On the Miraculous Images. Chapter 6: Origin And Development Of The Pious Legends, Or Lives Of Saints, During The Middle Ages
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A collection of the lives of the saints of the Roman Catholic calendar has been accomplished by the Jesuits, and is well known as that of the Bollandists, from the name of its first originator Bollandus. It extends to fifty-three huge folios, though it has reached only to the middle of October, each day having a number of saints assigned to it for commemoration. It contains, among a mass of the greatest absurdities, a good deal of valuable information relating to the history of the middle ages, particularly in respect to the customs and prevailing ideas of that period. A great, if not the greatest part of the saints whose lives are described in that collection have never existed, except in the imagination of their biographers; and the best proof of this is that the learned Benedictine monk, Dom Ruinart, an intimate friend and collaborator of the celebrated Mabillon, has reduced the acts of martyrs, whom he considers as true, to one moderate quarto, though the same work contains a refutation of the Protestant Dodwell, who maintained that the number of the primitive martyrs had been greatly exaggerated by their historians.
The Christian church was already, at an early period of her existence, disturbed by a great number of forgeries, relating to the history and doctrine of our Lord and his disciples; but the spirit in which they were written, so contrary to that of the true Gospel, and the gross absurdities which they contain, were convincing proofs of the apocryphal character of those writings, which, consequently, were rejected as such from the canon of Scripture. If the church could not escape such abuses at a time when she was not yet infected by Pagan ideas and practices, she became still more exposed to them after the abovementioned corruptions, and when, as has already been said, the Christian society was invaded by whole populations, who, notwithstanding their abjuration of heathenism, were Pagans in their manners, their tastes, their prejudices, and their ignorance. There were, moreover, very great difficulties in obtaining authentic information about the lives of the martyrs. I have said, that their memory was usually preserved in the churches to which they had belonged. This was, however, entirely a local affair, and though the report of such events had undoubtedly circulated amongst other Christian congregations, there was no general register of martyrs preserved by the whole church, which had no central point of union. The means of communication between various places were, moreover, at that time very imperfect, and this difficulty was increased by the persecutions to which the primitive churches were often exposed. These persecutions dispersed many churches, destroying their registers and other documents belonging to them, whilst even a much greater number of them experienced a similar calamity from the barbarian nations who successively invaded the Roman empire. The accounts of the sufferings and death of the martyrs rest, therefore, with the exception of some comparatively few well-authenticated cases, upon the authority of vague and uncertain traditions. These traditions were generally collected and put in writing only centuries after the time when the event to which they relate had, or is supposed to have taken place. It was therefore no wonder that the subjects of many such accounts are purely imaginary. The nature of the generality of these legends, or lives of martyrs and other saints, may be judged of best from the following opinion expressed on this subject by a Roman Catholic clergyman of unsuspected orthodoxy:—
What shall I say of those saints of whose life we don’t know either the beginning or the progress, of those saints to whom so many praises are given, though nobody knows anything about their end? Who may pray to them to intercede for him, when it is impossible to know what degree of credit they enjoy with God? We shall be obliged, indeed, to consider the most part of the acts of martyrs, which are now produced with so much confidence, as so many fables, and reject them as nothing better than romances. It is true that their lives are written, like that of St Ovidius, St Felicissimus, and St Victor! But, O God! what lives! what libels! lives deserving a place in the Index of the Prohibited Books, since they are filled with falsehoods, vain conjectures, or, to say the least, are ascribing to unknown and apocryphal saints the true acts of the most illustrious martyrs. Such things cannot but bring about a great confusion in the history of the church, not to say in religion itself. It is in this manner that the actions of St Felicissimus, who is generally believed to have been a deacon to St Sixtus, are ascribed to a new Felicissimus; and the virtues of St Victor of Milan are now given to a new Victor, who has been recently brought to Paris. As regards the life of St Ovidius, is there anything in it more than words and words? and can we find in it anything solid? This little book speaks of a leaden plate upon which the senatorial dignity and the year of this saint’s martyrdom are inscribed. Why is not this inscription given? Why is not at least the precise date of his martyrdom named? It is said that St Ovidius suffered towards the end of the second century; is this the manner of fixing the year of his death? No, no; the ancients did not mark the time in such a manner; they did not take an uncertain century for the certain epoch of a year. I am much afraid that this inscription is by no means so authentic as people wish to persuade us. But there was found in his grave a little glass vessel; a palm is engraved upon his sepulchre; and his skull has the appearance of being pierced with a lance. Well, these marks may prove that St Ovidius was a martyr; but are they sufficient to establish the truth of his life, such as it has been published?
