Medieval Miracle Narratives

There are a variety of sources that describe medieval miracles performed by religious figures or that happened at sacred shrines or through the use of sacred relics. A number of these, ones especially related to the healing of physical impairments, have been collected in an appendix to a 2006 book by Irina Metzler, entitled Disability in medieval Europe: Thinking about physical impairment during the high Middle ages (c. 1100-1400). What follows are narratives in Metzler's listings that have to do with medieval miracle cures associated with communication disabilities. They took place at different locations in the Latin West. They were told and written down by religious leaders who are describing miracles that happened at their monastery and that were brought about by God acting through the Saint of the Monastery or Abbey. The communication disabilities that were described in these narratives are mutism and deafness.

Miracles told and written by saints at St. Gall, in today's Switzerland, produced between the ninth and eleventh centuries.

Deaf people were healed by the wax of miracle-working candles (Metzler, 2006, p. 192).

Healing of a man who had become blind and deaf through a long period of sickness, and who was brought to the tomb in a cart (Metzler, 2006, p. 192)

A deaf mute man was healed there after blook poured from his mouth and ears (Metzler, 2006, p. 192).

A mute man received his voice (Metzler, 2006, p. 193).

A deaf-mute man with two wax tablets, which he always carried about with him, to rattle with in aid of begging sustenance for himself, placed these on the tomb of Otmar, fell into a deep sleep awoke healed (Metzler, 2006, p. 193).

A mute man fell down on the ground in front of the tomb, whereupon blood gushed from his mouth, and through the shock he found his tongue (Metzler, 2006, p. 193).

On the occasion of the translation of st. Otmar in 867 a mute man received his faculty of speech, due to his spirit being moved (Metzler, 2006, p. 194).

Miracles associated with St Foy at Conques, in today's France, written in 11th and 12th centuries

A boy, blind and lame, deaf and mute from birth, had been carried there (to Rodez) by his parents and placed close beheath the image. … After he had been left there for about an hour, he merited divine medicine. When he had received the grace of a complete cure, the boy stood up speaking, hearing, seeing and even walking around happily, for he was no longer lame (Metzler, 2006, pp. 196-7).

St Foy's relics were taken to Auvergne. While there, many miracles happened, including the cure of a deaf mute named Stephen, on whom nature herself had inflicted his defects while he was still in his mother's womb. During the procession Stephen began to push his fingers into the passage-ways of his ears with great force and to rub them qjuite vigorously. Soon spouts of blood from these openings, along with a bloody stream that rose up from his throat, broke through the obstacles that were blocking his voice and his hearing, and he spoke. But he had never heard the sound of a human voice. Therefore it is apparent that his ability to bring forth words he had never heard is beyond human understanding and had a divine cause. Stephen became frightened by the unfamiliar noises of chanting, bells and so on, and nearly became mad, trying to escape from the people that held him. In his frenzy nothing comforted or consoled him until the din ceased. It would have been better for him to have remained a deaf-mute but with a rational mind than to be cheated of the gift of himan intelligence and turn into a madman in circumstances like these. But the miracle was perfect, for he recovered his senses and was sound both in mind and body (Metzler, 2006, p. 197) (Metzler, 2006, p. 198).

A man called Raymond was injured terrible by a sword wound, so that his nose was cut in two about halfway down, his jaw was severed on one side and on the other almost cut off to the middle, and the root of his tongue was separated from his throat. Below his eyelashes such a huge hold gaped that the sight of his divided face with the bones hanging down was terrifying. His friends and vassals carried him home and watched over him, half-alive, for almost three months. Because Raymond had sustained an incurable wound, his life was more of a loathsome burden than a pleasure to his friends. Since his mouth was no longer able to take food, they dripped thick liquids over the gaping hold that I mentioned. After a long time in this state Raymond decided to have himself carried to Conques, communicating by signs and nodding his head. During the night he was completely healed after a vision of St. Foy (Metzler, 2006, p. 198-199).

A young man who from birth had made ho human sound was brought to the shrine by a warrior. After a night vigil the boy was cured at sunrise. A year later, the same warrior brought another mute man to Conques to be cured. And on a third occasion, the warrior overtook a mute man named Gozmar on the road to Conques. Gozmar turned toward him and began to ask alms from by moving his lips. Gozmar was taken to the shrine where he was cured (Metzler, 2006, p. 201).

Miracles of St Ithamar at Rochester in England who was Bishop from 644 to 655 AD

A woman, poor in material things but rich in faith, was young but badly deformed by nature. She was hit by a double calamity in that she could barely hear and not at all speak. With difficulty could she understand anything, and she could only make herself understood by nodding. She went to the shrine, where in front of the spectators a mixture of spit and blood flowed from her mouth. The people pleaded for her, and after many days and the celebration of many masses, when the Lord's Prayer was recited, her ears were suddenly opened and the binding of her tongue was loosened, and she spoke (Metzler, 2006, p. 206).

Miracles of St. William of Norwich in England

Colobern and Ansfrida of Norwich had a boy about seven years old who was dumb from birth. The parents were advised in a dream to take the boy to the shrine, which they did. There they prayed and dedicated a candle, and once the boy had kissed the tomb, he turned round to his parents and suddenly broke forth in his mother tongue asking that they might go back home (Metzler, 2006, p. 208).

