One thing that particularly stuck out at me in the miracle readings we did for Thursday, and as a general theme in this course, is the issue of Mary’s agency. Some questions that I have heard repeatedly posed in class include inquiries into what kind of power Mary has, how much power she has, and whether or not she is given too much power in the different renderings of her we have studied. While many of our previous readings have raised the questions about Mary’s power in the royal and/or esteemed titles they bestow upon her, the miracle readings of this week give us some of the best possible answers thus far into what exactly is Mary’s power and how it works within the world.
Throughout the different miracle stories, we see much of the same language previously used to describe the virgin mother. Repeatedly she is called on as a protector, starting with the story of the tumbler – “Lady, you who can protect me,” (11) – and carrying through the other miracle tales like when she saves those at sea in the accounts from Rocamadour (101, 121, 141). Again, we see Mary receive the title Star of the Sea (Rocamadour 97), and in the story of the knight whose wife mortally wounds herself, the Virgin is described as a guide – “the Lady who has led me through life” (106) – much in the same way that Bernard of Clairvoux describes how Mary ought to be viewed in his homilies. We even see language pertaining to the office of the Virgin in the consistent bridal imagery of Mary in Herolt’s miracle accounts (132), which draws to mind the bride of the Song of Solomon to which Mary is often compared.
Perhaps what I found most fascinating, though, were the different ways that Mary was able to act within different miracle collections. In the Contigas, as well as Herolt’s collection of miracles, there are many more instances in which Mary takes on more of an intercessor role, where it is through her pleas that God comes to work the divine into the situation and cause a miracle. In Contiga 14, Saint Peter asks Mary to intercede to God for him, and it is only through Mary’s request to Jesus that God grants Saint Peter’s prayer (21). Again, in Herolt’s account, we see this intercession role most clearly when the Virgin Mary asks her son for a drop of his blood to tip the scales in favor for the sinning monk, and Christ replies that “it is impossible to deny [her] anything” and provides his blood, giving the sinner a second chance (140). In these stories, Mary acts as an intermediary between humans and the divine, still giving her a job that affects the miracle story.
In contrast, the miracles of Rocamadour place Mary in a role with more power and direct agency in the unfolding of the miracle. Again and again, the Rocamadour accounts are told in a way so that God is often seemingly absent from the event of the miracle. Instead, it appears that Mary is acting with her own power, whether that be in saving her faithful from sea or healing those from mortal wounds. Her power is evident in both the language used to describe her personage, as well as the language used to describe her actions. In prescribing her power through action, this is done through the lack of passive language; in the story of the knight’s wife who harms herself, it is Mary who grants the knight’s prayers to save his wife (107), and in the tale of the knight’s house that is saved from the fire, “the Lady acted favorably towards her faithful servant, sending down a heavy fall of rain onto the house that it extinguished the brands within moments” (108). Over and over again, Mary answers the prayers of those who call out to her without any apparent aid from God. Even the titles bestowed upon Mary lend her powers not necessarily seen before in other readings. In the cases of those struggling at sea, Mary is called “Lady of the winds, soother of storms, ruler of the waves, restorer of all creatures” and it is she who “ordered the wind and sea to be calm” (121); in Book II Mary is called “star of the sea, empress of the winds, abater of storms” and once again, it is she who “soothed and calmed everything” (141). With all of these descriptions of Mary, I am left wondering, how does Mary have so much power? And where is God in these Rocamadour stories?
In thinking of the role of Mary in the Contigas and Herolt’s compilation and the way in which Christ grants all that Mary asks for, I can’t help but be reminded of the passage in Bernard of Clairvoux’s homilies where he briefly touches on the idea that Mary is the only person God has ever been obedient to (Homily 1), and then even further back in our class discussions on the hymns of Ephrem the Syrian, the idea that heaven couldn’t contain God but Mary could (Hymn 2, strophe 9). What kind of authority is thus attributed to Mary that she is both the one person that God cannot deny and the one person who can contain God? Is her ability to contain God somehow connected to the power she exhibits in the miracles of Rocamadour? Perhaps she always contains part of God in her, and as such the power she is given in the tales is simply God acting through her in a way that doesn’t make Him or His role necessarily visible to the human eye. Something we talked briefly about in class that sparked my interest was the idea of Mary as the giver of second chances. We see this in the miracle stories, of which almost all provide the characters within them a second chance to life, to reform their actions, to devote themselves to God; but we also see this in the parallels that are drawn between Mary and Christ and Adam and Eve, and that through Mary bringing Jesus Christ into the world, all of humanity is given a second chance at salvation. The view of Mary as the merciful mother is also evident in the miracle stories, most clearly in that of the woman who is attacked by wolves, in which Mary is “the Lady of mercy, the granter of forgiveness” and then later “For the Virgin is the golden vessel and the ivory tower. It is she who brings together all good things” (Rocamadour 152, 53). We have talked a lot about the purpose of Mary being the one who shows us God and helps us understand the divine, but perhaps a further question is what or who is that God that she helps us see? In his book Crossing the Threshold of Hope, Pope John Paul II describes God as merciful Love (26), and perhaps it is this God that Mary makes manifest in this world through her role as intercessor and the one who brings about second chances.