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THE CULT OF THE RELICS
The veneration of the relics of saints is attested to as early as the second century. After the martyrdom of Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, the Christians "took up his bones which are more valuable than refined gold and laid them in a suitable place where, the Lord willing, ...we may gather together in gladness and celebrate the anniversary of his martyrdom." During Diocletian's persecutions (303-311) relics of the martyrs were collected by their followers. In our discussion of Early Christian architecture, we discussed the church type we call the martyrium. This class of building was used to focus veneration on the burial spots of saints or sites associated with the life of Christ. The Church of Old St Peter's, for example, was a martyrium built on the site of the grave of St Peter.
The cult of the relics was criticized from its inception by purists who regarded it as pagan. Vigilantius in a dispute with St Jerome condemned the veneration of all inanimate objects such as the bodies of saints. Jerome responded by saying that the relics themselves were not worshipped but were an aid to the veneration of martyrs of undoubted holiness whose lives were a model to later generations. This debate between Vigilantius and Jerome is summarized by Thomas Aquinas in his Summa theologica:
Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theolgiae ,
3a, 25, 6:
Now it is evident that we are bound to hold in veneration the saints of God as being members of Christ, sons and friends of God and our advocates with him. We are equally bound, therefore, memory of them, to accord due honor to any of their relics; and this is primarily true of their bodies, which were the temples and instruments of the Holy Spirit, dwelling and acting within them, and which are to be made like the body of Christ by glorious resurrection. It is for this reason that God himself grants honors to their relics by performing miracles when they are present....
...This was the argument of Vigilantius, cited by Jerome, "We are observing the introduction, under the guise of religion, of something not very different from a pagan ritual. These people can be seen kissing and adoring little piles of some kind of dust in tiny bottles, wrapped up in precious cloth." In rebuttal Jerome writes, "We do not venerate, by latria, that is, either the sun or moon or the angels; far less the relics of the martyrs. We pay honor to the martyr's relics only so that we may venerate him whose martyrs they are; we pay honor to the servants only so that the servants' honor may glorify their Lord." Accordingly, when we honor the relics of the saints we do not fall into the error of those pagans who offered divine worship to the dead.
This becomes the classic defense of the cult of the relics. St Augustine echoes this in the following passage from his City of God (VIII, 27):
But, nevertheless, we do not build temples, and ordain priests, rites, and sacrifices for these same martyrs; for they are not our gods, but their God is our God. Certainly we honor their reliquaries, as the memorials of holy men of God who strove for the truth even to the death of their bodies, that the true religion might be made known, and false and fictitious religions exposed. For if there were some before them who thought that these religions were really false and fictitious, they were afraid to give expression to their convictions. But who ever heard a priest of the faithful, standing at an altar built for the honor and worship of God over the holy body of some martyr, say in the prayers, I offer to thee a sacrifice, O Peter, or O Paul, or O Cyprian? for it is to God that sacrifices are offered at their tombs- the God who made them both men and martyrs, and associated them with holy angels in celestial honor; and the reason why we pay such honors to their memory is, that by so doing we may both give thanks to the true God of their victories, and, by recalling them afresh to remembrance, may stir ourselves up to imitate them by seeking to obtain like crowns and palms, calling to our help that same God on whom they called.
An important stimulus for the growth of the cult of the relics was the cult of ancestors in Rome. In the following excerpt, St. Augustine draws a parallel between the cult of the relics and the cult of ancestors in Rome. Remember that in Roman culture your familial identity was crucial and much emphasis was placed on pietas or piety to one's ancestors and their customs. This mentality was used in the church as a way of affirming the faithful's membership to the church. During the Middle Ages, the Patron Saint of a Church was understood to be the patriarch or head of the family of that Church.
Augustine, City of God , I, 13:
Nevertheless the bodies of the dead are not on this account to be despised and left unburied; least of all the bodies of the righteous and faithful, which have been used by the Holy Ghost as His organs and instruments for all good works. For if the dress of a father, or his ring, or anything he wore, be precious to his children, in proportion to the love they bore him, with how much more reason ought we to care for the bodies of those we love, which they wore far more closely and intimately than any clothing?
