Would you join a worldly belief system?

Belief in miracles in the Middle Ages


1 Introduction

2. “Belief” in the early Middle Ages
2.1 Belief in God and his work
2.2 Faith in miracles and the saints
2.3 Death and belief in the kingdom of God

3. Conclusion


1 Introduction

The following paper deals with faith in the early Middle Ages. It should be shown in the course of what the belief of medieval man looked like, in which it was manifested and in which way it shaped social life. For this purpose, on the one hand, the belief in miracles and the role of saints in the belief system, and on the other hand, people's ideas of death and the kingdom of God will be discussed. Subsequently, the question will be clarified what role faith (in contrast to the early Middle Ages) plays today, in the beginning of the 21st century, and to what extent it has undergone a change.

2. “Belief” in the early Middle Ages

2.1 Belief in God and his work

Faith determined the way people thought and lived in the early Middle Ages in a way that is barely comprehensible today. One must bear in mind that the sciences as we know them did not exist for a long time. Although there were educated people who dealt with individual branches of science, such as nature, and tried to explain phenomena and processes in it, all attempts at interpretation were still based on the Bible, which in the Middle Ages had the greatest importance and the highest, unrestricted authority. The answer to every question could be found in her. It was forward-looking and life-changing.

Sources of the Middle Ages are not factual reports, but intentional Fonts. Phenomena were described in detail, the translational meaning looked for behind the appearance, which had to point to God. Every phenomenon or event was interpreted as God's influence in worldly events. As a bearer of religion and mediator of the Christian faith, the church occupied a very important position in society.

All texts that have come down to us from the time of the early Middle Ages are pervaded by these attempts at interpretation. There are hardly any differences between literary and literary (I prefer not to say “none” because there may be exceptions that I do not have) scientific Find texts .

That God had the power to act in the world and to intervene when he saw it necessary was as natural for people throughout the Middle Ages as we are today with the gruesome realization that there are figures like Hitler in every epoch can and will. This strong belief in the reality of God is decisive for the Middle Ages. There was hardly a time in history when God, without being physically present, was so present and was able to determine and influence people's lives so significantly.

But not only God had the power to intervene in world events. The devil, too, was directly involved in its course. This was reflected, for example, in health and disease, in harvest and hardship.[1]

The belief of medieval man, who saw these two opposing forces at work in all things, manifested itself particularly through the emergence of so-called miracles, which were directly worked by God. But what were these miracles and why and how did they manage to strengthen the faith?

2.2 Faith in miracles and the saints

Miracles are commonly referred to as something extraordinary and unforeseen. There are events in time and space that cannot be reconciled with the general knowledge or the general state of knowledge of a certain time period, i.e. they contradict human experience and the laws of nature and history. Miracles are also always something that arouses astonishment and awe at the same time among people. They include good as well as bad.[2]

Miracles took various forms in the Middle Ages. On the one hand there were the healing miracles, which were primarily intended for the common people, and on the other hand the punitive miracles for the mighty. In addition, there were visions for the clergy.[3] How exactly these miracles looked in detail can be read in many miracle collections from the Middle Ages.[4]

God not only worked directly through miracles. He also did it indirectly through that hands of "extraordinary people" known as saints. Wherever they were, miracles always happened, such as the healing of the sick or the raising of the dead. Although man felt himself to be closely connected to God through prayer, there was still an insurmountable distance. In order to be able to bridge this to a certain extent, man was looking for the closeness of saints, who represented a kind of mediator between God and man. They were chosen by God himself and through them he revealed his all-encompassing power.[5] In their immediate vicinity they felt closer to God. Miracles performed by saints are spoken of in many accounts[6] and only they help to testify to a person's holiness. There was a certain standard amount of miracles that a person must have performed in order to be at all holy to be spoken to. The miracles that happened after death at the graves of the saints or when their bones were touched were used for this purpose.[7] The places where saints were buried became real pilgrimage sites and their bones became valuable, coveted relics.[8] Canonization itself was subject to even more fixed rules, which, however, would go too far to list here.

For medieval people, miracles are explanatory models for what their intellect was unable to explain. At a time when scientific epistemology was still miles away, belief in miracles as divine (and diabolical) intervention served important purposes. Even if from our point of view (we were all brought up to think rationally) it might have been naive or silly thinking, for medieval people it was a real fact with which he explained the world around him could. The fact that many lives and chronicles also contain entire passages about miracles and apparitions supports how truthfully people took them and how much they were an integral part of social life.[9]


[1] Angenendt, A., article “Miracle”, in: Lexikon des Mittelalters 9 (1998), Col. 352.

[2] Ibid. Sp. 351f.

[3] Ibid. Sp. 352.

[4] If you are interested in such miracle reports, the famous one should Vita Heriberti or the work De miraculis libri duo from Petrus Venerabilis to the heart. The exact information can be found in the bibliography at the end of this work.

[5] Ohler, Norbert, Pilgrim life in the Middle Ages - between prayer and adventure, Freiburg 1994, p.223.

[6] Again, I refer to them Vita Heriberti and De miraculis libri duo go!

[7] Régine Pernoud gives an example of healing on a tomb of a saint in: The saints in the Middle Ages - women and men who shaped a millennium, German translation: Bergisch Gladbach 1988, p. 263.Bernhard Vogel shows other occasions, resp. Places for healing miracles, which are quite interesting, in: Pilgerleben im Mittelalter- between prayer and adventure, p.232f.

[8] on this: Engemann, J., article “Miracles of the Saints”, in: Lexikon des Mittelalters 9 (1998), Col.355.

[9] For more information about the understanding of miracles in the Middle Ages I recommend: Wittmer-Butsch, Maria and Constanze Rendtel, The understanding of miracles in the course of time, in: Miracula- Wunderheilungen im Mittelalter, Cologne 2003, pp. 18-31.

End of the reading sample from 16 pages