I would, however, observe, that many writers of the lives of saints, without excepting those who are considered legitimate, have rendered themselves guilty of something worse than the plagiarism of which the learned Mabillon complains in the passage given above. They may be accused of having blasphemously parodied the Scriptures, and particularly the Gospels, by ascribing many of the miracles recorded in the Bible to the subjects of their biographies. M. Maury, the French savant whom I have already quoted, has traced a great number of miracles ascribed to various saints, which are nothing but imitations of this kind. This sacrilegious plagiarism is not confined to the middle ages, but has been practised in modern times, as is evident from the two following miracles ascribed to the celebrated Jesuit saint, Francis Xavier, who died in 1552. It is said that during his residence in Japan a woman of his acquaintance lost her daughter, after having sought in vain during her illness for St Francis, who was absent on some journey. At his return the bereaved mother fell at his feet, and said, weeping, like Martha to our Saviour, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my daughter had not died,—(John 11:21) The saint, moved by the entreaties of the mother, ordered her to open the grave of her daughter, and restored her to life. Another time the same saint said to a father whose daughter had died, in the same manner as Jesus Christ said to the centurion whose servant was sick, Go thy way; thy daughter is healed.
Had these miracles been performed in our part of the world, they would have converted crowds of Protestants, and thus greatly advanced the principal object of the order to which St Francis Xavier belonged; but the air of Europe seems to have been unfavourable for such wonderful experiments, since the good saint was obliged to betake himself to Japan in order successfully to perform them.
It is true that the legend writers make no attempt at concealing these imitations, but, on the contrary, insist upon the likeness of the miracles performed by their saint to those of our Saviour, as a proof of the high degree of sanctity attained by the former. No saint, however, of the Roman Catholic or Græco-Russian calendar had so many miracles ascribed to him, particularly of the kind mentioned above, as St Francis of Assisi, the celebrated founder of the mendicant monks, and who, considering the immense influence which his disciples have exercised on the Catholic world, was perhaps one of the most extraordinary characters which the middle ages produced.
It has been frequently observed, that genius is akin to madness, and that the partition by which the two are separated is so thin that it occasionally becomes quite imperceptible. Such a condition of the human mind has perhaps never been exemplified in a more striking manner than by the life of this famous saint, which presents a strange mixture of the noblest acts of charity and self-devotion, the wildest freaks of a madman, and of genial conceptions worthy of the most eminent statesman and philosopher. The best proof of his genius is the great influence which the order instituted by him has exercised during several centuries in many countries, and which even now has not yet lost its vitality. It must also be admitted, that neither St Francis nor his disciples can be charged with any of those atrocities by which the life of his contemporary St Dominic, of bloody memory, the founder of the inquisition, and the preacher of the crusade against the Albigenses, as well as the annals of his order, are stained. Neither can it be denied that Francis, as well as his followers, have on many occasions mitigated the barbarity of their age. His immense popularity is, however, as I think, chiefly due to the circumstance that his order, principally destined to act upon the lower classes, was recruited from the most numerous and most ignorant part of the population; and is it necessary to observe that the less men are educated, the more they are prone to credulity and exaggeration? Much learning was not required for the admission to this democratic order, and its ranks were increased by the creation of a class whose members remained in the world, binding themselves only to the observation of some devotional practices and moral precepts. All this contributed to spread the order of St Francis, to which both sexes are admitted, with a marvellous rapidity over many countries; at the same time its members were extolling the virtues and supposed miracles of their founder in the most exaggerated and often ludicrous manner, of which the following anecdote may serve as a specimen:—A Franciscan monk, who was one day preaching about the merits of the founder of his order, began his sermon in the following manner: Where shall I place the great St Francis? Amongst the saints? This is not enough for his merits. Amongst the angels? no, ’tis not enough. Amongst the archangels? ’tis not enough. Amongst the seraphims? ’tis not enough. Amongst the cherubims? ’tis not enough. He was, however, on a sudden released, by one of his hearers, from his perplexity about a proper location for his saint, who, rising from his seat, said, Reverend father, as I see that you cannot find for St Francis a proper place in heaven, I shall give up to him mine on this bench; which having said, he left the church.
