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Miracles, Mimesis, and the Efficacy of Images Author(s): Peggy McCracken Source: Yale French Studies, No.

110, Meaning and Its Objects: Material Culture in Medieval and Renaissance France (2006), pp. 47-57 Published by: Yale University Press Stable URL: . Accessed: 22/10/2011 12:12
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Miracles, Mimesis, Efficacy of Images

and the



Virgin Mary,

are full of portraits, of the statues, and even apparitions more than in Gautier and nowhere de Coinci's thirteenth the Miracles of the Virgin, de Nostre both Dame. Gautier's and statues, stories in and sev

century collection, clude many images eral describe miracles portrait or statue mimesis. miraculous

accomplished of her: the moment God performs

portraits after a petitioner of intercession

prays before a is a moment of

for the sake of his virgin also performs miracles for her mother, collection, "ymage," her image, a portrait or a statue. In one of Gautier's miracles, a blind Saracen comes to pray for his sight before a portrait of the Vir but in Gautier's God is who gin because he has heard "that the great God of the Christians lord and father of all, would for the image of his perform great miracles sweet mother."1 He asks to regain his sight, and when his petition is to Christianity. he converts granted that images themselves have intercessory suggests is such power located? Does the Saracen pray to the power. But where the image represents? And how do image or to the Virgin Mary whom we understand an im the fact that the petitioner who seems to worship age is a Saracen, and even a blind Saracen? Does he simply misunder stand the meaning and function of the religious image? Saracens are of ten represented as idolaters in Old French texts, so this character's to trust an image may suggest an idolatry that is replaced, willingness through the miracle, the Christian image prayers of the spiritual presence that by an understanding represents. Most important, though, the Saracen's to the image are effective. He prays before the image, and al This miracle


1. Gautier (Geneva: YFS Andrea Droz,

de Coinci, 1955-70), and ?

Les miracles 4: 396,11.

de Nostre


4 vols.,

ed. Frederic


495-500. David and

110, Meaning Tarnowski,


Its Objects, ed. Margaret by Yale University.





Yale French Studies

the miracle is attributed is what to God, not to the image itself, the mir drew the Saracen to the shrine and led to



seems to suggest conversion that story of the blind Saracen's is a lesson to learn about the efficacy of images. The representa tion of the miracle-working image and of its efficacy seems to question it represents, between the image itself and what between the difference The there absence this kind the material and presence, and between can be seen to subtend of questioning Gautier's and the spiritual. miracle And col

stories insist on the Virgin's absence from the world of lection. Miracle the living at the same time that they insist on her miraculous presence. in the apparitions is articulated This and dream visions presence she appears to her petitioners, but also through mater through which ial images portraits of the Virgin of the Virgin, what that enact miracles. is coterminous of the Virgin's did not leave since she was calls "ymages," the statues and In other words, the miraculous efficacy are enacted by a with mimesis?miracles Gautier body. a material translated no relics body on earth, according and soul into heaven to af

representation The Virgin Catholic

belief, ter her death; there are therefore rial bodies and relics are featured

body mate of her body. However, in stories about in Gautier's collection

a virgin martyr whose at the mona relics were housed L?ocade, at Vic, where Gautier was prior. In one of Gautier's stories, Sainte stery an image of the church along with L?ocade's body is stolen from her Sainte it intentionally Virgin. The saint's body is later found in a river, where fell to escape from its captors. The will of the saint is enacted through to be removed from her church, and her dead body: she does not wish of her body. resists the illicit translation she effectively the collection that precedes of Mar In a story about Sainte L?ocade ian stories, the desire for the sainted body is expressed more explicitly. recounts of Toledo, Gautier that Hildef onsus, the Archbishop regularly a great number of Sainte L?ocade's feast day by assembling celebrated sick people who are cured by the saint. One year the King of Spain and a celebrates and the archbishop many great nobles join the assembly, amiracle occurs: at Sainte L?ocade's mass. While he prays rich tomb, is revealed. Her beauty illuminates the tomb opens and Sainte L?ocade the archbishop the entire church and a sweet odor fills the air. Only her and sings a song of praise. When embraces dares to touch her?he from his arms as the tomb closes, he he sees that the saint is slipping cries out for a knife; he does not want to lose the saint to her tomb with