Bishops in the early church played an important role in fostering the cult of the relics. They saw saints as their patrons, and they used the aura associated with the relics of saints as a source for their own power. In our discussion of San Vitale we noted how Saint Vitalis was understood as the spiritual head of the community of Ravenna and that the bishop of Ravenna was his spokesmen. St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, as demonstrated by the following account drawn from St. Augustine's Confessions (IX,7) used the remains of Protasius and Gervasius as important allies in his dispute with Justina, the mother of the Emperor Valentinian:
St. Augustine, The Confessions
, IX, 7:
It was at that time too that you [God] revealed to your bishop Ambrose in a vision the place where the bodies of the martyrs Protasius and Gervasius were hidden. All these years you had preserved them incorrupt in your secret treasury, so that when the time came you could bring them to light to thwart the fury of a woman [Justina, the mother of the Emperor Valentinian]- a mere woman, but one who ruled an empire. For after the bodies had been discovered and dug up, they were carried to Ambrose's basilica with the honor that was due to them. On the way several persons who were tormented by evil spirits were cured, for even the devils acknowledged the holy relics. But this was not all. There was also a man who had been blind for many years, a well-known figure in the city. He asked why the crowd was running with joy, and when they told him the reason, he leaped to his feet and begged his guide to lead him where the bodies lay. When he reached the place, he asked to be allowed to touch the bier with his handkerchief, for it was the bier of your saints, 'whose death is dear in your sight [Ps. 115:15]." No sooner had he done this and put the handkerchief to his eyes than his sight was restored. The news spread. Your praises rang out loud and clear, and although this miracle did not convert the mind of your enemy, Justina, to sound beliefs, at least it restrained her from the madness of persecution.
Ambrose placed the remains of Gervasius and Protasius in a grave under the altar. In doing this we see the linking of the altar and relics. The practice was inspired in at least part by the following passage from the Book of Revelation (6:9): I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held." In 401 the Council of Carthage declared that all altars should contain relics, a canon that was repeated in later centuries. This articulates the meaning of the altar as a tomb both for the saint whose relics are contained in it, but also symbolically for Christ.
The following excerpts from the writings of St. Augustine further document the use of the cult of the relics by Bishops in the early church:
Augustine, City of God , XXII, 8:
But we cannot deny that many miracles were wrought to confirm that one grand and health-giving miracle of Christ's Ascension to heaven with the flesh in which He rose. For these most trustworthy books of ours contain in narrative both the miracles that were wrought and the creed which they were wrought to confirm. The miracles were published that they might produce faith, and the faith which they produced brought them into greater prominence. For they are read in congregations that they may be believed, and yet they would not be so read unless they were believed. For even now miracles are wrought in the name of Christ, whether by His sacraments or by the prayers or relics of His saints....
The miracle which was wrought at Milan when I was there, and by which a blind man was restored to sight, could come to the knowledge of many; for not only is the city a large one, but also the emperor was there at the time, and the occurrence was witnessed by an immense concourse of people that had gathered to the bodies of the martyrs Protasius and Gervasius, which had long lain concealed and unknown, but were now made known to the bishop Ambrose in a dream, and discovered by him. By virtue of these remains the darkness of that blind man was scattered, and he saw the light of day....
When the bishop Projectus was bringing the relics of the
most glorious martyr Stephen to the waters of Tibilis, a great concourse of
people came to meet him at the shrine. There a blind woman entreated that she
might be led to the bishop who was carrying the relics. He gave her the flowers
he was carrying. She took them to her eyes, and forthwith saw. Those who were
present were astounded, while she, with every expression of joy, preceded them,
pursuing her way without further need of a guide.
Lucillus bishop of Sinita, in the neighborhood of the
colonial town of Hippo, was carrying in procession some relics of the same martyr,
which had been deposited in the castle of Sinita. A fistula under which he had
long labored, and which his private physician was watching an opportunity to
cut, was suddenly cured by the mere carrying of that sacred fardel- at least,
afterwards there was no trace of it in his body.
