Questions on Ritual, Theater, the Eucharist, and Venerating the Veronica

Questions on Ritual, Church, Theater, the Eucharist, and venerating the Veronica!



  1. One question that keeps emerging from these readings is whether seeing is believing in the later Middle Ages. Where do the authors of these articles stand on this issue?


  1. What occurs when the host is treated as a commodity?


  1. How does the Jew fare in the wake of the Feast of the Corpus Christi and in the Croxton play?


  1. Do you agree with Beckwith’s characterization of the Mass vis à vis theater?


  1. What was the significance of the battle waged at Corbie in the 9th century?


  1. What practices surrounding the Eucharist ensued after the host was proclaimed the holiest of holies by the priest? In other words, in what ways was the Eucharist both a doctrine and a practice?


  1. What was the 13th century trope of the Jew abusing the host? Why was the construction of “the other” necessary in this symbolic system?


  1. What were the two types of images of Christ depicted on the Veronica? Do they correspond to a certain period in time or genre of literature?


  1. How do Hamburger’s findings about the nuns differ from Clark’s ideas about lay women and their respective use of images?


  1. What impact did increased literacy and the flourishing of the book market have upon the Veronica?


  1. Discuss the divergent characterizations of the Virgin Mary in devotional texts and the conduct manuals of the later Middle Ages. Do you agree with Clark’s thesis?


  1. The Veronica may be a metonym for the whole body of Christ or an alternative to the focus on his body. Do you believe the worshiper would respond in different ways to Christ as a Man of Sorrows than he/she would to the image of the Veronica?

10 responses

  1. 8. What were the two types of images of Christ depicted on the Veronica? Do they correspond to a certain period in time or genre of literature?

    The two types of images of Christ depicted in the veronica was Triumphant Christ and Christ Suffering. I remember discussion these versions of christ depicted in late medieval art during our first few meetings.

    Clark describes these two version but doesn’t explicitly use the terms aforementioned. See page 168, middle of the second paragraph.

    On page 170 she suggests that these versions don’t neatly fit in a certain period or genre. That both version were in circulation so to speak. “So a neat dichotomy of early glorious images and late suffering images fails to capture the complexity of the circulation of the Veronica images.”

  2. 10. What impact did increased literacy and the flourishing of the book market have upon the Veronica?

    Oh my gosh! I think the book market is the main reason why there were the two types of Veronica Christ in circulation. The origin of the veil is narrated in Legenda Aurea (c. 1260). The Legenda Aurea would have been a New York Times Best Sellers book had it been printed today. For a book published in 1260 it was well known (1000+ manuscript copies). This story was being read and told over and over again. Every elaboration of the story had the wicked characterization of the Jews and the emotionally charged textual and visual reflections of the Passion.

    Everyone knew the Veronica story (which versions?): Jesus face miraculously ended up on her veil (or sweat cloth for dramatic flair), Jesus was crucified and it was the Jews doing.

    It didn’t matter that facts didn’t line up (i.e. in one version Veronica sees about getting a portrait of Jesus made, on her way to see a painter she bumps in to Jesus and he simply wipes his face on her veil, saving her the trouble of getting a painting. In another version Veronica see Jesus on the road to Calvary. Jesus is carrying a huge cross and being whipped. He asks Veronica to wipe the sweat running down his face and she does. Later on she see his face imprinted on the sweat cloth). People still held on to the basic elements.

    Finally, just look at how many version of the Veronica there are today. There are even several people/entities claiming that the Veronica in their possession is the real one, a relic, or a certified reproduction of the real one.

  3. Another reason the Veronica had such power in the medieval period is that it was an image “not made by man.” There was a special category of images such as these: Acheiropoieta (Byzantine Greek: ἀχειροποίητα, “made without hand”; singular acheiropoieton) — also called Icons Made Without Hands (and variants) — are Christian icons which are said to have come into existence miraculously, not created by a human. Invariably these are images of Jesus or the Virgin Mary. The Veronica qualified hands down! For that reason, the stories about her cloth, how it came into being, etc. proliferated —and cropped up in books, images, sermons, the big screen…..

