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Fruits of Medieval Devotion to Our Lady

Hugh O’Reilly

Devotion to the Virgin Mary inclined those still rude and rough medieval men toward more delicate feelings, piety, protection of the weak and respect for women. With it came the virtue of courtesy. Testimonies of this are infinite and charming. Gautier de Coinci, a Benedictine monk of Saint Médard Abbey, wrote the massive Miracles of Notre Dame, containing some 30,000 lines in two books. What exquisite miracles, worthy of The Golden Legend!

In one story there is an illiterate man, so unlearned that he only knew two words of Latin: AVE MARIA. For his ignorance he was despised. When he died, however, from his mouth five roses sprouted in recognition of the five letters of the name MARIA that he had said so many times.

Then there is the nun who abandoned her convent to enter a life of sin. After many years she repented and returned. She found the Virgin – to whom she never ceased to say a prayer every day even in her sinful state – had taken her place chanting the Divine Office for all those years so that no one had perceived her absence.

In another, we find a knight who, in exchange for a great fortune, promised to deliver his wife to the Devil. While he was on his way with her to pay his part of the pact, she asked to stop and entered the chapel of the Virgin for a moment to pray to her. It was the Blessed Virgin, then, who exited the chapel and met the Devil to punish him for his audacity.

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Our Lady took the place of the pious knight
and won the jousting tournament for him
In yet another, a knight on his way to a tournament lost track of the time while praying at the feet of a statue of Our Lady in a church. During that time, she donned his armor and entered the tournament to combat in his place, winning the jousting prize for him.

Who does not know about that famous tumbler who performed for Our Lady, who tenderly wiped the sweat from his brow? His story became a play and was spread everywhere.

It was devotion to the Virgin which undoubtedly contributed to the formation of the keen medieval sense of honor, which purified and ennobled the crude manners of those knights, soldiers, men of war and woodsmen. It guided them toward treating women with more respect.

The honor that comes from devotion to the Virgin is a kind of elegance of soul that leads us to defend the weak, forget our own interests, be generous, and respect one’s given word, no matter the consequences.

Selected and translated from Henry Bordeaux
Vie, Mort et Survie de Saint Louis, Roi de France, Plon, Paris, pp. 34-35
Posted August 22, 2009

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