Miracles of the Virgin in Medieval England

Miracles of the Virgin in Medieval England

Law and Jewishness in Marian Legends

Adrienne Williams Boyarin





First book-length study of hagiographical legends of the Virgin Mary in medieval England, with particular reference to her relationship with Jews, books, and the law.
Legendary accounts of the Virgin Mary's intercession were widely circulated throughout the middle ages, borrowing heavily, as in hagiography generally, from folktale and other motifs; she is represented in a number of different, often surprising, ways, rarely as the meek and mild mother of Christ, but as bookish, fierce, and capricious, amongst other attributes.
This is the first full-length study of their place in specifically English medieval literary and cultural history. While the English circulation of vernacular Miracles of the Virgin is markedly different from continental examples, this book shows how difference and miscellaneity can reveal important developments within an unwieldy genre. The author argues that English miracles in particular were influenced by medieval England's troubled history with its Jewish population and the rapid thirteenth-century codification of English law, so that Mary frequently becomes a figure with special dominion over Jews, text, and legal problems. The shifting codicological and historical contexts of these texts make it clear that the paradoxical sign"Mary" could signify in both surprisingly different and surprisingly consistent ways, rendering Mary both mediatrix and legislatrix.

ADRIENNE WILLIAMS BOYARIN is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Victoria (British Columbia).

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October 2010
10 black and white illustrations
230 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
ISBN: 9781843842408
Format: Hardback
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Table of Contents

The Idea of English Miracles of the Virgin
The Theophilus Legend in England: Mary the Advocate, Mary the Jew
The Theophilus Legend in England, Again: From the Devil's Charter to a Marian Paradigm
The Virgin and the Law in Middle English Contexts
The Fate of Engish Miracles of the Virgin
Appendix 1: The Founding of the Feast of the Conception in the South English Legendary
Appendix 2: Blood on the Penitent Woman's Hand
Appendix 3: The 'Charter Group' Miracles and Other Short Texts from British Library MS Additional 37049
Appendix 4: An Index of Miracles of the Virgin Collated with Existing Lists


Boyarin's work shows how the Jew and the Christian were intricately linked in the English middle ages. She reminds her readers that there is still much to be done in this field, and, while that caveat may be true, Boyarin makes us [...] realise that the Marian legends provide us with a store of incredible artefacts and a largely uncharted literature. Boyarin's book should figure as a necessary reference point in any future studies. ENGLISH HISTORICAL REVIEW

Adrienne Williams Boyarin's book is a welcome and erudite contribution to Marian scholarship. [...] The book is an entertaining and convincing accumulation of readings of Mary, who appears sometimes merciful, often fiercely judgmental, but always powerful. THE CATHOLIC HISTORICAL REVIEW

[The author's] arguments are often original and she has many pertinent points to make about medieval constructions of the Virgin as well as the relationship between Mary, Jews and legality. PARERGON