out keeping some thing ("aucune chose") that he can encase in gold and In the midst silver (Gautier 2:11,11. of the outcries and songs 152-59). of praise provoked the miracle the King of Spain hears the arch by only bishop's plea, and he brings him the knife he requests. Just as the tomb is closing, the archbishop reaches in and cuts off "what he can get" ["En im trencha ce qu'en puet avoir"] (Gautier 2:12,1.173). The archbishop encases in gold and silver "what he had of his friend" (1.187), mediately and puts it in his This narrative in the context treasury, recounts the knife. along with the devout desire for relics, but when read Marian miracles, it may also invite an in

of Gautier's

of the archbishop's terrogation relic, "what he had of his as a representation of the saint's body. It is not a copy of the friend," or even a rendering terms In narrative of the body. it is a body, of the saint's body: its holy origin is what it is. There is a metonymy corpus on relics, how to know if they're real, how and theological but this story is about getting a relic, they can perform miracles, why not about using it: the narrative ends when the relic and the knife are vast up in the treasury. At the same time, though, Sainte L?ocade's unseen miraculous inside body is already a relic, if one that is usually its tomb. The story emphasizes that the opening of the tomb and the locked of the uncorrupted miracu body of the saint are in themselves and if the miraculous of Sainte L?ocade in her tomb revelation lous, to possess the archbishop to display part of permits and, presumably, sight her body as ametonymy of the saint, the material effect of the miracle is the representation enacts or allows of the body: the miracle the en of the uncorrupted relic. The during re-presentation body in the visible result of the miracle saint of the entire the miracle is mimetic, and at two levels: the representation in a fragment of her body, and the representation of in the story that recounts it. In the context of Gautier's col

of the status

to a devout desire for the visible this story points lection, representa tion of the body, and it emphasizes the coincidence of miracles and bod

Gautier's or silver" is a mimetic

story (2:11,159),


to the display of the relic "in a vessel of gold it does not suggest that the container and although

statues was one, the display of relics in representational in fact a practice that was targeted in earlier questioning about the place of images in Christian In the late tenth century, Bernard of worship. the statue that housed as the relics of Gerald of Aurillac Anger mocked worthy of Jove or Mars, and condemned what he perceived as the wor

ship of idols:


Yale French For where worship

is evidently copper, both excepting

Studies is rightly due only to the true, supreme godhead,

wrong the and crucifix absurd of Our to make Lord. statues For of stone, wood every it is customary


in order

in the Holy
that we

church to have His

be moved

image either carved ormoulded,

Our Lord's Passion. But

to commemorate


it comes to a visible record of the saints, the true testimony of a book or their shadowy figures painted upon the wall are all that ought
to be shown. For except and unalterable images in the of the case saints of an should abuse under of no circumstances date and a deep be permitted, rooted ancient


Libri Car of the late eighth-century the views Bernard echoes that of the cross of images except the veneration olina which rejects about the efficacy of reliquary and relics.3 He is skeptical statues, even so far as to call the statue an idol, though he later revises his judg going stat ment of the local custom of making the legitimacy and promotes Here ues of the saints, claiming that such practices do not subvert proper re ligious practices.4 In their m?tonymie establish ciation an association is fully present

and mimetic between in Gautier

of the saint, relics representations and the spiritual.5 That asso images where de Coinci's miracle collection, sto is in

in many is promoted the spiritual efficacy of images of the Virgin stories of the miracle in Gautier's the moment ries. Moreover, attention in which fact amoment ment of the miracle corresponds Virgin. In Gautier's son it represents
2. Bernard

That is, the mo is called to mimesis. to an action by or upon an image of the


is not always

the image and the per between the difference as in the miracle in which the blind clear,
cited and translated by Ellert Dahl, of the Medieval pertinentia "Heav 'Cult 8 (1978):


Liber Miraculorum, of Anger, Images: The Statue of St. Foy of Conques Acta ad archaeologiam in the West," Image' 177. 3. Peter and Brown, the Holy 1982), "A Dark Age Crisis: in Late Antiquity

and the Signification et artium historiam


Society fornia Press,


d?veloppements, 185-88. 4. Jean Taralon,

esp. 259-62; 251-301, VI-XVe si?cle (Paris: Klinksieck, "La majest? d'or de Sainte-Foy

in of the Iconoclastic Controversy," of Cali and Los Angeles: University et naissance L'image m?di?vale: Jean Wirth, 1989), du tr?sor 111-54, and on " Sainte Foy,

de Conques,


de l'art


(1978): 10.