Eucharius, a Spanish priest, residing at Calama, was for
a long time a sufferer from stone. By the relics of the same martyr, which the
bishop Possidius brought him, he was cured. Afterwards, the same priest, sinking
under another disease, was lying dead, and already they were binding his hands,
the priest's cloak having been brought from the oratory and laid upon the corpse....
XXII, 9: To what do these miracles witness, but to this faith which preaches Christ risen in the flesh, and ascended with the same into heaven? For the martyrs themselves were martyrs, that is to say, witnesses of this faith, drawing upon themselves by their testimony the hatred of the world, and conquering the world not by resisting it, but by dying. For this faith they died, and can now ask their benefits from the Lord in whose name they were slain. For this faith their marvelous constancy was exercised, so that in these miracles great power was manifested as the result. For if the resurrection of the flesh to eternal life had not taken place in Christ, and were not to be accomplished in His people, as predicted by Christ, or by the prophets who foretold that Christ was to come, why do the martyrs possess such power? For whether God Himself wrought these miracles by that wonderful manner of working by which, though Himself eternal, He produces effects in time; or whether He wrought them by servants, and if so, whether He made use of the spirits of martyrs as He uses men who are still in the body, or effects all these marvel by means of angels, over whom He exerts an invisible, immutable, incorporeal sway, so that what is said to be done by the martyrs is done not by their operation, but only by their prayer and request; or whether, finally, some things are done in one way, others in another, and so that man cannot comprehend them- nevertheless these miracles attest this faith which preaches the resurrection of the flesh to eternal life.
XXII, 10: Here perhaps our adversaries will say that their gods also have done some wonderful things, of now they begin to compare their gods to our dead men. Or will they also say that they have gods taken from among dead men, such as Hercules, into the number of the Gods? But our martyrs are not our gods; for we know that the martyrs and we have both but one God, and that the same. Nor yet are the miracles which they maintain to have been done by means of their temples at all comparable to those which are done by the tombs of our martyrs. If they seem similar, their gods have been defeated by our martyrs as Pharaoh's magi were by Moses. In reality, the demons wrought these marvels with the same impure pride with which they aspired to be the gods of the nations; but the martyrs do these wonders, or rather God does them while they pray and assist, in order that an impulse may be given to the faith by which we believe that they are not our gods, but have, together with ourselves, one God. In fine, they built temples to these of theirs, and set up altars, and ordained priests, and appointed sacrifices; but to our martyrs we build, not temples as if they were gods, but monuments as to dead men whose spirits live with God. Neither do we erect altars at these monuments that we may sacrifice to the martyrs, but to the one God of the martyrs and of ourselves; and in this sacrifice they are named in their own place and rank as men of God who conquered the world by confessing Him, but they are not invoked by the sacrificing priest. For it is to God, not to them, he sacrifices, though he sacrifices at their monument; for he is God's priest, not theirs. The sacrifice itself, too, is the body of Christ, which is not offered to them, because they themselves are this body. Which then can more readily be believed to work miracles? They who wish themselves to be reckoned gods by those on whom they work miracles, or those whose sole object in working any miracle is to induce faith in God, and in Christ also as God? They who wished to turn even their crimes into sacred rites, or those who are unwilling that even their own praises be consecrated, and seek that everything for which they are justly praised be ascribed to the glory of Him in whom they are praised? For in the Lord their souls are praised. Let us therefore believe those who both speak the truth and work wonders. For by speaking the truth they suffered, and so won the power of working wonders. And the leading truth they professed is that Christ rose from the dead, and first showed in His own flesh the immortality of the resurrection which He promised should be ours, either in the beginning of the world to come, or in the end of this world.
