Miracles for the Mad: Representations of Madness in English Miracle Collections from the Long Twelfth Century

Claire Trenery

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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My thesis analyses representations of madness in miracle narratives produced in England from 1090 to 1234, examining Vitae (saints’ Lives containing miracles) and Miracula (miracle collections unaccompanied by a Life). I explore the impact of the local environment of a saint’s cult, and the wider influence of twelfth-century medical developments on monastic representations of mad pilgrims. This innovative approach places sickness and health in the context of medieval conceptions of the natural world and the functioning of the miraculous within it. Historians have long been interested in the transmission of ideas within the intellectual climate that accompanied the development of Scholastic learning in Western Europe. In terms of medical learning, translations of Greek and Arabic texts were produced in southern Italy in the vicinity of the schools of Salerno in the late eleventh century, when I begin my study, and circulated in Europe, not least in England, during the two centuries that followed. I assess their influence on hagiographical representations of madness, which I argue was dependent on the immediate local context of the individual cult and compiler. I end my investigation in 1234 when Pope Gregory IX made canonisation the exclusive prerogative of the pope, thus reducing the necessity for and popularity of large local miracle texts.

Madness, as a condition variously affecting the body, mind, and soul, lay at the cross-section of a Christian philosophical tradition that distinguished between the material body and the immaterial soul, and medical premises that connected bodily humours with the faculties of the mind (imagination, reason, and memory). I demonstrate that these two models were not perceived as exclusive by hagiographers whose tentative explanations of madness are representative of the close interaction between religion and medicine. Through thematic case studies of six saints’ cults, my thesis reconstructs the ideas that influenced individual hagiographers and that contributed to cultural understandings of the healthy and the sick mind.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Horden, Peregrine, Supervisor
Award date1 Feb 2017
Publication statusUnpublished - 2016

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