The story does not say whether this good monk was satisfied with the place so unexpectedly offered to his saint, or where he would have stopped without this timely interruption; but we know, from many other cases, that St Francis was compared by his disciples to our Saviour. Thus, in a work published by the Father Bartholomeus of Pisa, and entitled The Golden Book of the Conformities of the Life of St Francis with that of Jesus Christ, the author maintains that the birth of St Francis was announced by prophets; that he had twelve disciples, one of whom, called John Capella, was rejected by him, like Judas Iscariot by our Lord; that he had been tempted by the devil, but without success; that he was transfigured; that he had suffered the same passion as our Saviour, though he never was subject to any persecution or ill-usage, but died quietly, in 1218, amidst his devoted admirers. Other writers pushed even farther the blasphemous comparison, boasting that St Francis had performed many more miracles than our Lord, because Christ changed water into wine but once, whilst St Francis did it thrice; and that instead of the few miraculous cures mentioned in the Gospels, St Francis and his disciples had opened the eyes of more than a thousand blind, cured more than a thousand lame, and restored to life more than a thousand dead.
The greatest miracle, however, that has ever been wrought by St Francis has taken place in our own days, and its authenticity admits of no doubt whatever. It is a life of this famous saint, published by M. Chavin de Malan; and my readers may form an adequate idea of its contents by the following extract from an admirable article in the Edinburgh Review for July 1847:—Though amongst the most passionate and uncompromising devotees of the Church of Rome, M. Chavin de Malan also is in one sense a Protestant. He protests against any exercise of human reason in examining any dogma which that church inculcates, or any fact which she alleges. The most merciless of her cruelties affect him with no indignation, the silliest of her prodigies with no shame, the basest of her superstitions with no contempt. Her veriest dotage is venerable in his eyes. Even the atrocities of Innocent III. seem to this all-extolling eulogist but to augment the triumph and the glories of his reign. If the soul of the confessor of Simon de Montfort, retaining all the passions and all the prejudices of that era, should transmigrate into a doctor of the Sorbonne, conversant with the arts and literature of our own times, the result might be the production of such an ecclesiastical history as that of which we have here a specimen,—elaborate in research, glowing in style, vivid in portraiture, utterly reckless and indiscriminate in belief, extravagant up to the very verge of idolatry in applause, and familiar far beyond the verge of indecorum with the most awful topics and objects of the Christian faith.
Now, I ask my reader whether the publication of such a work, in the year of grace 1845, at Paris, is not a perfect miracle, and undoubtedly much more genuine than all those which it describes?
