Sidney Sussex College : Miracles of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Sidney Sussex College

<p style='text-align: justify;'> Cambridge, Sidney Sussex College MS 95, the largest known extant collection of Miracles of the Virgin, contains close to five hundred miracle stories. R. W. Southern, J. C. Jennings and others have mentioned it in passing; otherwise, this manuscript has excited little scholarly attention. Although catalogued by M. R. James in 1895, the collection has only recently been transcribed. It has a number of characteristics that raise questions about the transmission of large Marian miracle collections, and Marian piety on the verge of the Reformation. Dating from early-fifteenth century England, the manuscript is written in Latin, and has monastic associations. </p><p style='text-align: justify;'> Legends or Miracles of the Virgin describe Mary's intervention in the lives of ordinary mortals. These stories, told throughout Christendom, became one of the most prevalent forms of medieval popular literature. Over 500 different miracle stories have been catalogued to date in the CMMV. At least 100 manuscripts containing Marian legend collections remain extant. Told in vernacular languages as well as in Latin, Marian legends reflect in words and visual images the pietistic experiences of the faithful. From early Christianity, the faithful regarded Mary as miraculous by virtue of her virginal conception of Jesus. As beliefs about her evolved over the centuries, she took on an increasing number of miraculous and regal attributes. By the high middle ages she reigned in the hearts and minds of medieval faithful as Queen of Heaven. Medieval England, in particular, displayed profound devotion to the Virgin as documented by Edmund Waterton in <i>Pietas Mariana Britannica</i> (1879) and Gail Gibson in <i> The Theater of Devotion: East Anglian Drama and Society in the Late Middle Ages </i> (1989). Exploring these stories in their various facets, identifying groups or families of legends within the larger context of the miracle genre and the historical and cultural circumstances that saw their creation, offers the opportunity to increase understanding of Mary's place not only within the ecclesiastical structure, but in the lives of common folk. </p><p style='text-align: justify;'> That such a collection was made in the early fifteenth century indicates that Marian piety was not on the wane. Encyclopedic in its scope and clearly directed at an educated audience (as indicated by use of Latin at a time when miracles were being collected in the vernacular), this collections and those that served as its source, must have provided exempla for sermons, refectory reading material and texts for study and devotional purposes. A closer examination of the manuscript will yield valuable information about the intended audience, compilers and possible uses of individual tales and the collection, and thus lead us to a greater understanding of miracles of the Virgin and the Marian piety they promote. </p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Laurel Broughton</p><p style='text-align: justify;'> Digitisation and description generously funded by John Osborn. </p>


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