Representations of English Women and their Pilgrimages in Twelfth-Century Miracle Collections

Anne E. Bailey
In Volume 3, Issue 1
Special Issue: Medieval Women

Abstract

Miracle collections, compiled by monastic cult centres, record stories of pilgrims visiting miracle-working shrines. Those produced in England in the High Middle Ages have recently received much scholarly attention. Not only do they seem to offer a rare glimpse into the lives of the laity for the period, but they are also remarkable for containing a large number of stories about women. Conventional historical approaches to miracle narratives, which tend to regard them as ‘shrine-side records’, often seek evidence for women’s experiences of pilgrimage in these texts. This essay, however, reappraises such interpretations and explores some of the ways in which the stories of women and their journeys were informed by hagiographical agenda and Christian ideology. Drawing on a survey of sixteen miracle collections compiled in twelfth-century England, the study examines the representation of women as pilgrims, and demonstrates that many modern assumptions about female travel in the Middle Ages are not consistent with the miracle accounts. Far from being creatures of restricted mobility as is commonly assumed, female pilgrims are often presented by hagiographers as intrepid travellers who do not seem especially thwarted by the supposed limitations on their gender.

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