We live indeed in an age of wonders, physical as well as moral, and neither of them have escaped the all-powerful influence of the great moving spring of our time, and the principal cause of its rapid advance,—i.e., competition. England, which is foremost in many, and not behind in any, inventions and discoveries of the day, has maintained her rank, and even perhaps gone ahead, in the production of such moral miracles as that of which I have given a specimen above. And, indeed, the lives of the English saints, published in the years 1844 and 1845, in the capital of this Protestant country, may fearlessly challenge a comparison with the work of M. Chavin de Malan. They are, moreover, ascribed to a clergyman of the Church of England, who, though he has since gone over to Rome, was at that time receiving the wages of the Protestant Establishment of this country as one of its servants and defenders. The few following extracts from this curious work will enable my readers to judge whether I have over-estimated the capabilities of this work for a successful competition with its French rival:—
Many of these (legends) are so well fitted to illustrate certain principles which should be borne in mind in considering mediæval miracles, that they deserve some attention. Not that any thing here said is intended to prove that the stories of miracles, said to be wrought in the middle ages, are true. Men will always believe or disbelieve their truth, in proportion as they are disposed to admit or reject the antecedent probability of the existence of a perpetual church, endowed with unfailing divine powers. And the reason of this is plain. Ecclesiastical miracles presuppose Catholic faith, just as Scripture miracles, and Scripture itself, presuppose the existence of God. Men, therefore, who disbelieve the faith, will of course disbelieve the story of the miracles, which, if it is not appealed to as a proof of the faith, at least takes it for granted. For instance, the real reason for rejecting the account of the vision which appeared to St Waltheof in the holy Eucharist, must be disbelief of the Catholic doctrine.
The miracle alluded to above, and which cannot be rejected without disbelief in the Catholic doctrine, is as follows:—On Christmas-day, when the convent was celebrating the nativity of our Lord, as the friar was elevating the host, in the blessed sacrifice of the mass, he saw in his hand a child fairer than the children of men, having on his head a crown of gold studded with jewels. His eyes beamed with light, and his face was more radiant than the whitest snow; and so ineffably sweet was his countenance, that the friar kissed the feet and the hands of the heavenly child. After this the divine vision disappeared, and Waltheof found in his hands the consecrated water.
The whole collection is full of similar stories, some of which are really outrageous; as, for instance, that which it relates about St Augustine, the great apostle of England.
This saint was, during his peregrinations about the country, received with great honours in the north of England; but, says the work in question, very different from this are the accounts of his travels in Dorsetshire. While there, we hear of his having come to one village, where he was received with every species of insult. The wretched people, not content with heaping abusive words upon the holy visitors, assailed them with missiles, in which work, the place being probably a sea-port, the sellers of fish are related to have been peculiarly active. Hands, too, were laid upon the archbishop and his company. Finding all efforts useless, the godly company shook the dust from their feet, and withdrew. The inhabitants are said to have suffered the penalty of their impieties, even to distant generations. All the children born from that time bore and transmitted the traces of their parents’ sins in the shape of a loathsome deformity.
The writer who relates this story had not the courage or the honesty of M. Chavin de Malan to tell that the insult offered to the holy visitors consisted in attaching tails of fish to their robes, and that the loathsome deformity, with which the children of the perpetrators of that insult were born during many generations, was a tail.
Absurd as this monkish story is, it is nevertheless characteristic of the spirit of the sacerdotal pride and vindictiveness which would punish a silly joke, by which the dignity of the priestly order was offended, with a heavy calamity, entailed upon the innocent descendants of its perpetrators through many generations; and yet the fables of this modern mythology cannot be, according to our author, rejected without disbelief of the Catholic doctrine. This is not, however, his personal opinion; and he has only asserted, in a more decisive manner than it has been done for a considerable time, a principle which the Roman Catholic Church cannot disavow, though it may place her in an embarrassing position; and as an illustration of this, I shall give the following anecdote:—
Under the reign of Frederic II., a Prussian soldier stole a costly ornament from an image of the Virgin, which enjoyed a great reputation for its miraculous powers. The theft being discovered, the culprit pleaded in his defence that, having addressed a fervent prayer to the above-mentioned image for help in his poverty, it gave him this ornament to relieve him from his distress. This affair was reported to the king, who, being much amused by the soldier’s device, required the Roman Catholic bishop in whose diocese this theft was committed to give a positive opinion whether the image in question could work miracles of this kind or not? The bishop could not, without showing disbelief in the Catholic doctrine, deny the possibility of the miracle, and was therefore obliged to give an affirmative reply. The king, therefore, pardoned the soldier, on condition of never accepting presents from this or any other image or saint whatever.
