We have already encountered Mary’s role as a salvific figure in our previous readings. Thus, the theme of Mary as a co-redeemer is not a new one (i.e. without her and her specific nature, God’s incarnate salvation could not have occurred). In two accounts of the readings for Wednesday’s class (I.31 of The Miracles of Our Lady of Rocamadour and the Alfonso X’s account of Theophilus salvation in the Cantigas), however, Mary appears to step into the salvific role of her son in a more explicit manner, as she is portrayed as imitating and paralleling the actions and nature of her son as they are accounted in theology and scriptural accounts. The conception of Mary as stepping into the role of her Son is very interesting, as, in these two accounts, we can witness parallels of not only intercessory power but of salvific identity as well. Moreover, the main image that the wide range of miracle accounts seeks to emphasize is one of Mary’s intercession for those who devote themselves to her. In this post, however, I also wish to draw attention—through another account of The Miracles and a piece of one of Peter Damians’ letters—to a contrast of Marian depictions that might reflect a conflict in how Mary was portrayed in the 11th and 12th centuries.
Account I.31 of The Miracles merits consideration for the sake of identifying a new portrayal of Mary’s intercession. In this account, a man ‘Helias’ was returning from Jerusalem, being caught in a storm in the Mediterranean. The storm raged and the sailors were despairing for their lives. Further, in their distress they “prayed to God…begged help from the saints…” to no avail. Finally they called upon the Lady of Rocamadour, and she, “the soother of storms…ordered the wind and sea to be calm.”
Here we see Mary explicitly echoing a portrayal of Christ in scripture. Specifically, in Matthew 8:27, Jesus is asleep in a boat that is being battered by a storm. In this account, the disciples fear for their lives and wake Jesus, who first chastises them for their lack of faith and then rebukes the storm to calm. The disciples then say "What kind of a man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?" We can only imagine the writers of account I.31 of The Miracles asking the same question: “What kind of woman is this, that even the winds and sea obey her?”
I believe that in this piece (1.31) we can witness a theological development. Mary is not only held to be the ‘Theotokos’—even though this was a concept that was hotly debated at the Council of Ephesus—or a new Eve—who through her humble acceptance of the angel’s message brought forth the Savior of the world—no, this specific miracle account raises her up to an even higher status. We here witness a culmination of the esteem in which Mary is held: ordering ‘the wind and sea to be calm’, Mary seems to have powers over the forces of nature, paralleling those of her son in scripture, and thus is shown as playing a more concrete mimetic role.
In the Cantigas account of the saving of Theophilus, Mary confronts the devil directly in interceding for Theophilus. Her confrontation is direct in the sense that she faces the devil and asks for the letter that Theophilus had previously signed with him (p. 6). In theology, Christ is believed to have descended to hell and faced the evil one and his servants, thus shattering the bonds of those captive there. By directly confronting the devil in saving Theophilus, Mary displays another more explicit parallel role to that of her son.
The theological development present in both account I.31 of The Miracles and Alfonso X’s account of the saving of Theophilus is interesting. What may be the implications of depicting Mary as more than just a more indirect salvific figure through giving birth to Christ—the actual salvation—and depicting her as overlapping scriptural and theological roles that Christ plays? Perhaps, some would consider this portrayal as too excessive a devotion.
That issue aside, I now wish to turn to the contrast of Marian depictions that we touched on in class.
In account I.31 of The Miracles, given the element that God and the saints did not answer the prayers of the sailors, and Mary did, Mary’s benevolent mercy is emphasized. Her compassion and perhaps powers of agency are highlighted by the fact that, in the face of God’s silence, she enters the scene to save the despairing sailors. She is thus presented as a figure of consolation to the distressed
At the same time, however, it is worthwhile to note another particular account of The Miracles, which presents a striking contrast to Mary’s image as patroness of the distressed. I refer to (I.3), which we also discussed in class. In this account, a blind woman begged the Virgin of Rocamadour to restore her eyesight, promising to visit Mary’s church if her request was granted. The account says that Mary pitied the woman and restored her sight, but that the woman forgot to make good on her vow. Mary then “inflicted a harsher wound upon her, thereby forcing her to come to her church” (p. 103). A sharp bone was lodged in her throat and her body began to deteriorate. Only after ‘bewailing her guilt’ and moving others to pray for her did the Virgin relent, knocking the bone from her throat and restoring her health.
The italics of “thereby forcing her” are my own. I wish to emphasize that in this account we encounter a more vengeful and forceful image of Mary.
This particular depiction of Mary seems to echo Peter Damian’s account in par. 33 of letter 142. In this account, Peter Damian recounts of a certain monk, Gozo, who thought it superfluous to daily say the office of the Virgin in addition to the canonical hours. Because of this opposition to ‘the Queen of the World’, “such a storm of afflictions struck their monastery that menacing swords daily threatened the monks with death and destruction” (p. 141). He explains that since they cast ‘the Mother of Peace’ from their monastery, “they deserved to be engulfed by the winds and the waves of tribulation and disaster”, and that, only after they promised to never neglect the office of the Virgin did the weather clear up and they enjoy peace (p. 142).
Therefore, in account (I: 3) of The Miracles and in par. 33 of Peter Damian’s letter 142, we witness a portrayal of Mary that is different from the customary ones that portray her as a compassionate intercessor. Rather, in these two accounts, Mary appears to be imposing devotion by means of force and fear. It is worthwhile to ask the context in which these more forceful images of Mary emerged, since there is therefore a clash of images, between a compassionate intercessor and an agent of divine vengeance. Is this contrast perhaps a reflection of an internal conflict of Marian depictions within the Church during the 11th and 12th centuries? If so, which was more adhered to among the laity?