Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Marian Apparitions

One of the important things about these Marian apparitions is the change in how they are considered and viewed by others. The legality and authenticity question of these visions is evident in the transcript of Ines’ interrogation. We have seen stories of apparitions before, such as Elizabeth of Schonau or Gertrude of Helfta, but the stories of Juan Diego, Ines, or the boy and cow herder differ in many ways. This change in apparitions suggests that apparitions were thought of differently.

The visions that Elizabeth and Gertrude saw could be characterized by the fact that they recognized Mary and they saw her during liturgy services. Mary was seen and she participated in the liturgy with Elizabeth and Gertrude. A question here could be asked, what is the relationship between apparitions and liturgy? Barbara Newman’s article “What does it mean to Say “I Saw”?” (Outside reading for my final paper) suggests that visionary experiences during the Middle Ages were common and practiced. She described how visions led the soul into greater intimacy with God and visions could be formed with intense devotional meditation or recitation of prayers. The adoration of the Eucharist was a way to “see God”. This emphasis on prayers, devotion, and the Eucharist may be the reason why Elizabeth and Gertrude saw Mary during the liturgy. This brings up more questions, however, such as did they actually “see” Mary or did they visualize her? Did Mary appear or did they imagine her presence? There is some evidence that Mary was related to liturgy in the stories we read yesterday, such as the boys not attending Matins, or Ines fasting and saying 150 Ave Marias, and how the people were coming out of church. But they were not part of that liturgy, the visions were not triggered by parts of liturgy, and this is a major difference in apparition genre.

This view of apparitions during the Middle Ages suggest that visions were strived for by, presumably, monks or nuns because they dedicated their lives for devotions and they prayed a lot. This probably meant that lay people did not experience this visionary experience as much so it is surprising that people such as Juan Diego saw Mary. A change in legality of visions emerged somehow and the change from visual experience to actual apparition took place. This is evident by the ordeal that Ines and others had legally to prove that they saw Mary. While Elizabeth’s brother recorded her visions, legal investigators questioned Ines about her vision. The fact that it was lay people, even poor and marginalized people, who were having these visions gave the apparitions greater authority because it may have been assumed that they did not try to create these visions; they were spontaneous and possibly, more authentic apparitions.

The vision stories that we read on Monday followed a pattern. Mary appeared to a humble person and gave that person a directive. The directive was either build a church or dig in a certain place, but the person was given a command. The command often was related to the specific place where she appeared. Another similarity was the command to go and tell others-everyone, especially the powerful who could carry out the directive. A common element in these apparitions was a sign that was given to prove the authenticity of the apparition. The presence of Mary’s sign as proof is greatly different than earlier visions and this shows that the attitude of apparitions changed. Some sort of physical proof needed to be given because a person’s word was not enough. This was not seen as a part of getting closer to God or something that was visualized, but these visions were real and had to be legally proven. The proof of the presence of the divine was presented in a new way as well as the way the supernatural was accessible to people.

I think that Mary’s role in the New World that we talked about in class is very interesting. She is our Mother, and the mother of the new place and new era. I think Mary appeared to Juan Diego because she represents universality of the church and the centralized church. While different areas pay attention to different saints, Mary is a common factor among all. Her role as mother is played out here as she called Juan Diego her son and she is a mother to all of us, no matter where we live.

Marian apparitions have been around for some time and the accounts of them seem to have changed. Legal proofs of the accounts of very important and some type of sign or physical proof was given to prove the authenticity. This is a change from earlier apparitions which were accepted much more easily. The apparitions seem to have changed as well. Mary is not recognized and she does not participate in liturgy, although the liturgy relationship is carried on in some form. Mary appears to someone because she wants something done, such as a church to be built. The vision is not personal and meant to increase personal devotion, but it has a goal. Devotion is certainly increased, but the increased devotion is meant for everyone. The apparitions of Mary are an important part of Mariology, but I’m unsure of how they could be used in Marian devotion. Mary is our mother and our intercessor, but how do the apparitions impact her other roles? Why does she appear, other than to increase our devotion? And what do the apparitions mean?