The author of this essay, though a firm believer in the existence of God and the truth of the Scriptures, has not the advantage of being inspired with faith in the Catholic doctrine; he therefore will continue his researches in the same manner as before.
Many legends originated from misunderstanding the emblematic character of some pictures. Thus the celebrated Spanish lady saint and authoress, St Theresa, was, on account of her eloquent and impassioned effusions of love addressed to the Deity, painted by a Spanish artist having her heart pierced with an arrow, in allusion to the words of the Psalmist, For thine arrows stick fast in me, &c.—(Psalm 38:2.) She died quietly in her convent towards the end of the sixteenth century, and though the particulars of her life and death are generally known, there were some legend writers who related that she died a martyr, pierced by an arrow. If such confusion of ideas could happen in a time when literature and science had made considerable progress, and when the art of printing was already universally known, how much more frequently such things must have occurred during the prevailing ignorance of the middle ages! And, indeed, there are many wild legends which have originated from a similar source, and of which the most celebrated is that of St Denis, which has been also related of other saints. This martyr, supposed to have been beheaded, was represented holding his head in his hand, as an emblem of the manner of his death. The writer of his legend took this emblem for the representation of a real fact, and loosening the reins of his imagination, related that the saint, after having been beheaded, took up his head, kissed it, and walked away with it.
It is a general tendency of a gross and unenlightened mind to materialise the most abstract and spiritual ideas, and then what is simply an allegory becomes with him a reality. It was this tendency which, during the mediæval ignorance, gave often a literal sense to what is only typical, and it was carried so far that even the parables of our Lord were constructed into real stories. Thus, Lazarus was a poor saint who lived in great want, and was made after his death the patron of beggars and lepers. The parable of the prodigal son has furnished materials for many a legend; and to crown all these pious parodies, a monk has shown to the well-known Eastern traveller Hasselquist, the very spot upon which the good Samaritan assisted the wounded man, who had been left unheeded by the priest and the Levite. Future rewards and punishments, heaven and hell, were also represented in a grossly material manner, that gave rise to many absurd legends, generally invented with the object of supporting the pretensions of the church, to have the power of sending at pleasure the souls of the departed to either of these places.
I have already spoken of the effects which the solitary and ascetic life of the early monks produced upon their imagination. The same thing took place amongst the recluses of the convents, but particularly nunneries. The imaginations of women, says a celebrated author whom I have already quoted, as their feelings are more keen and exquisite, are more susceptible and ungovernable than those of men; more obnoxious to the injurious influence of solitude; more easily won upon by the arts of delusion, and inflamed by the contagion of the passions. Hence we may account for the rapidity with which in orphan houses, cloisters, and other institutions, where numbers of the sex are intimately connected with each other, the sickness, humour, habits, of one, if conspicuous and distinguished, become those of all. I remember to have read in a medical writer of considerable merit, that in a French convent of nuns, of more than common magnitude, one of the sisters was seized with a strange impulse to mew like a cat, in which singular propensity she was shortly imitated by several other sisters, and finally, without a solitary exception, by the whole convent, who all joined at regular periods in a general mew that lasted several hours. The neighbourhood heard, with more astonishment than edification, the daily return of this celestial symphony, which was silenced, after many ineffectual measures, by terrifying the modesty of the sex with the menace, that, on any future repetition of their concert, a body of soldiers, pretended to be stationed at the gates of the monastery, would be called in to inflict upon them a discipline at once shameful and severe.