The cult of the relics played a critical role in the missionary activities. The missionaries who converted northern Europe were dealing with people whose religion was fundamentaly pantheistic. To them it seemed that the entire world was inhabited and controlled by unseen powers; every tree had its own spirit, every pool its devil, every mountain its god. There was no distinction between the laws of nature and the laws of God. In accepting Christianity, pagans believed Christ's powers to be more potent than those their former gods. The converts expected the new God to intervene as often and as powerfully in nature as the old, and if He failed to do so they would frequently revert to their old beliefs. Gregory the Great recommended to Augustine of Canterbury that the cult of the saints and martyrs be presented to the English as the rival to pagan pantheism. Remember the letter of Gregory the Great to Melitus we discussed earlier in the course. A similar practice was used by Anglo-Saxon missionaries in Germany. Bede refers to this in relationship to the missionary activities of Willobord (Ecclesiastical History, V, 11):
On their first arrival in Frisia, as soon as Wilbrord learned that the prince had granted him permission to preach, he hurried to Rome, where Pope Sergius then ruled the apostolic see, in order to obtain his approval and blessing on the evangelistic work he wished to undertake. He also hoped to obtain from him relics of the blessed Apostles and martyrs of Christ, so that when he had destroyed the idols and built churches among the people to whom he preached, he might have the relics of the saints ready to put in them. And when he had deposited them, he intended to dedicate these places fittingly in honor of each of the saints whose relics they were.
The use of specifically Roman saints played a critical role in establishing the authority of the Roman Church in the west. Charlemagne used this during the Carolingian period when he brought the remains of Roman saints back to northern Europe and used them in the dedication of many local churches.
It is hard to overstate the importance of the cult of the relics during the Middle Ages. They were used in the dedication of Churches where they were integrated into the altar; they were used in law courts for swearing oaths; relics were found on the battlefield as suggested by the description of Roland's sword in the Song of Roland. In short relics were an integral part of daily life and were accepted unquestioningly.
The miniature above comes from the Trés riches heures painted for the Duke of Berry by the Limbourg Brothers. It represents a legend associated with Pope Gregory the Great. During an outbreak of the plague, Pope Gregory called for a procession of relics through the streets of Rome. As the retinue past the tomb of Hadrian, what is now known as the Castel Sant Angelo, Gregory saw a vision of St. Michael the Archangel sheathing his sword above the imperial tomb. This signified the end of the plague and the salvation of Rome. Such processions were common during the Middle Ages. In times of need, the clergy would bring out the community's most sacred relics, including
Guibert of Nogent (12 the century), Memoirs , III,
Meanwhile, following the customary way, such as it is, of raising money, they began to carry around the feretories and relics of the saints. And so it came to pass that the Gracious Judge, Who comforts with His pity in heaven those whom He reproves below, showed many miracles where they went. Now they were carrying, along with some box of undistinguished memory, a splendid little reliquary which contained parts of the robe of the Virgin Mother and of the sponge lifted to the lips of the Savior and of His Cross. Whether it contained some of the hair of Our Lady, I do not know. It was made of gold and gems, and verses written on it in gold told of the wonders within....
In the city of Angers, there was a woman who had married as a little girl, and had worn the ring placed on her finger at that early age day and night, as she said, without ever taking it off. As years went by and the girl grew larger in body, the flesh rising up on each side of the ring had almost covered the metal, and consequently she had given up all hop of getting it off her finger. When the holy relics came there and she went with other women after the sermon to make her offering, as she held out her hand to place the money she had brought on the relics, the ring cracked and slipped from her hand before them. When the people, and especially the women, saw that the Virgin Mother had granted the woman such a favor, something she had not dared to ask for, the offerings of money by the people and of rings and necklaces by the women were beyond description.
The relic of the Tunic of the Virgin from Chartres Cathedral.
Miracles of the Virgin :
Therefore, in the year 1194 after the Incarnation of the Lord, since the church of Chartres had been devastated on the third of the Ides of June [June 10] by an extraordinary and lamentable fire making it necessary later, after the walls had been broken up and demolished and leveled to the ground, to repair the foundations and then erect a new church.
