in some ways, they violated the right order of the world by assuming a title that, in theory, only god could grant. How did contemporaries get around this problem? Chapter 3 answers this question partly by sketching a general pattern of emerging kingship, partly by focussing on two especially well documented case studies: Poland and Sicily. The defining themes in these accounts are virtuous rule, equitable justice, the consent of the ruled, power greater than that of any mere duke or prince and divine backing.
This chapter examines the dream vision of Walchelin the priest, as retold by Orderic Vitalis in Book VII of his Ecclesiastical History. This episode has been analysed several times as evidence of the growing importance of purgatory in religious life. Utilising the insights of Elisabeth van Houts into the credibility of witness testimonies, gender and how memory can be anchored in material objects, it argues that this excursus in Orderic's work, presented as an oral narrative, functions as both memory of trauma, and a gendered story of reclaiming power and authority through its re-telling. Walchelin's own, apparently scarred, body can be read as a 'peg' for structuring his memory of a supernatural event. The inclusion of Walchelin's brother as one of the nightmarish host seen by Walchelin introduces a family dimension that, it is argued, makes the story relatable to Orderic's own life as well. The chapter will first outline the story, then examine the ways in which Walchelin established his authority as a witness to Orderic, and finally explore how Orderic himself both remembered and 're-membered', that is, literally put flesh on the bones of, the story in his text.
The brain strives to become a model of the world in which it must survive. It is often more important for it to be functional and efficient than it is to be factually correct. Indeed, there are numerous instances in which it seems to favour usefulness over accuracy, expectation over actuality. This has led many to conclude that even normal perception has a constructive or hallucinatory quality. In extremis, under the influence of fatigue, fear, illness or drugs, an entire reality may be created, one that seems to conflict with the reality accepted by those around us. This condition, known as psychosis, offers us important glimpses into the mechanisms of the mind and the many ways in which they may be altered.
This chapter discusses Pope Gregory the Great’s ideas about visions and the afterlife, and how they were received in the early middle ages. To provide a fuller picture of Gregory’s ideas about afterlife visions, the chapter discusses his thought more generally about visions and dreams, especially the two main themes of this thought: the nature of dreams and visions, as ways through which invisible realities might be perceived; and the nature of afterlife visions, especially whether they represented the afterlife allegorically or as it was. The reception of Gregory’s ideas was influenced by the existing tradition of narrating afterlife visions and the way his works were excerpted and abbreviated to suit new needs. This process made Gregory known both as a proponent of the reality of visions and the author of a teaching critical of dreams, and his Dialogues an influential source of imagery for afterlife visions.
Visions of the afterlife in late medieval Europe (1300-1500) circulated in collections of saints’ legends and sermons, in religious manuals, mystics’ writings, stand-alone pieces, and literary works. Along with the stories inherited from earlier centuries, there were many new accounts. Together they demonstrate how the medieval Church’s teachings on heaven, hell, and purgatory, as well as on prayers and masses for the dead, on engaging in the sacrament of penance, on accruing merit, on fighting against the demonic realm, and on devotion to the saints, were conveyed to, assimilated, and adapted by the laity. This chapter draws on several categories of these otherworld narratives, including visitations by ghosts, demons, and saints, and explores three primary spiritual dynamics illustrated by the visions: purgatorial ‘transactions of satisfaction’ with the ghosts, spiritual warfare with the demons, and ‘reciprocated devotion’ with the saints. The glimpses of the otherworlds and their inhabitants shored up the religious beliefs and practices of the late medieval laity.
The Carolingian period (750–900) was a time of exceptional cultural and intellectual vitality that saw the production of many new works, and included amongst these were many new visions or voyages to the afterlife. Following the earlier example of Wilhelm Levison, scholars like Paul Dutton and Claude Carozzi have hitherto considered these texts mainly in light of their supposed political aims, often to critique the policies and behaviour of prominent political and ecclesiastical figures. While this perspective is not invalid, it tends to obscure other interesting elements found in afterlife accounts from this era. This chapter explores two: first of all, the use of vision texts to stake out positions on important doctrinal questions, particularly arguing for and against the efficacy of intercessory prayer, and even offering collective solutions in the case of the latter; second, Carolingian afterlife visions are innovative for their inclusion of women in prominent roles for the first time. The truth of the Carolingian world – that it was more feminine and more fractious than we might think – was darkly reflected in its otherworld.