Here is another and more detailed transcription of the same narrative of Colobern and Ansfrida's son:

At Norwich again there was a certain Colobern who led a very honest life, though poor, with his wife Ansfrida by name. They had a son about seven years old but dumb from his birth. One night while they were asleep together, in the dead of night at the same moment they were both admonished by a personage of reverend aspect, that they should on the morrow bring their son to the holy martyr's sepulchre, where they should rejoice together at his recovery. So when it became day, comparing their several dreams together, they hurried with their dumb son to the sepulchre as they had been admonished in their dreams. And when they had continued together in prayer there for a long time, and at length had offered a candle held in the boy's hand, when the boy had kissed the sepulchre and turned to his father and mother, he suddenly broke forth in his mother tongue asking that they might go back home. When they heard him, the father and mother could not restrain themselves from tears of joy. And we too who were present observing such things as these, and constrained by our piety, we too wept. And when they had explained to us the vision and what had followed upon it, they went their way with their son, no longer dumb, and we gave praise to our Lord who had done great things by the hand of His holy martyr William.

A girl of seven, who was contracted and dumb, was brought to the shrine by her mother. She was placed by the tomb, and when someone happened to bring an egg to the site, she said "Look, mother I've got an egg!" Witnesses confirmed that they knew the woman and her daughter and had often seen the contracted and mute girl (Metzger, 2006, p. 210)

Cure of a girl blind, deaf, and dumb from birth:

We then put away the candle, and produced an apple. She took it and admired it, and when her mother said in English: "Eat the apple, daughter, eat it." She repeated the words under the impression that she had answered her mother, as not yet knowing how to say anything but what she had heard some one else say. So that I conjecture that she had not only been blind and dumb, but deaf as well (Metzger, 2006, p. 211).

Man cured of loss of speech and sight:

Reimbert, seneschal to the abbot of Battle, had fallen into a serious illness 'which incrasing deprived him alike of speech and sight'. He remember the tomb of St. William he had once seen at Norwich and setting him before his mind's eye, he invited his help with the tongue of his heart. He was instantly cured. The invocation had to be made with the heart's tongue, since a 'proper' invocation through the spoken word was not impossible for Reimbert (Metzger, 2006, p. 213).

Youth cured of palsy:

A youth called Schet, sone of one Eilmer, living in Yarmouth, had long been afflicted with palsy. The same day he was brought to the shrine 'the strong of his tongue was loosed, speech restored to him, and health to his strengthless limbs' (Metzger, 2006, p. 213).

Miracles of the virgin Mary at rocamadour

Muteness as punishment:

A man wa on pilgrimage from Toulousain, entrusted with money offerings for the virgin by other pilgrims, but he kept some of the money for himself. To prevent him from perishing for such a crime when examined at the Last Judgment, he was deprived of the use of his tongue in the here and now. Only pleas from his companions could halp the man. After he revealed where he had hidden the money, he was changed back from being mute again (Megzger, 2006, p. 216).

Speech impediment prevented:

During a battle a knight who was in his sixties was hit n the mouth by the hilt of a sword and had four of his front teeth knocked out. To prevent himself from becoming an incoherent-sounding object of universal derision, he eagerly prayed to the Glorious Mother of god for the teeth to be restored. His teeth were restored, white as ivory (Metzger, 2006, p. 217).

Mute woman cured:

A noble woman, Paschors of Romans, had for a very long time lost not only the faculty of speech but also the ability to make any sound at all. At Rocamadour, she placed herself by a corner of the alter, where the guardian of the church tried to push her away, because he thought she was being a nuisance. He even went so far as to hit her on the head with his rod in an attempt to drive her away from the alter. She persevered, being "greedy for health" and while the Magnificat was being sung she was cured and joined in the singing.

Man is both dumb and mad

For insulting the Virgin, a squire was deprived of all his bodily strength and became both dumb and mad. He was restrained with difficulty. Physicians came and tried to heal him, and laboured long and hard without success. When they had exhausted all their means of healing they pronounced the squire incurable. At the shrine he was healed and the Virgin released the bond which held his tongue (Metzger, 2006, p. 218-219).

Knights lose powers of speech:

Two knights of Henry II on campaign in Ireland lose the power of speech because of the inclement air, the change of diet and the fact that they had to drink water from rivers. They wanted to go to Rocamadour, but because they were unable to speak, the two men were obliged to make an inner vow. The virgin restored their ability to speak and made the mute talk once more (Metzger, 2006, p. 219).

Mute and paralysed woman cured:

A woman from Saint-Guilhem-leDesert near Lodeve was a mute, whose mouth was twisted back towards her ear and whose arm was shriveled up. She was taken to the shrine and cured there (Metzger, 2006, p. 220).

Miracles of the Hand of St James at Reading

John the clerk was struck dumb and remained so for some length of time. He was cured on the feast day of St. James, when he came to Reading to entreat the creator of nature in respect of his own defect of nature (Metzger, 2006, p. 224-225).

Writings about Medieval Miracle Narratives

Head, Thomas (Ed.). (2001). Medieval hagiography: An anthology, London: Routledge.

Metzler, Irina (2006). Disability in Medieval Europe. NY: Routledge.

Nugent, Patrick (2001). Bodily effluvia and liturgical interruption in medieval miracle stories. History of Religions, 41, 1 (Aug., 2001), 49-70.

Kogman-Appel, Katrin (2009). Marvellous to Behold: Miracles in Medieval Manuscripts (review) The Catholic Historical Review, 95, 1, January 2009, 110-112.

Ward, Benedicta (1982/1987). Miracles and the medieval mind: Theory, record and event 1000-1215. Aldershop: Wildwood House.