46 E.S.C la chose," Annales le mot, l'id?e, "Repr?sentation: Ginzburg, " is Red': Relics and the Little Blue Flower The ): 1226. See also Patricia Cox Miller, for an ac Studies of the Body," 8/2 (2000): 213-46, Journal of Early Christian Poetizing relics and poetic count of the rhetorical through which ekphrasis, particularly figures, to signify in early Christianity. were made 5. Carlo





prays to an image of the Virgin Mary because he has heard "that . . . for would the great God of the Christians great miracles perform as part of a is recounted This miracle the image of his sweet Mother." a Dame de Sardanei") about ("De l'ymage Nostre long narrative

woman who retires from the world and becomes for celebrated wealthy A monk from Constan of Damascus. the retreat she founds outside tinople visits her on his way to Jerusalem, and the nun asks him to bring The monk forgets a voice reminds him to go Jerusalem, a picture of the Virgin. He goes to a market where back and purchase a small one because it is easy to carry, there are many images, chooses and leaves the city. The image miraculously protects him from bandits back on his "often gazes on the wooden image. He journey, and the monk sees and understands for the sake of this that Our Lord does miracles an image of the Virgin Mary this errand, but as he is leaving for her to venerate.

that he cannot give (Gautier 4: 384-5,11. image" 180-83). He decides and will take it with him to Constan up the miracle-working picture, his sea journey a storm threatens his ship, and when tinople. During the monk the image calms the waters, interprets his rescue from dan and he takes the image to the nun after all. It ger as a divine reprimand, to stay in the in a chapel, and the monk requests permission to serve and honor the Mother of God "who had already done holy place so many miracles for her icon and for her image" (Gautier 4: 392, 11. is installed for its miraculous powers, and 372-3). The image becomes well known the blind Saracen is among those who come to pray before it. The mirac ulous portrait exudes a healing oil, and in order to honor the image of causes it to grow two little breasts, the his mother, from which God to flow. holy oil continues is explicitly This miracle didactic and it ends with the exhortation that to love the mother of God is to honor her image, but it also intro duces the some statue. confusion The miracle about who claims is honored that God of through the adoration does miracles for the sake

of his mother's miracles the monk

of God herself performs image, and that the mother for the sake of her own image. It is perhaps that significant comes from Constantinople, uses the term and that Gautier

the image, a term that occurs rarely in the "ycoine" (icon) to describe rest of the collection. Gautier may very well be referring to the impor tance of icons in Byzantium, not entirely but that would the explain since we en that the image itself seems to deploy, power especially counter quite a few other in Gautier's collection. representations of miracle-working images


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the well-known about icono debates eighth-century Although clasm predate Gautier de Coinci's miracle collection five centuries, by to appear in about the spiritual value of images continue questions even in Gautier's time. Images could be possessed writings theological toward what and revered, but that reverence should be directed the im not toward the images themselves.6 Bernard of Clair ages represent, vaux and his followers warn the excessive ornamentation of against and the potential asks vanity of religious churches, art,7 and Abelard whether of God, the angels, and the saints are idolatrous.8 De pictures crees from the eighth-century are quoted by Gratian of Nicaea Council and Ragne Bugge cites a late thirteenth-century in treatises that will be repeated distich of the admonitory example up to the seventeenth century: images in the twelfth century, Hoc Deus


est, quod imago docet, sed non Deus

sed mente colas, quod cernis



in ilia.


image teaches of God, but is not itself God. You should revere the image, but worship with your mind He whom you recognize in it. ("Ef 131, 127) figiem Christi," do not text. in Gautier's about images are described as adoring an image pagans) an image (honorer), or serving an image (servir), and honoring notes that pray before images. Gautier penitents frequently or that the Virgin acts for the sake of an image of his mother, find analogous (and sometimes warnings


