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Remembering Countess Delphine’s Books: Reading as a Means to Shape a Holy Woman’s Sanctity

  • Nicole Archambeau
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)

Abstract

In 1348, at the time of the first wave of the Black Death, the holy woman Countess Delphine de Puimichel was making one of her many visits to the Holy Cross convent in Apt, Provence.1 It was evening and she wished to eat alone in the room the convent reserved for her. The nuns wanted to make sure, however, that if Delphine needed anything, they would hear her call. So they asked Rixendis de Insula, a nun in her early twenties, to wait outside the holy woman’s door for a summons. After a while, Rixendis heard a bell ring from inside the room. She opened the door and saw the holy woman sitting at the table. Delphine was not eating; instead, she was weeping. Her face was red, her eyes full of tears, and her veil was wet with the tears she had shed. Delphine told Rixendis to clear the table quickly, leave, shut the door, and not come back in. Delphine told her that the tears were caused by an illness of the head (infirmitatem capitis). Rixendis believed her and thus did not consider carefully that the tears might come from penitence and devotion. Other ladies at the convent, including the noblewomen Lady Rostagna and Lady Beatrice de Sault, told her that Delphine often spent the whole or most of the night praying, reading, and weeping, so she slept very little.2 Rixendis worried that Delphine’s weeping would cause consumption of the brain.