Among all the epidemic fancies of the sex I have found upon record, none equals that related by Cardan to have displayed itself in the fifteenth century,—which forcibly illustrates what has been remarked of the intuitive contagion by which fantastic affection is propagated among women. A nun in a certain German convent was urged by an unaccountable impulse to bite all her companions; and her strange caprice gradually spread to others, till the whole body was infected by the same fury. Nor did the evil confine itself within these limits: the report of this strange mania travelled from one province to another, and every where conveyed with it the infectious folly, from cloister to cloister, through the German empire; from thence extending itself on each side to Holland and Italy, the nuns at length worried one another from Rome to Amsterdam.
Numberless instances might be quoted to demonstrate the force with which the strangest and most wild propensities fasten themselves on the imagination, and conquer and tyrannise over the will, when the soul is debarred from a free intercourse with its species, and left too uninterruptedly to its own unbridled musings. But those which we have related may be sufficient to show the danger into which he runs who delivers himself unconditionally to the custody of solitude, and does not arm himself against its faithless hospitality. Shut up in a barren and monotonous leisure, without studies to occupy curiosity, without objects to amuse the senses, or to interest and to attract the affections to any thing human, fancy will escape into the worlds of chimerical existence, there to seek amusement and exercise. How fondly does it then embrace and cherish angelical visions, or infernal phantoms, prodigies, or miracles! or should its reveries take another direction, with what increasing eagerness and confidence do its hopes hunt after the delusions of alchemy, the fictions of philosophy, and the delirium of metaphysics! In cases where the mind is less capacious, and its stores less copious, it will attach itself to some absurd notion, the child of its languid and exhausted powers; and bestowing its fondest confidence on this darling of its dotage, will abandon reason and outrage common sense.
I have given this lengthened extract from Zimmerman, because I think it satisfactorily explains those mystic visions as well as infernal phantoms, with which the mediæval legends and chronicles, generally composed by monks, abound, and which are often unjustly ascribed to fraud and wilful deception. Medical science, as well as all the branches of natural philosophy, being then in a very imperfect condition, such phenomena as those of nuns mewing like cats or biting like dogs, which are mentioned by Zimmerman, were not explained as nervous diseases, but ascribed to the possession of evil spirits; and I frankly confess that I am by no means sure, that if cases like those mentioned above were to happen in our enlightened age, there would not be found many good folks ascribing them to a similar agency. It must be also remembered that, if notwithstanding the extreme rapidity and regularity of communications in our own time, reports of various events are often exaggerated and even completely altered in passing from one place to another; how much more must it have been the case during the time of such defective communication as existed previous to the invention of printing and the introduction of the post! It was therefore no wonder if occurrences of such an extraordinary nature as those alluded to were immensely magnified by report, and if it had, at least in many places, converted the mewing and biting nuns into as many cats and dogs. It is, moreover, now generally admitted that what is called mesmerism, but whose real nature science has not yet explained, was known and practised during the middle ages, as well as in remote antiquity, and that many thaumaturgic operations, described by the mediæval legends, as well as by ancient writers, were produced by means of this still mysterious agency.
I have dwelt perhaps too long on this subject, because I am afraid that the observations relating to it are not confined to a distant period, but may become but too often applicable to our own times. And, indeed, when we reflect on the rapid increase of convents and nunneries, particularly in this country, and that notwithstanding the present state of civilization these establishments must be filled chiefly by individuals whose imaginations are stronger than their reasoning powers, there can be little doubt that they may again become the stage of those extraordinary manifestations, the cause of which had been too exclusively ascribed to mediæval darkness. It cannot be doubted, that designing individuals of both sexes, possessed of superior talents and knowledge, but particularly endowed with a strong will, may exercise not only an undue influence, but even an absolute power over the inmates of the above-mentioned monastic establishments; and that a skilful application of mesmerism may efficiently promote such unlawful ends.