The inhabitants of Chartres, clerics as well as laymen, whose
homes and practically all their furnishings the aforementioned fire had consumed,
all deplored the destruction of the church to such an extent that they made
absolutely no mention of their own losses; they considered as their chief misfortune,
or rather the totality of their misfortune, the fact that they, unhappy wretches,
in justice for their sins, had lost the palace of the Blessed Virgin, the special
glory of the city, the showpiece of the entire region, the incomparable house
Indeed when for several days they had not seen the most sacred
reliquary of the Blessed Mary, transferred to a more hidden place out of fear
of the fire, the population of Chartres was seized with incredible anguish and
grief, concluding that it was unworthy to restore the structures of the city
or the church, if it had lost such a precious treasure, [which was] indeed the
glory of the whole city. At last, on a particular holy day, when the entire
populace had assembled by order of the clergy at the spot where the church had
stood, the above-mentioned reliquary was brought forth from the crypt.... The
fact must not be passed over that when, at the time of the fire, the reliquary
frequently referred to had been moved by certain persons into the lower crypt
(whose entrance the laudable foresight of the ancients had cut near the altar
of the Blessed Mary), and they had been shut up there, not daring to go back
out because of the fire now raging, they were so preserved from mortal danger
under the protection of the Blessed Mary that neither did the rain of burning
timbers falling from above shatter the iron door covering the face of the crypt,
nor did the drops of melted lead penetrate it, nor the heap of burning coals
overhead injure it.... And after such a fierce conflagration, when men who were
considered already dead from smoke or excessive heat had come back unharmed,
all present were filled with such gladness that they rejoiced together, weeping
affectionately with them....
When, following the ruins of the walls mentioned above, necessity demanded that a new church be built and the wagons were at last ready to fetch the stone, all beckoned as well as exhorted each other to obey instantly and do without delay whatever they thought necessary for this construction or [whatever] the master workers prescribed. But the gifts or assistance of the laymen would never have been adequate to raise such a structure had not the bishop and the canons contributed so much money, as stated above, for three years from their own revenues. For this became evidence to everyone at the end of the three-year period when all finances suddenly gave out, so that the supervisors had no wages for the workmen, nor did they have in view anything that could be given otherwise. But I recall that at that moment someone said- I know not by what spirit of prophecy- that the purses would fail before the coins need for the work on the church of Chartres [were obtained]. What is there to add? Since, in view of the utter failure of human resources, it was necessary for the divine to appear, the blessed Mother of God, desiring that a new and incomparable church be erected in which she could perform her miracles, stirred up the power of this son of hers by her merits and prayers. When there was a large gathering of people there, she openly and clearly exhibited a new miracle, one unheard of for a long time past, seen by all for the first time. As a result, news of the miracle spread far and wide through the whole of Gaul and made it easier to give credence to succeeding miracles.
Bernard of Angers, The Miracles of St. Faith :
There are very many terrible things, so numerous that they are indescribable, which divine justice works upon those who slander St. Faith. Of these, I will shortly relate one case, certainly a miracle, after I have said a word about the image of the holy martyr. For in fact it is an old custom and an ancient habit, in the whole country of the Auvergne, whether in the Rouergue or Toulouse, as well as in the surrounding countryside, that people erect a statue for their own saint, of gold or silver or some other metal, in which the head of the saint or a rather important part of the body is reverently preserved. To wise men this may seem to be full of superstition if not an outrage, for it seems as if the rites of the gods of ancient cultures, or rather of demons, are being observed. To me also the matter seemed perverse and contrary to Christian law, when for the first time I examined the statue of St. Gerald placed above the altar, gaudy with the purest gold and with most precious stones, an image made with such precision to the face of the human form that it seems to see with an attentive, observant gaze the great many peasants seeing it and to gently grant with reflecting eyes the prayers of those praying before it. And soon, smiling to my Bernarius (to my shame), I burst forth with this sentence in Latin, "Brother, what do you think of this idol? If it were a statue of Jupiter or Mars would they make themselves so humble before it?" Then and there Bernarius was already guided in his opinion. He mocked ingeniously enough and he found fault with it underneath his praise. And not at all undeservedly, for where the cult of the only high and true God ought to be practiced correctly, it seems an impious crime and an absurdity that a plaster or wooden or bronze statue is allowed to be made. The only exception is the crucifix, an image either carved or modeled, so full of emotion for the purpose of celebrating the memory of our Lord's passion that the holy and universal church accepts it. However, the memory of the saints ought to be shown to human sight only by truthful writing in a book or by shadowy images depicted on painted walls. For we allow the statues of saints for no reason, unless because of ancient incorrect practice and the unconquerable and inborn custom of simple people. This incorrect practice has such influence in the places I mentioned earlier that if I said anything openly then against the image of St. Gerald, I would probably have been punished as if I had committed a great crime.