Keywords

Fourteenth Century Witness Testimony Bell Ring Church Father Papal Court 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Witness testimonies come from the critical edition of Delphine’s inquest: Jacques Cambell, OFM, Enquête pour le Procès de Canonisation de Dauphine de Puimichel Comtesse d’Ariano (Turin: Bottega d’Erasmo, 1978). This critical edition was made using two main copies of Delphine’s inquest, including Bibliotheque Méjanes, ms. 355 in Aix-en-Provence, France, and at what was then St. Leonard College Library, ms. 1 in Dayton, Ohio. See Cambell, Enquête, pp. xxxxii. My translations maintain the meaning and structure of the testimony without the many repetitions, formalized identifying phrases, and passive constructions of the original. Page references in this chapter will refer to the critical edition. For Rixendis de Insula’s testimony, see pp. 486–487.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    For an overview of penitence and humility, see Donald Weinstein and Rudolph Bell, Saints and Society: The Two Worlds of Western Christendom, 1000–1700 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), pp. 153–157.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    For a reconsideration of how a statement is shaped by the context in which it appears, see Erving Goffman, Forms of Talk, University of Pennsylvania Publications in Conduct and Communication (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    For the dynamic of coconstruction in storytelling, see Elinor Ochs and Lisa Capps, Living Narrative: Creating Lives in Everyday Storytelling (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Sari Katajala-Peltomaa, “Recent Trends in the Study of Medieval Canonizations,” History Compass 8 (2010): 1083–1092.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 5.
    A recent example of this new focus is Didier Lett, Un Procès de Canonisation au Moyen Age: Essai d’histoire sociale, Nicolas de Tolentino, 1325 (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2008). Sharon Farmer used a similar genre, miracle stories from St. Denis, to study the networks of care for the poor in thirteenth-century Paris in Surviving Poverty: Gender, Ideology, and the Daily Lives of the Poor (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002).Google Scholar
  7. 6.
    For Delphine’s early life and chaste marriage, see Rosalynn Voaden, “A Marriage Made for Heaven: The Vies Occitan of Elzear de Sabran and Delphine de Puimichel,” in Framing the Family: Narrative and Representation in the Medieval and Early Modern Periods, ed. Rosalynn Voaden and Diane Wolfthal (Tempe, AZ: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2005), pp. 101–116Google Scholar
  8. 6.
    yan Elliott, Spiritual Marriage: Sexual Abstinence in Medieval Wedlock (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), pp. 266–296. Few witnesses spoke of the events in her early life because the majority of witnesses had only known her after her husband died.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    For a discussion of virtus—the holy person’s relationship with God resulting in miraculous healing—see André Vauchez, Sainthood in the Later Middle Ages, trans. Jean Birrell (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), pp. 434–439.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    For overviews of female sanctity in the fourteenth century, see, among others, Elizabeth Makowski, “Mulieres Religiosae, Strictly Speaking: Some Fourteenth-Century Canonical Opinions,” The Catholic Historical Review 85 (1999): 1–14Google Scholar
  11. 10.
    Michael Goodich, “The Contours of Female Piety in Later Medieval Hagiography,” Church History 50 (1981): 20–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 11.
    For Delphine’s family, see Florian Mazel, La Noblesse et lÉglise en Provence, Fin Xe-Début Xive Siècle: L’exemple des Families d’Agoult-Simiane, de Baux et de Marseille (Paris: Editions du CTHS, 2002), p. 527.Google Scholar
  13. 12.
    For the beata stirps of the Angevins, see Gabor Klaniczay, Holy Rulers and Blessed Princesses: Dynastic Cults in Medieval Central Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp. 298–330.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    The links between the Spiritual Franciscans and Queen Sanxia’s court in Naples is well-documented. See, e.g., Ronald G. Musto, “Queen Sancia of Naples (1286–1345) and the Spiritual Franciscans,” in Women of the Medieval World, ed. Julius Kirshner and Suzanne F. Wemple (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1991).Google Scholar
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    For an alternative look at Sanxia’s interaction with the Spiritual Franciscans, see Samantha Kelly, The New Solomon: Robert of Naples (1309–1343) and Fourteenth-Kingship (Leiden: Brill, 2003).Google Scholar
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    For Delphine’s involvement, see André Vauchez, The Laity in the Middle Ages: Religious Beliefs and Devotional Practices (Notre Dame: Notre Dame Press, 1993), pp. 77–82.Google Scholar
  17. 16.
    The accusation appeared in Article 25, see note 13. For an overview of the term beguine, see Ernest McDonnell, The Beguines and Beghards in Medieval Culture, with Special Emphasis on the Belgian Scene (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1954), pp. 430–438. In the fourteenth century, the term “beguine” had very different meanings in Southern France than it did in Northern Europe. While being called a beguine in Flanders or Northern France did not automatically question a person’s status as a Catholic Christian, it could in Southern France. The term evoked both the Cathar heretics of the thirteenth century and the Spiritual Franciscans of the fourteenth.Google Scholar
  18. 17.
    This is not to say Delphine’s canonization inquest could have become a heresy inquest. For a comparison of the two types of inquest, see Dyan Elliott, Proving Woman: Female Spirituality and Inquisitional Culture in the Later Middle Ages (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004).Google Scholar
  19. 20.
    For Delphine’s inquest, see, among others, Pierre-André Sigal, “Le Temoins et les Temoignages au Proces du Canonisation de Dauphine de Puimichel (1363),” Provence Historique (1999): 461–471Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Paul Armiger, “Dauphine de Puymichel et Son Entourage au Temps de Sa Vie Aptensienne (1345–1360),” in Le Peuple des saints: croyances et dèvotions en Provence et Comtat Venaissin à la fin du Moyen Âge (Avignon: Institut de Recherches et d’Etudes du Bas Moyen Age Avignonnais, 1986), pp. 111–124.Google Scholar
  21. 25.
    Delphine was not the only holy person to call in a doctor for help with her eyes. For example, see the discussion of Saint Colette of Corbie (1381–1447) in Esther Cohen, “Thaumatology at One Remove: Empathy in Miraculous-Cure Narratives of the Later Middle Ages,” in Partial Answers: Journal of Literature and the History of Ideas 7 (2009): 193.Google Scholar
  22. 27.
    Mary Carruthers, “On Affliction and Reading, Weeping and Argument: Chaucer’s Lachrymose Troilus in Context,” Representations 93 (2006): 3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 28.
    For the extended trajectory of views of religious weeping, see Piroska Nagy, Le don des larmes au Moyen Age. Un instrument en quête d’institution (Ve—XlIIe siècle) (Paris: Albin Michel, 2000).Google Scholar
  24. 29.
    Elizabeth Petroff, ed., Medieval Womens’ Visionary Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986).Google Scholar
  25. 30.
    Carolyn Walker Bynum, Holy Feast, Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), pp. 115–117.Google Scholar
  26. 31.
    Kathleen Garay and Madeleine Jeay, eds., The Life of Saint Douceline, a Beguine of Provence (Rochester: D.S. Brewer, 2001).Google Scholar
  27. 35.
    Piroska Nagy, “Religious Weeping as Ritual in the Medieval West,” Social Analysis 48 (2004): 125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 36.
    See, e.g., the discussion in Margaret Miles, “Vision: The Eye of the Body and the Eye of the Mind in Saint Augustine’s ‘De trinitate’ and ‘Confessions,’” The Journal of Religion 63 (1983): 131–132: “But even before we are capable of seeing and perceiving God, as he can be seen and perceived, a thing which is granted to the clean of heart: for ‘blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God,’ unless he is loved by faith the heart cannot be cleansed so as to be fit and ready to see him.”CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 38.
    How women, particularly noblewomen, participated in book culture in the Middle Ages is a broad topic. See, e.g., The Journal of the Early Book Society, ed. Cynthia Brown and Martha Driver, “Women and the Book Culture in Late Medieval and Early Modern France,” vol. IV; Lesley Smith and Jane H. M. Taylor, eds., Women, the Book, and the Godly (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1995)Google Scholar
  30. 38.
    Kathleen Ashley and Robert L. A. Clark, eds., Medieval Conduct (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001).Google Scholar
  31. 38.
    For the Angevin Kingdom of Naples in particular, see Michele Fuiano, Carlo I d’Angiò in Italia: studi e ricerche (Naples: Liguori, 1974). My thanks to Sharon Farmer at UCSB for making me aware of this last text.Google Scholar
  32. 44.
    This text could be The Lives of the Fathers by Jerome. Other convents in the later Middle Ages owned this text including that of Barking in Essex, England, as we see in David Bell, What Nuns Read: Books and Libraries in Medieval English Nunneries (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1995), p. 115.Google Scholar
  33. 47.
    For St. Bernard of Clairvaux’s texts and women readers, see Jean Leclercq, Women and Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, trans. Marie-Bernard Saïd OSB (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1989), pp. 9–32.Google Scholar
  34. 48.
    See Bernard of Clairvaux, The Steps of Humility, trans. George Bosworth Burch (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1950), pp. 209–210.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Charlotte Newman Goldy and Amy Livingstone 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nicole Archambeau

There are no affiliations available

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