  1. I really enjoyed this post. It actually is along the same vein that my post is going to be on. I particularly enjoyed the questions to close this post. Apparitions are an important aspect of Marian devotion and so with this change that you are suggesting what are we to make of it? Mary as Mother is something that is transcendent and can be felt and appreciated regardless of spiritual or societal positioning. However, I would like to suggest that Mary as Mother is especially appreciated by those who are poor and marginalized because the love of their own mother is a love that is very real and personal for them and very readily seen. These poor and marginalized may very well be living with their mothers until the mothers leave this earth and so to hear that Mary, the mother of Christ, is THEIR mother also is a love and console that can be easily remembered and seen in their own mothers. I believe these apparitions do exactly the job they are supposed to, increase devotion, by appearing to these layman in a manner that is easily associated with.

    Just some of my thoughts. I hope this helpds. Enjoy!


  2. I agree that the visions experienced by Hildegard and Elizabeth are inherently different types of visions than the visions we read about in this week’s reading. However I think perhaps just as interesting as those differences are, are the similarities with the Mater misericordiae readings. While I am not trying to draw a direct parallel I think it is interesting that these readings show Mary as having a wide breadth of interaction with different members of society. The Miracles of Our Lady of Rocamadour is the perfect example of this where we not only see Mary interact with priests and nuns, but also nobles, lay people, children, and even gentiles. Also these stories are also given with a kind of testimony accompanying them to serve as certifiable proof that the story actually happened, in a very similar manner that there is an emphasis on proof in the apparition readings done for this past class. I wonder then given these similarities that we see in France as to whether or not this is actually a spatial difference responsible for the different types of visions rather than a difference in social role. I should here confess that I am not well read in Marian works and that this conjecture is purely based on our sample readings from class. Assuming they are representative it seems that the more liturgical based visions occur in Germany and its sphere of Influence whereas the more ‘populace’ visions of Mary seem to take place in Spain and the South of France.


  3. I liked your point about how, while the laypeople had to go through ordeals to verify that they really had visions, their visions might have been seen as more significant because they had less motivation to fabricate a vision than did nuns or monks. This makes me wonder, though, why we don't see Elizabeth going through ordeals...did the legal authorities just not take her serious enough to care because she had more motivation to make something up? Did having her brother as a witness help or hurt her believability?
    Also, I like how you pointed out that these apparitions seem less personal than when Mary appears to religious figures, but rather than she wants something done in the community. It makes sense to me that nuns or monks might view an apparition differently because they expect it to happen to them because they feel themselves to be in a privileged position to communicate with Mary; thus they are more likely to view the apparition in a personal way.

    Alice B

    1. It's also a matter of audience, I suppose. If Mary wants something to be done in the community to improve the faith, it doesn't make sense that she would appear to a nun, because, presumedly, the people nuns come into contact with at the convent are already working hard on their faith, whereas the laypeople have more room for improvement and can gain more from an apparition.

    2. Sorry, that was also me, Alice B.

  4. I think the comparison BAlex makes between the visions this week and the Lady of Rocamadour visions is interesting because I think that comparison highlights just how the "proof" involved is different. The attestation of the recipients of Mary's interventions was sufficient at Rocamadour; the expression of devotion was proof enough because I think what was at stake there was in fact devotion and not a kind of legal verification that the vision was (empirically) real. Which is, I think, something we need to think about when comparing these visions to both those related at Rocamadour and to those of, say, Elizabeth or Bridget: is what we are seeing a shift in how "Truth" is being defined? Is it no longer sufficient for a vision to be true in a theological sense, or in how it produces proper devotion, but that it must also be true in some empirical sense? And if so, why? Is it a concern over Protestant objections to the cult of Mary? Is it a concern over iconoclasm (as we have seen these visions are closely linked to the art of the Virgin)? What historically has changed? -- R.C.H.