Christians (adorer), of course God acts

to a prayer to her image. Idolatry does not seem to be an ex who pray to the Virgin's image or for the plicit danger for penitents men and women to the Virgin's whose devotion many image religious in the miracle stories. However, the status of the image it is rewarded in response a Jew or a ex In Gautier's collection Saracen as protagonists. Jews and Saracens the power and efficacy of images, and they learn Chris plicitly question actions of images. tian truth through the miraculous self does seem to be debated in miracle stories that feature In one of several tavlete Christian en coi antisemitic de la mere stories Dieu in Gautier's estoit collection l'ymage painte"), of the Virgin Mary. ("De la a Jew visits a


and sees a small


the Cult

6. Ragne Bugge, semper honora: Verses Christi, qui transis, "Effigiem Acta in Art and Literature," ad archaeologiam of Sacred Images 6 (1975): 127. toriam pertinentia 7. See discussion 8. Bugge, "Effigiem inWirth, Christi," L'image 138. m?di?vale, 202-4.

Condemning et artium his



that it is the Mother of the image:

"You would do

and when the painting the Christian represents, replies a condemnation of God, the Jew bursts out with


as well

to honor







old pillar or a piece of wood

said the wretch, "it is a great

as before this one you speak about. Fie!"

shame and a great dishonor that any man


that the great God would idol." (Gautier 2: 102,11. 32-39) Jew then snatches the tablet


be born from this little Mary


and throws retrieves

immediately destroyed, and the image begins to exude The idea that the painting

the Christian

it into a privy. The Jew is the image and cleans it,

holy oil.9 of the Virgin Mary might be seen as an to the idol is suggested the Jew's ridicule of the Christian's devotion by a "mar?ole" a reference that image.10 He calls the painting [little Mary], seems to have had Jew doesn't "idol."11 "image," the person that the that God "mar?ole" had been


the secondary meaning of between the image and distinguish believe image represents when he asks who would " born from "this little Mary, and the function of the resentation of God, whose of the mother itwas, of God


image (Gau tier 2:103,11.47-8). The lesson of the miracle (though it is not one that can be learned by its protagonist, since he is killed because he did not

is emphasized did not want to suffer such an insult"

as a rep in the text: "the Mother

from what already know it) is that images are different they represent, but images are powerful. Prohibitions of human against the representation figures in Judaism and Islam are often ignored by Christian writers, who represent Mus lims and Jews as idolaters, especially to represent a suspicion daism and Islam and to emphasize tier seems also a conversion in literary texts. By contrast, Gau about images associated with Ju to Christianity that conversion is

to a way of thinking about the efficacy of images. In seems to be how lessons of Gautier's miracles deed, one of the explicit to understand a Saracen pos In "De l'ymage Nostre images. Dame,"
9. Ellert Dahan, "Les juifs dans les Miracles de Gautier de Coinci," Archives juives 16 (1908): 45-47. see also William for a different C. Jordan, The French However, view, to the Last Capetians and the Jews: From Philip Augustus Uni Monarchy (Philadelphia: of Pennsylvania versity 10. Michael Camille, Press, 1989), The Gothic 45-7. Idol: Ideology and Image-Making jusqu'au milieu in Medieval du XlVe Art Press), 47. de l'ancien

University (Cambridge: Cambridge 11. A. J.Greimas, Dictionnaire (Paris: Larousse, 1969), "mar?ole."