Finally after the third day we arrived at Conques. When we had entered the monastery, fate brought it about, quite by chance, that the secluded place in which the revered image is preserved had been opened up. We stood nearby, in such a narrowness of place because of the multitude of people on the ground at her feet that we were not even able to move forward. Although it was annoying to me, I stood looking at the image and I uttered prayerful words exactly in this way: "St. Faith, part of whose body rests in the present likeness, help me on the day of judgment." And, with a sidelong smile I looked back at my student Bernarius, thinking it absurd, of course, and far removed from the limits of reason that so many rational beings should kneel before a must and insensate thing. In truth my idle speaking and smallmindedness up to this time did not arise from a good heart. For it was smallmindedness to consider the holy image, which is consulted not as an idol that ought to receive sacrifices, but on account of the memory of the revered martyr in honor of the high God, despicable or contemptible as I have called the statues of Venus or Diana. And afterwards I was very sorry that I had behaved so foolishly against the saint of God.
For in fact among the other reports of miracles, Adalgerius (then deacon, and afterwards, as I have heard, abbot), a venerable and upright man, told me about a certain cleric named Odalricus. One day when the venerable image had been moved to another place for some necessary reason, that man had so perverted the hearts of men that he had curbed the crowd of offerings, distracting greatly from the holy martyr and spreading some foolishness or other about her image. However, on the following night, when he had fallen asleep, a lady seemed to stand before him in a dream of terrifying impressiveness, saying, "And you, worst of criminals, why have you dared to find fault with my image?" After she had said these words, using a rod that she seemed to carry in her right hand, she left behind a beaten enemy. That man remembered and told this story as long as he lived. Thereafter no room was left for argument as to whether the shaped image of St. Faith ought to be considered an object for veneration, because it was well known and certain that whoever criticized the statue in no way detracted from the holy martyr by this. Nor did any doubt linger as to whether the image was a foul idol where an abominable rite of sacrifice or of consulting as of an oracle was practiced. It was clear that the image represented the pious memory of the holy virgin before which quite properly and with abundant remorse, her intercession, effective against sin, is implored. Moreover, in this reliquary, the completely intact head of a great martyr is preserved, so that it is without doubt one of the outstanding pearls of the heavenly Jerusalem. Because of her merits, divine goodness performs such great feats that I have neither known nor heard of the like being done through any other saint, at least not in these times. Therefore the image of St. Faith ought not to be destroyed or criticized, for it seems that no one lapses back into pagan errors because of it, nor does it seem that the virtues of the saints are lessened by it, nor indeed does it seem that any aspect of religion suffers through it.
And since I have already explained some things about the holy image, I wish to add another miracle about it. When in a certain famine (the cause of which I do not know), the revered image in which the head of the holy martyr is preserved was carried outside in a huge procession, it happened by chance that a certain man coming to meet it crossed over very near to it. When he had seen the effigy radiant with glowing reddish gold and blazing gems, he was blinded by a cloud of greed. So he said, "Oh, if only that image would slip from the shoulders of the bearers and fall to the ground! No one would gather up a greater portion of the shattered stone and broken gold than I." While the foolish man was muttering these words, the mule on which he was sitting bent its head downward between its front legs and raised with his hind legs so that they flew over the head of the rider. The man ended up in the mud under the heavy hindquarters of the mule. Some people ran quickly, lest he suffocate, and freed him from the calamitous weight. Then all gave thanks to God, who protects his own saints even from silly talk.