  5. What I found most interesting about these stories, which I think you summarize nicely, is the directive intent of each of the apparitions. In the visions of Elizabeth and Gertrude, for example, Mary appeared to the women during the liturgy, and did not extend her requests beyond encouraging active prayer and devotion. Here, the Virgin’s requests change and occur outside of the liturgy: she appears to people who are engaged in earthly labor while apparently neglecting the liturgy that is being said elsewhere. She then demands of the lay people she encounters that they build churches and/or structures in her honor. I think that it is the concrete nature of these demands that may have encouraged the clergy to be inquisitional, to demand physical proof and legal validity, because more was at stake- in terms of time, money, labor- than before.
    This still doesn’t account for why the Virgin appeared to lay people rather than those in a religious order. I would assume that a church could be built just as legitimately on the testimony of a religious authority as a layperson. But I think that you’re right in saying that the fact that the poor and marginalized had these visions gave the apparitions greater validity, because this population really lacked the incentive to make up an apparition and demand such a grand project. There seems to have been a shift between who has a more honest religious experience from the clergy to the laypeople. -mcs

  6. I really liked your discussion of the goals of the Marian apparitions of Elizabeth and Gertrude as compared to those of laypeople like Juan Diego. From how I read your post it seems that you are stating that earlier visions of the Virgin were supposed to bring about greater spiritual growth and clarity. These visions seem to have had much more personalized goals and focused on mental devotion or comprehension. Contrary to these are the recorded sights of people like Juan Diego and other lay people from the lower socio-economic brackets, who received a different sort of instruction from Mary. In these cases the person was commanded to build a physical monument to their devotion instead of internalizing some sort of enlightenment. I agree with your discussion about how this seems to indicate a change in the validation of these sorts of visions and their general acceptance by church authorities. In a slightly different direction I am wondering what other sorts of changes these differing visions indicate. There appears to me a switch from Mary desiring spiritual devotion as proven through prayer to a desire for physically expressed homage through monuments. Also, the universality or at least communal scope of the later visions as well as their much greater accessibility as compared to those by Elizabeth and Gertrude is interesting. I agree that there was a great change between these two vision records especially regarding the venue in which their goals were played out and the number of people they touched changed dramatically.


  7. KP:
    I would have like to have seen your final paragraph worked more into the entirety of your post because this paragraph offered the most innovative questions and observations on the summaries that we discussed in class. The apparition stories do contain some information as to how these experiences would have increased devotion: pilgrimages to these sites would be one of the most common forms of devotion (e.g., the Extremadura Guadalupe story, the Mexican Guadalupe story), but the devotions at the monastery (from the Burgos story) are another example. Though, admittedly, this information is not in great supply or detail in these stories.

    As we discussed in class later, “legality” may not be exactly the way to phrase what is going on in the questioning that followed the apparitions. Rather, there seems to have been a drive to “discern the spirits,” perhaps as part of an emerging “empiricism” (admittedly, not the best term, but I hope it conveys what I mean); t means that they were taking the whole thing entirely seriously, using them as the bases for collective public works. And though there are certainly spiritual implications, I really do think that the Moorish conquest and the “reconquista” of the peninsula factor in to the apparitions and their treatment at this time. Isn’t this suggestion comparable to the encouragement that we take earlier visionaries’ biographies into account when considering their experiences with the Virgin?

  8. Blake makes a good point bringing up the accounts of the miracles that we read from Rocamadour: there, too, there was some expectation of physical proof. I am afraid I may have confused things by suggesting that the procedure by the fifteenth century was more "legalized." Perhaps "formalized" would be a better word. Ines does not go through an ordeal, she is simply questioned. But, again as I brought up in class on Wednesday, the important thing is to recognize that she, along with the other poor lay people who witnessed the apparitions, was *believed.* The difference between Elisabeth and Ines is not so much whether they were ultimately believed to have seen what they say they saw (they were), but how the truth of their seeing was determined. As for the suggestion that Mary is somehow seen as more "universal" by the sixteenth century, it is possible to argue that this was always the case: she was always a more "universal" than "local" saint. Whether this means she represents the "centrality" of the Church is a whole different question. These are difficult nuances to tease out, even for those who have been studying Marian apparitions for a long time!