Yale French


sesses a painting ors and because

age, he will impure to come Virgin Mary,

it because of the Virgin and cherishes of its bright col of the Virgin's beauty. This Saracen venerates the im allow no one else to touch it, and he will not allow anything near it. He understands but he does not understand that the image represents the virgin birth: the

As God willed it, one day when he came before the image he looked at it for a long time and he pondered whether it could be true that she whose image this was could be the mother of God. He marveled and was troubled in his heart. "By faith," he said, "it would be amarvel if the God who created everything humbled himself somuch formen that he
became an earthly man! But this could not happen in any way, it seems

that he could be man and God at the same time. And on the other hand, if it happened that God became aman formen, I don't know how it can be that he could be born from a virgin. It is a fact that awoman tome,
cannot conceive without the seed of a man anymore than a piece of

wood would At

can. If I knew be converted

true that God was born from a virgin, right away. (Gautier 3: 24-25,11. 25-51)

that itwas

beautiful assume

these words, the painted grows image of the Virgin miraculously breasts that begin to exude oil, as if from a fountain. are fairly obvious: The mechanics of this miracle the Saracen he sees amiraculous does not believe, is to demonstrate effect of the miracle


aMuslim) is converted. The

(we event, and he that the mirac

is associated the body of the Virgin, and to allow the Sara ulous with cen to believe nature of the birth of Christ. However, in the miraculous not only is the Saracen the story also asks questions about mimesis: to question the image, he seems explicitly by amiraculous a virgin can con of the image itself in his doubts about whether can. The im aman's than a piece of wood ceive without seed any more a brightly on a treasures is a piece of wood, colored painting age he converted status wooden tablet, and the miraculous echoes transformation the miracle Virgin precisely "lactating" not understand: of the virgin body into amaternal the transformation " aman's So the miracle that the Saracen witnesses seed. body "without is like the miracle that of the image into a the Saracen can

to understand. It is a and wished that he questioned to the extent that it is a copy, a displaced repetition, secondary miracle, But the miraculous and the breasts on the image exude oil, not milk. to an original miracle (the virgin birth). So not only image also points "lac is the image itself a representation of the Virgin, the miraculous mater of the miraculous tation" of the image is also a representation nity of the Virgin.



terms of the Saracen's skepticism about the virgin birth may be to question not only Christian but also the status of im doctrine, And the word "fust" is surely significant in this ages in Christianity. context: sanz semence "Fame ne puet, c'en est la some, / Concevoir seen d'orne woman cannot conceive with / Ne plus c'une piece de fust" [a out the seed of aman anymore than a piece of wood can]. In the context of other miracles size the inanimate they are material, teenth-century asks a Christian of wood" the Saracen seems to empha by Gautier, nature of images, and the idea that images are made: not spiritual. In Le jeu de Saint Nicolas, another thir recounted text concerned with a pagan king images and miracles, in a statue of Saint Nicolas, a "piece

if he really believes in the pagan's view In Gautier's (fust) (11.30-31). collection, the Jew who threw the Virgin's picture in the privy also questioned how could venerate "estache"

the Christian uses the word

a piece of wood (though there, Gautier rather than "fust"). Jews and Saracens are seen

to emphasize nature of material the inanimate, wooden representa tions of the Virgin Mary, seems indirectly to respond and Gautier to such skepticism about the efficacy of images in a story about awooden statue of the Virgin that moves. In "De habitants a statue l'ymage Nostre Dame of a fortified city build dou quarrel," the in qui se desfendi a church to honor the Virgin and place in the church. When the city is besieged by a neighbor

of her

to steal its wealth, the people of the city bring ing prince who wishes to the city gate. An archer uses the statue as a the statue of the Virgin shield and inflicts much one of the at damage on the enemy. When tacking archers tries to kill the city's defender with an arrow from his the statue of the Virgin raises a leg and intercepts the arrow, crossbow, saving the archer who protects her church.

draws an arrow and sends itwith such force [The archer] immediately that itwould have killed him right away ifGod and the image had not been there. Even though she was made of wood, by the will of Our Lady, she extended her knee just as if she had been a (living) woman, and re ceived the arrow in her knee. (Gautier 3:46,11. 112-21 ) Gautier's narration often includes extensive play and here the of the statue: it is made of word

of "fust" emphasizes the "being" repetition wood to save the knight who (fust), it acts as if it were (fust) a woman would if the Virgin's have been killed had not been present image (ne fust). Gautier de Coinci is not the only writer who represents efficacious