Many local superstitious remains of Paganism,—as, for instance, miraculous powers ascribed to certain wells, stones, caverns,—stories about various kinds of fairies, &c.—have furnished ample materials to the mediæval legend writers, who arranged them according to their own views. They generally retained the miraculous part of the story, frequently embellishing it by their own additions, but substituting the agency of the Christian saint, the hero of their tale, for that of the Pagan deity, to whom it had originally been ascribed. It was thus that the localities considered by the Pagans as possessed of some supernatural properties, and resorted to by them on this account, were converted into places of Christian pilgrimages, with the only difference that the Pagan genius loci was baptised with the name of a Christian saint, whose existence can often be no more proved than that of his heathen predecessor. Many hagiographers seem to have indulged their humour as much as their fancy in composing these legends, which appears from such ludicrous stories as, for instance, that of St Fechin, whose piety was so fervent that when he was bathing in cold water it became almost boiling hot. This warm-hearted or hot-headed saint is said to have belonged to the Emerald isle, though, considering that his ardent piety was so very much like a manifestation of the perfervidum Scotorum ingenium, in a somewhat exaggerated form, I am much inclined to believe him a native of the north country. There are many instances of such humorous miracles, but I shall quote only that of Laurenthios, a famous Greek saint, and worker of miracles. Having one day some business with the Patriarch of Constantinople, he was kept waiting in the prelate’s ante-chamber, and feeling very warm he wanted to take off his cloak. But as there was not any piece of furniture in the room, nor even a peg on its walls, St Laurenthios, embarrassed what to do with his cloak, threw it upon a ray of the sun, which was entering the room through a hole in the shutter, and which immediately acquired the firmness of a rope, so that the saint’s cloak remained hanging upon it. It must not, however, be believed that the hot sun and fervid imagination of Greece were absolutely requisite for the performance of such wonderful tricks; for we have sufficient legendary evidence to prove that they were successfully reproduced under the less brilliant sky of Germany and France, because St Goar of Treves suspended his cap, and St Aicadrus, abbot of Jumieges, his gloves upon the same piece of furniture that had been used by St Laurenthios to hang his cloak, though probably, considering that the sun is not so powerful in those countries as it is at Constantinople, the western saints did not venture to try its rays with such a heavy load, as had been successfully done by their eastern colleague.
Some miracles were invented in order to inculcate implicit obedience to the ecclesiastical authorities, which is considered by the Roman Catholic Church as one of, if not the most important virtue to be practised by her children. Thus it is related that when the Spanish Dominican monk, St Vincent Ferrerius, celebrated for the great number of his miracles, was one day walking along a street in Barcelona, a mason, falling from a high roof, called for his assistance. The saint answered that he could not perform a miracle without the permission of his superior, but that he would go and ask for it. The mason remained, therefore, suspended in the air until St Vincent, returning with the permission, got him safely down on the ground.
It must be admitted, that many saints, whose lives are disfigured by absurd stories of their miracles, were men of great piety, adorned with the noblest virtues, and who gave proofs of the most exalted charity and self-devotion. Unfortunately the honours of saintship have been often bestowed upon such sanguinary monsters as St Dominic, whose shrine would be the most appropriately placed in a temple where human sacrifices are offered, or upon madmen who have outraged every feeling of humanity. Thus it is related that St Alexius left his home on the day of his wedding, and, having exchanged his clothes for the rags of a beggar, adopted his mode of life. After some time, when his appearance had become so wretched that he could no longer be recognised by his friends, he returned to his parental house, asking for shelter. He obtained a place under the staircase, and lived there by alms for seventeen years, continually witnessing the distress and lamentations of his wife, mother, and aged father about his loss, and was recognised only after his death by a book of prayers which had been given him by his mother. And it was for this unfeeling and even cruel treatment of his own family that he was canonised! It is supposed, however, that all this story is but a fiction, and, for the sake of humanity, I sincerely hope that it is so.
The limits of this essay allow me not farther to extend my researches about the legends of mediæval saints, and their miracles; and I shall try to give in my next chapter a short analysis of several practices which the Roman Catholic as well as the Græco-Russian Church have retained from Paganism.