This chapter characterises visionary experiences of heaven, hell, and purgatory received by medieval religious women. The twelfth-century Benedictines Hildegard of Bingen and Elisabeth of Schönau offer detailed representations of a celestial city but fewer specifics regarding the netherworld. Hildegard’s perception of the cosmos informs her view of heaven, whereas for Elisabeth it symbolises a longed-for end to life’s journey. Among the Cistercian women residing at Helfta in the thirteenth century, the graphic descriptions of otherworldly realms described by Mechthild of Magdeburg in The Flowing Light of the Godhead are most remarkable. For her contemporaries, Mechthild of Hackeborn and Gertrude the Great, the joyous union with Christ on earth is emphasised equally with the union in heaven. The striking scenes depicting the judgement of sinners in purgatory found in the revelations of the fourteenth-century saint Birgitta of Sweden serve as an admonition to her more secular audience.
This short introduction first places the medieval tradition of thought about the afterlife in a larger and longer context, then lays out the historiographical background for the collection. It also briefly introduces each of the fifteen chapters, noting how together they tend to shift the focus away from the twelfth century (hitherto considered a key turning point in the history of the afterlife) to the early Middle Ages and the later. It closes by noting that the contributions also keep to a current trend of seriously considering the reception and influence of texts and ideas, here suggesting that afterlife visions (for example) became an integral part of the medieval imagination.
Where do we go after we die? This book traces how the European Middle Ages offered distinctive answers to this universal question, evolving from Antiquity through to the sixteenth century, to reflect a variety of problems and developments. Focussing on texts describing visions of the afterlife, alongside art and theology, this volume explores heaven, hell, and purgatory as they were imagined across Europe, as well as by noted authors including Gregory the Great and Dante. A cross-disciplinary team of contributors including historians, literary scholars, classicists, art historians and theologians offer not only a fascinating sketch of both medieval perceptions and the wide scholarship on this question: they also provide a much-needed new perspective. Where the twelfth century was once the 'high point' of the medieval afterlife, the essays here show that the afterlives of the early and later Middle Ages were far more important and imaginative than we once thought.
In this volume, Douglas Yoder uses the tools of modern and postmodern philosophy and biblical criticism to elucidate the epistemology of the Tanakh, the collection of writings that comprise the Hebrew Bible. Despite the conceptual sophistication of the Tanakh, its epistemology has been overlooked in both religious and secular hermeneutics. The concept of revelation, the genre of apocalypse, and critiques of ideology and theory are all found within or derive from epistemic texts of the Tanakh. Yoder examines how philosophers such as Spinoza, Hume, and Kant interacted with such matters. He also explores how the motifs of writing, reading, interpretation, image, and animals, topics that figure prominently in the work of Derrida, Foucault, and Nietzsche, appear also in the Tanakh. An understanding of Tanakh epistemology, he concludes, can lead to new appraisals of religious and secular life throughout the modern world.
Accounts of miracles and visions feature prominently in each of Flodoard’s histories. Notably, he recorded a huge number of wonders that occurred during his own lifetime. This constitutes a striking contrast with contemporary authors of history and hagiography, many of whom doubted whether miracles still happened or whether they were necessary. This chapter examines Flodoard’s attitude to the supernatural, asking in particular how it evolved over the course of his lifetime. I argue that Flodoard came to perceive miracles as validation of the work carried out by monks, clerics and bishops, and that he heeded seriously reports of visions and other phenomena as divinely inspired responses to moral failings. Flodoard contrasted the earthly vices of the leaders of the West Frankish kingdom with the greatness of spiritual power, thus providing a rationale for episcopal authority in a time of political upheaval.
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