Yale French Studies

she performs. However, the miracles images of the Virgin in recording miracles the images in a way not found in other Gautier's emphasize in part simply because Gautier's stories are longer miracle collections, and because his collec than most verse collections and more detailed stories about images. Gautier also develops the a psychological to the protagonists and context stories, adding depth And finally, the story of collections. that are not found in other miracle Sainte L?ocade who cuts off a bit of and the relic-seeking archbishop tion includes at the beginning the notion of material her body introduces continuity to the difference the between and points of the miracle collection, intact and sweet-smelling body demon saintly virgin L?ocade, whose strates her sanctity, absent body is repre and the Virgin Mary, whose sented in statues of the Virgin relic would. and paintings. serve as a visible InGautier's focus collection, representations in the way that a for prayer, much of her offer a visible representation so many

of the Virgin That is, Gautier's mir in the lives of her petitioners. spiritual presence of saints like Sainte L?ocade stories rewrite the bodily materiality acle Images as the Virgin Mary's material embodiment at stake is very much The material body in images. inmedieval

of the body, Bynum in terms of about tent to which medieval identity thought people in which medieval the ways and acknowledges material continuity about the body and pious people?thought theologians people?both as the self. people, In other words, many medieval like many modern people, as an integral part of individual identity. thought of the body seems to the way that medieval discussion philosophical points to envision the survival of the soul with impossible relics as a primary example and she identifies continuity, is related to identity: people in which material continuity in relics were the saints preserved and the spiritual of the material has ar idolatry.13 Patricia Cox Miller

identity, known Christian

as Caroline

Bynum renunciation



In contrast

about thinking to the well the ex emphasizes

Bynum to find it almost out material

of the way as if the body fragments behaved and the assimilation themselves, sometimes

caused anxiety about cor of the cult of relics in early Christianity that the emergence gued which human to an aesthetic transformative process through responds remains were trans remains became efficacious relics,- that is, material


Es in Fragmentation and Redemption: and Resurrection," Survival "Continuity, on Gender in Medieval and the Human Books, (New York: Zone Religion Body 1991), 141-83. 13. Ibid., 247-54, 263.

PEGGY MCCRACKEN formed Miracle Miracles egy, one


them in rhetoric and art.14 into spiritual objects by embedding in Gautier de Coinci's and particularly those recounted stories, Dame may be seen to operate a similar poetic strat de Nostre that rewrites That is, Gautier are no bodily as amaterial in embodiment bodily materiality for relics, a logical move, substitutes images and one that ultimately relics of the Virgin, images. And it does not seem efficacy of material teach lessons explicitly and Saracens. Jews about

images. since there

the spiritual promotes that the stories that most coincidental the efficacy of images are stories about Gautier

seems to reject the common ofMuslims and representation as those who as idolaters while maintaining their characterization Jews do not properly understand the efficacy of images. My goal is not to sug as aniconic de Coinci represents gest that Gautier Jews and Muslims on religious diversity. because he has an enlightened perspective Skep ticism about images is always refuted by miracles that demonstrate violent for the non consequences the Jew who desecrated the Virgin believer, the roles of Jewish and Mus stories, Mary's portrait. But in Gautier's are somewhat lim characters from those they play in other different Christian with truth, and sometimes as in Gautier's about story texts. Gautier tian about uses not them about to offer a lesson the inefficacy images, the efficacy that about the efficacy of Chris of pagan idols, and the lesson a lesson about the is ultimately devotion.

of Christian recount images miracles

of accomplished by representations the Virgin valorize the veneration of the material image. Les miracles de Nostre Dame the value of the material image in devo emphasizes tional practices, further emphasizes and the collection the miraculous are often lessons in Gautier's of images. Miracles stories, and efficacy the most prominent lesson of the collection is about the spir perhaps itual efficacy of material of the value images. The repeated questioning context of the image by Jews and Saracens creates a narrative in which are of statues and paintings intercessory properties stories that represent the Virgin's body describe Miracle the miracles but they also intercession, accomplished by the Virgin's describe the miraculous manifestation of the material body itself: the the miraculous demonstrated. a leg to block an arrow, the portrait that lactates. The mimetic is a site of the miraculous, body, like the body it represents, and it is in its very materiality is grounded. that the miraculous statue that raises
14. Miller, "The Little Blue Flower is Red,'" 213-36.

importance Stories

of material

images in spiritual