Wonders in Stone and Space: Theological Dimensions of the Miracle Accounts in Celano and Bonaventure

Franciscan Studies 67:71-90 (2009)
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In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:This essay considers hagiography as a spatial-theological genre emerging, so to speak, from the crypts of Christian martyrs where liturgical celebrations commemorate their paradoxical witness to the Paschal mystery, whereby the faithful gain eternal life through temporal death. Later the virtues and miracles of holy men and women, such as ascetics, bishops, mystics and founders of religious communities, are recounted in vitae intended for liturgical offices and contemplative reflection. The relics of these saints are a site for the construction of religious identity and a locus of pilgrimage, as the faithful gather in the churches where the bodily remains are located. Often miracle accounts, collected soon after the death of the saint, are accompanied by miracles at the tomb thereby initiating or furthering the process of veneration and canonization, whence the relics are subsequently transferred to a prominent place within the church, such as the area near the altar. Miracle stories are a constant in liturgical legends, and the vitae of Saint Francis are no exception.In the case of Francis of Assisi, canonization and construction are contemporaneous, since Thomas of Celano's official legend, the Life of Saint Francis, is presented during the initial building phase of the sepulcher basilica. The Paschal paradox of the miraculous, evident in the spatial localization of transcendent power, informs Celano's hagiographical account of miracles in his first text, as well as in the later Legend for Use in the Choir, the Remembrance of the Desire of the Soul, and the Treatise on Miracles. Bonaventure's subsequent conceptualization of Francis's dream body in the Journey of the Soul into God and literary reorganization of the miracle stories in the Major Life, and the absence of Francis's reliquary remains in the Minor Life, dislodges the miraculous from sepulchral stone and regional locales into textual space, which is located in a narrative history but freed from the spatial constraints of ecclesial edifices and geographical locations. As a result, the thaumaturgical founder of Celano's narratives, whose wonders in life and death find a spatial locus in Italy and, particularly, at the basilica tomb, is replaced by the stigmatized Francis. He is the central miracle of Bonaventure's narratives, and readily present anywhere – albeit mediated by the General Minister's own memory – in prayer. This essay posits that this "transitus" of Francis from miracle worker to abiding miracle, especially noticeable in Celano's Legend for Use in the Choir and Bonaventure's Minor Life, is best understood when the performative nature of liturgical legends in sacred space is recognized.1. Choir Legends, Sacred Space and Performative IdentityChoir legends are primarily conceived, composed, and received as spatial texts, ritually performed in a designated sacred space and season. Their ritual context is the Liturgy of the Hours, where believers enter into a dialogical exchange with the divine, grounded in the paradox of the Paschal mystery. Choir legends are unique witnesses to a particular communal image of a saint, whose life of virtue and miraculous deeds is recounted within the dynamics of liturgical prayer and the dominant cultic-cultural identity. Given their essential status within worship, these biographical texts assume a level of iconicity not shared by non-liturgical documents. Specifically intended for communal contemplation and not the promulgation of the saint's cult throughout the universal church, choir legends are similar to opaque windows opening inward on a secluded courtyard of those gathered to recount their family story. While the narrative is accessible to all those who gaze through the aperture and listen attentively, the locus of intent is within the religious community. When the community members – or at least influential leaders – no longer espouse this "prayed" likeness of their father or mother figure, a new image may be constructed, and the previous choir legend is supplanted or even suppressed by another legend that reflects the revised cultural-theological identity. Evidence of this process is found among second..



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