But even long before these events, yet in our own time, there occurred a most felicitous miracle concerning golden doves. If there is time for hearing and if you kindly people will admit a true story into the secret places of your heart, then I shall immediately tell you of a miracle about the fashioning of the famous image which is called by the inhabitants of the place, the Majesty of St. Faith. It is made of the finest gold, and, through portions of the garments, as the judgment of the craftsman demanded, it is becomingly adorned with gems delicately and carefully inserted. The band about the head of the statue also displays gems and gold. Golden bracelets on golden arms, a low golden stool under golden feet, such a throne that there is nothing in it other than precious stones, nothing except the best gold is visible, and also above the tops of the supports that project upward at the front, two doves made of gems and gold are seen to adorn the beauty of the whole throne. About them it is now necessary to relate a miraculous event. When Bernardus (then abbot of Beaulieu and afterwards bishop of Cahors) owned the doves, he was admonished in dreams by St. Faith that he should give them to her. Since he had refused to do this, he was prevailed upon again and again in the same way. Finally, feeling that the warning came from God, he took other gold of the same weight with him and set out for Conques. There he offered this gold to God and to his saint and returned, certain that St. Faith was pleased because of the equality of the weight. But in fact when once more he was sleeping one night, the same vision appeared, no less insistent that the doves be given to her, declaring that he would not be able to make satisfaction in any way, even if he paid out all of his gold, unless he would give her the doves as well. Finally the reluctant man was compelled to deliver the golden doves, just as though they had only been entrusted to him for safekeeping, and he placed their remarkable beauty on the supports of St. Faith's throne.
A certain noble matron heard of the renown of the miracles
of St. Faith and decided to go to Conques. When she began the journey, after
she had already gone a little distance, she recalled that St. Faith kept asking
in dreams from the rings of travelers. So she turned her foot back, drew her
own ring from her finger, and entrusted it for safekeeping to the chambermaid
whom she had summoned. "Hold this," she said, "and keep it safe
until I return, lest perhaps St. Faith snatch it away if I take it with me to
Conques." Now, of course, she thought she was being clever- as if to think
that a precaution of any kind would be able to deflect the foreknowledge of
God, who foresees all things before they happen!
The woman went to Conques, she fulfilled her obligation to pray, and she returned home in peace. On the following night, a maidenly shape appeared to the sleeping woman. When asked, the maiden said that she was St. Faith and, without a pause, warned with imperious authority that the ring had best be given to her. Then she suggested to the woman, who denied that she had a ring, that she was the very woman who, when leaving for Conques, entrusted her ring to a chambermaid in order to avoid giving it to St. Faith. When morning came and the woman awoke she decided that the divine vision had only been a fantasy, a silly dream. But how much longer shall I delay the end of my story? Immediately the woman began to burn with such a fiery fever through her whole body that she was scarcely able to endure it for an hour. After three days of fever she regained her consciousness, and, aware of her guilt, confessed her negligence. Soon thereafter, while she was ordering that a horse be saddled so that she could make a return journey to Conques, the excessive surge of fever diminished. And so the woman set out healthy and returned rejoicing counting it not a small gain to exchange a ring for her health.
Abbot Suger, De Consecratione , II:
Through a fortunate circumstance attending this singular smallness- the number of faithful growing and frequently gathering to seek the intercession of the Saints- the aforesaid basilica had come to suffer grave inconveniences. Often on feast days, completely filled, it disgorged through all its doors the excess of crowds as they moved in opposite directions, and the outward pressure of the foremost ones not only prevented those attempting to enter from entering but also expelled those who had already entered. At time you could see, a marvel to behold, that the crowed multitude offered so much resistance to those who strove to flock in to worship and kiss the holy relics, the Nail and Crown of the Lord, that no one among the countless thousands of people because of their density could move a foot; that no one, because of their congestion, could[do] anything but stand like a marble statue, stay benumbed or, as a last resort, scream. The distress of the women, however, was so great and so intolerable that [you could see] how they, squeezed in by the mass of strong men as in a winepress, exhibited bloodless faces as in imagined death; how they cried out horrible as though in labor; how several of them, miserably trodden underfoot [but they], lifted by the pious assistance of men above the heads of the crowd, marched forward as though clinging to a pavement; and how many others, gasping with their last breath, panted in the cloisters of the brethren to the despair of everyone. Moreover the brethren who were showing the tokens of the Passion of Our Lord to the visitors had to yield to their anger and rioting and many a time, having no place to turn, escaped with the relics.
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