  4. In her section entitled “Liturgy,” Beckwith explains that “As a ‘visual theophany’, the mass is a spectacular form of theatre. All historians of the liturgy stress the extent to which, in the late Middle Ages, it is a clerical spectacle, rather than a participatory act” (76). This characterization makes sense to me because the mass is carefully planned and dramatically carried out. This is how it is able to engage people and keep them interested. This reminds me especially of the preacher we discussed previously who rigged himself up on a pulley system for dramatic effect, which certainly would be a spectacle. I agree with Beckwith that the mass was not really a participatory act because, as we discussed recently, lay people would only participate in the Eucharist on special occasions like Easter.
    On page 77, Beckwith also explains that the Lollards attacked the theatre. If the Lollards were displeased with the theatre and if it did truly have so many similarities to the mass, then would the Lollards have been displeased with the mass, especially in its more dramatic iterations?
    As she nears her conclusion, Beckwith says of Croxton: “In its refusal to separate church, ritual and theatre, it creates a dramatic dialogue of the most extraordinary flexibility and power” (80). I agree with Beckwith that this is why the play was so effective. The church, ritual, and theatre are all inherently connected. Croxton makes these connections very clear, forcing its audience to confront them.

  5. 12. The Veronica may be a metonym for the whole body of Christ or an alternative to the focus on his body. Do you believe the worshiper would respond in different ways to Christ as a Man of Sorrows than he/she would to the image of the Veronica?

    It would depend on which Veronica we were talking about! The triumphant Christ would certainly warrant a different reaction than the Man of Sorrows would. On the other hand, a Suffering Christ vs a Man of Sorrows… not so different. I’m not completely clear on the difference between the two types of Veronicas (or which one was more popular)

    As far as the Veronica as a metonym goes, just seeing the face of Christ might warrant a different reaction to an entire Christ spread out before the viewer with pierced hands and blood streaming.

    The background of the Veronica is also important in answering this question; the miraculous nature might make the reaction more passionate. That is, seeing a symbol for a miraculous meeting between Christ and a normal human being might encourage a fervor that seeing the dying Christ in sculpture or painting might not.

  6. You’re absolutely right—there is a great deal of ambiguity in terminology here. I just reviewed a book on Christ as the Man of Sorrows (I will post a link to our Moodle site) and none of the authors were in agreement as to the definition of that iconographic type. As for the Veronica, I am not sure worshipers would react differently to the guise of Christ since it was the miraculous appearance of the facial imprint that would give the viewers pause. I could be totally wrong about this! Very eager to discuss this article in class!

  7. What occurs when the host is treated as a commodity?

    I found this question particularly interesting. I am struggling to see how, if unconsecrated, the host or bread is treated as commodity can truly damage the sacredness of the Eucharist. Is Beckwith speaking about the consecreated host as a commodity or the unconsecrated host? Beckwith has linked treating the host as commodity with the institutionalization of the church in Medieval Christianity. When social power is inextricably linked to wealth, the status of the Eucharist and those who are able to access it are tied to the system of hierarchical power. Beckwith says that “it is the subject of haggling between merchant and Jew…the point here is not so much the final price of the host but the fact that in the process of being bargained for it is exposed to a different financial and symbolic economy.” Beckwith argues that when removing the host from clerical handling, it is subjected to market set value. The host is no longer valued as sacred but just a commodity, which removes the value of ritual from the mass if anyone is able to access the host. However, if dealing with the unconsecrated host, I don’t quite see how it is threatening on a level of removing institutional power from the church and by extension ritual and sacral presence from the mass.

    • I see your point, however, I wonder if those who were “commodifying” the host saw it as devoid of its sacrality? I mean why barter a wafer devoid of the symbolism that made it more than a wafer? When Jews desecrated the host, they were in the eyes of the Church, killing Christ all over again!

  8. Seeing is believing in Beckwith’s article in that the (mostly Christian) audience of miracle plays found it important to see Christ spring forth from the host (67-8). As we discussed in class, the doubt that necessitates the visual representation of the miracle shows that even Christian audiences wanted–or even needed–some sort of proof that Christ could and would show himself when the host was tested by a Jew or another villain/source of doubt. This necessity of doubt in the recurring visual “proof” of the host as Christ’s body is very interesting to me. It also connects to Beckwith’s equalization of the Eucharist with the entire religious institution of Christianity due to the fact that it required a Christian official such as a priest to turn the host into the body of Christ. This symbolism of the host as all of Christianity makes the necessity of proof that much more interesting–if Christians desired or even required proof of the host as the body of Christ for continued belief in Christ, then perhaps the entirety of Christianity needed to be proven to them as well.

  9. This is very hard for me to wrap my mind around. Is it for you? I mean I get the idea of the host as a metonym for Christ, but what does it mean to be a stand-in for Christianity in its entirety? It would seem that the laity would be eager to shed the hierarchy that is implied in the Church with a capital C, but maybe that is just my left over radicalism rearing its head!

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