Major Currents in Late Medieval Devotion

Major Currents in Late Medieval Devotion

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6 responses

  1. I didn’t see any questions posted for this article, so I thought I would start our discussion here by sharing a couple of points from the article that were interesting to me.
    On pages 84 and 85, Kieckhefer discusses the construction of replicas of holy sites by those who had completed pilgrimages. For instance, “When two knights returned from Jerusalem in the early fifteenth century they set up a model of the Sepulcher at Bruges” (84-85). To me, this indicates the importance of physical objects to late medieval spirituality. Remembering the pilgrimage in their hearts and minds was not enough, a physical and spatial memory was needed. Perhaps building such replicas was also a way to publicly advertise that one was not only pious enough to complete a pilgrimage but also so pious as to reconstruct pilgrimage sites for the continued use of themselves and others.
    Here are a couple of discussion questions that occurred to me as I thought about this point:
    Would these models have cut down on the amount of pilgrimages people made since they were more accessible geographically?
    Is there any parallel between these medieval replicas of holy sites and places like the model of the Parthenon in Nashville, the model of Eiffel Tower in Las Vegas, or the variations on Disneyland in Tokyo, Paris, Hong Kong, and Shanghai?

    On page 93, Kieckhefer uses a musical example to illustrate the wide influence of Marian devotion. This reminded me of some of the performative actions discussed elsewhere in the article, like preaching sermons and acting out passion plays. Because of its experiential nature, music seems like it could play a role in devotions. Yet, it is also more inherently public than many of the devotional practices that Kieckhefer discusses. I am interested to know more about the role of music in medieval liturgy and spirituality.

  2. Hannah, Thank you for your insightful questions. It looks like I did not begin posting questions until the following readings. I appreciate your jumping in! You’re quite right about the replicas of holy sites diminishing the “foreign travel” of other pilgrims; indeed, they inspired a flock of virtual pilgrims! One didn’t even have to leave France or England to see the Holy Sepulcher! Some of the Entombment sculptures were even Indulgenced with equal weight as that of the original in the Holy Land. Why risk the peril of traveling so far when there was an ersatz tomb in the parish down the street. That being said, the real Holy Sepulcher was endowed with spiritual power—-the essence of Christ was communicated via contact relics (for example, the measure of the length of the tomb with a string imbued the string with magical properties, etc.). As to the second part of your question—-the Parthenon in Nashville and its ilk—-I think the parallel breaks down. There’s a wonderful article by Krautheimer on what constitutes a copy in the Middle Ages—it can be something as small as one chapel. Our culture of Xerox copies did not exist back then so that the replicas acquired their own special identity linked to the city in which they were built, housed, etc.
    Your music question is wonderful because in a sense music crosses the line into public performance, yet it is still a devotional act. When Elisabeth of S. begins dancing in a trace induced by an icon, the line between vision and performative piety is blurred. Acoustics have always played a role in devotion—even for the monks in Cluny! I suppose this class is really about the experiential aspect of much of late medieval devotion, both private and public! Keep your comments coming!

  3. I found it interesting that the behavior of some laypeople in our period was just as grotesque as the art; even in more mild cases like the “meditation” or contemplation Kieckhefer mentions (86-7), these believers were truly seeing themselves in Christ’s wounds. I say all this because despite the grotesque nature of these meditations, they actually seem to me very compassionate in nature. The believers imagine holding up Christ’s head, accepting his suffering as their own; I am reminded to “metta” meditation in Buddhism, which is a loving-kindess meditation where practitioners imagine themselves, then a person they love, then a person they feel ambivalent about, then a person who is their enemy, all while sending compassionate thoughts toward the person they’re presently conjuring up. This doesn’t relate directly, but I thought it was relevant at least from a religious standpoint that in two religions the same general emotional response, heightened compassion, could be achieved or could manifest through such drastically different means.

  4. That is a very interesting comparison with Buddhist practice, Alex. Both demand an almost visceral projection into another’s being in order to identify with that person and it is this activity that renders one compassionate. Of course, Buddhists don’t advocate drinking pus and other literal methods of the Imitatio Christi!

  5. One aspect of devotional art that I found particularly interesting was the presence of the patron in the artwork, and more specifically, the transformation thereof over time (80). The author mentions that originally the patron was depicted small, in prayer, and with an overall silent role in the artwork. However, come the 15th century, the patron was comparable to major religious figures featured in the specific artwork in size. This completely throws off the hierarchical structure of the work. One would think that even to those practicing devotional worship it would be clear that the patron were not truly so important as Christ or whomever else was depicted in the artwork. I wonder what this means–it seems like a corruption of the layperson’s or clergy member’s role in the religion and how it was practiced.
    More generally, I’m curious about the broader changes we will see throughout the semester on how devotion changed from the 12th to 15th century. It seems from this reading that emphasis on most, if not all, aspects of devotion were ballooning in importance. Keickhefer’s mention of the developments surrounding art on the Passion of Christ illustrate this–the events and motifs depicted in art got more complex, and the emblems of Passion were emphasized further and further over time (85-6). I wonder if this is a kind of theme that we will see moving forward as the middle ages end.
    Going along with this progressive elaboration of artistic depictions, Keickhefer also mentions Mary as crowned by the trinity on page 92. Like the depiction of Christ’s passion, depictions of Mary and symbols related to her also came to a crescendo towards the end of the medieval period, both in frequency and in intensity.

  6. Hannah, the parallels you draw are very interesting. In a way the replica holy sites have a similar effect as the printing press. In class we learned that trade made pilgrimages more accessible. I imagine that replica sites made pilgrimages even more accessible, especially for those who maybe couldn’t afford to travel or were physically able to.

    The thing I wasn’t expecting was how as spirituality became more accessible it became more regulated. While there were slight variations (for example how sermons were delivered) the structure was still the same.

    I wonder if it was a response to how much access laypeople had in Christianity. For example, women had very limited roles in the church but it would seem that Women, mystics in particular, gravitated to the Eucharist.

    Also, it would seem that because the practice of Christianity was more public than private (Liturgical and devotion are public while contemplative is private), there seemed to be a culture of outward spiritual expression. So as Christian spirituality became more accessible, more and more people (lay people specifically), expressed their spirituality and devotion publicly, blurring the line between the lay people (or general public) and church officials when it came to devotions (General Trends of Devotionalism)

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