HEALING IN THE MEDIEVAL PERIOD 600-1400
BEDE (ca. 673-735)
Bede was a monk and often called “the Father of English History”. He was the first to write any kind of history of England. The reader who is further interested in the miracle stories of Bede should see Chapter 7 “Bede’s Miracle Stories” in Bede, His Life, Times and Writings, edited by A. H. Thompson, pp. 201-229).
In his Ecclesiastical History of England, Bede relates miracle stories frequently.
Chapter 7 tells the story of St. Alban. Alban was converted while caring for a clergyman who was fleeing from persecutors. When he would not release the minister, he was brought before a judge. On his way to the judge, he could not cross a river, so he lifted his eyes toward heaven and the river dried up. When his executioner saw this, he would not carry out his orders but prayed that he too might be killed with the martyr or in place of him. Alban saw, upon praying to God for water, a living spring breaking out at his feet. A church was built where Alban died, and Bede writes “in which place there ceased not to this day the cure of sick persons, and the frequent working of wonders.”
In Chapter 17, Bede tells of an incident in which demons were expelled (26-28). Chapter 18 tells this story:
“After this, a certain man, who had the quality of a tribune, came forward with his wife, and presented his blind daughter, ten years of age, for the priests to cure. They ordered her to be set before their adversaries, who, being convinced by guilt of conscience, joined their entreaties to those of the child’s parents, and besought the priests that she might be cured. The priests, therefore, perceiving their adversaries to yield, made a short prayer, and then Germanus, full of the Holy Ghost, invoked the Trinity, and taking into his hands a casket with relics of the saints, which hung about his neck, applied it to the girl’s eyes, which were immediately delivered from darkness and filled with the light of truth. The parents rejoiced, and the people were astonished at the miracle; after which, the wicked opinions were so fully obliterated from the minds of all, that they ardently embraced the doctrine of the priests.”
In Book 2, Chapter 2, Bede tells about another case of blindness (68-69). In Book 3, Chapter 15, there is the story of weather being changed. Book 5, Chapter 1, shares the story of the calming of a tempest at sea. Chapter 2 gives the account of a bishop named John healing a dumb man. Chapter 3 records the healing of a sick maiden. In Chapter 4 John heals the wife of an Earl, while chapter 5 records the resuscitation of the Earl’s servant Chapter 6 recounts the resuscitation of John’s own clerk who had died. These are only a selected few of the miracles which were recorded by Bede.
THE CRUSADES (AD 950-1350)
The Crusades started in A.D. 950 extending to A.D. 1350. Keep in mind that in the latter portion of the Crusades, the Inquisition was established which sought to crush heresy. In so doing, they persecuted small groups, such as the Albigensians in Southern France and the Bogomiles in Bulgaria, who were seeking a personal experience with God. Many believed that the Inquisition was really a work of demonic power to stop the flow and work of the Holy Spirit in that era.
The following individuals are known as having miracles recorded either by them or about them: Anselm (ca. 1033-1109); Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153); Dominic (1170-1221); and Malachy (Kelsey 1973, 231-232). Antony of Padua is said to have had prophetic powers as well as miracles (Douglas 1974, 51).
ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI (1181-1226)
St. Francis was the founder of the Franciscan Order. He had an incredible healing ministry. The following selections are from a vast number of miracles which occurred in the ministry of Francis.
How Francis healed a cripple at Toscanella and a paralytic at Narni.
Once when the holy man of God Francis was going about through various regions to preach the kingdom of God, he came to a certain city called Toscanella. There, when he was sowing the seed of life in his usual way, a certain soldier of that city gave him hospitality; he had an only son who was lame and weak of body. Though he was a young child, he had passed the years of weaning; still he remained in a cradle. When the father of the boy saw the great sanctity of the man of God, he humbly cast himself at his feet, begging from him health for his son. But Francis, who considered himself useless and unworthy of such great power and grace, refused for a long time to do this.
But finally overcome by the insistence of his petitions, he prayed and then put his hand upon the boy and, blessing him, raised him up. Immediately, with all present looking on and rejoicing, the boy arose completely restored and began to walk here and there about the house.
Once when the man of God, Francis, had come to Narni and was staying there for a number of days, a certain man of that city, Peter by name, lay in bed paralyzed. For a period of five months he had been so deprived of the use of all his limbs that he could not rise at all or move himself even a little; and thus having completely lost the use of his feet and hands and head, he could only move his tongue and open his eyes. When he heard that Francis had come to Narni, he sent a messenger to the bishop of that city to ask him for the love of God to send the servant of the most high God to him, confident that he would be freed from the illness from which he suffered at the sight and presence of Francis. And so it happened that, when the blessed Francis had come to him and had made the sign of the cross over him from his head to his feet, he was immediately healed and restored to his former health.
How Francis freed one of the brothers from the falling sickness or from a devil; and how he freed a possessed woman at the city of San Gemini.
One of the brothers suffered frequently from a very serious infirmity and one horrible to see; I do not know what name it is called, though some think it is an evil spirit. Frequently he was cast upon the ground and he turned about foaming at the mouth and with a terrible look upon his face; at times his limbs were drawn up, at other times they were extended; now they were folded up and twisted, again they were rigid and hard. Sometimes, when he was stretched out and rigid, he would be raised up into the air to the height of a man’s stature, with his feet even with his head, and then would fall back to the ground. Pitying his grievous illness the holy father Francis went to him and, after praying, signed him and blessed him. Suddenly he was cured and he did not again suffer in the least from the tortures of this illness.
One day when the most blessed father Francis was passing through the diocese of Narni, he came to a certain city called San Gemini, and preaching there the kingdom of God, he was entertained along with three of his brothers by a certain man of good repute in that region who feared and worshipped God. But his wife was beset by a devil, and was known to all who lived in that town. Her husband interceded with St. Francis for her, confident that she could be freed by his merits. But because Francis preferred in his simplicity to be held in contempt rather than be praised by the world because of a demonstration of his sanctity, he refused firmly to do this.
Finally, because God was concerned in the case, and because so many were begging him to do it, he consented, overcome by their prayers. He called the three brothers who were with him and, placing each one in a corner of the house, he said to them: “Let us pray to the Lord, brothers, for this woman that God may strike the yoke of the devil from her unto his own praise and glory. Let us stand separately in the corners of the house lest that evil spirit be able to escape us or deceive us by getting into the hiding places of the corners.” When the prayer was finished, blessed Francis went up to the woman, who was being miserably tormented and who was clamouring horribly, and, with the power of the Holy Spirit, he said: “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I command you in holy obedience, evil spirit, to go out from her and never dare to hinder her again.” He had hardly finished the words when the devil left that woman so very quickly and with such anger and racket that, because of the sudden healing of the woman and the very quick obedience of the devil, the holy father thought perhaps he had been deceived. He immediately left that place in shame, divine providence so arranging things that he would not be able to glory vainly in any way.
Whence it happened that blessed Francis was passing through the same place on another occasion, and Brother Elias was with him; and behold, that woman, when she heard of his coming, immediately arose; and running through the street, she cried out after him that he should deign to speak to her. But he did not want to speak to her, knowing that she was the woman from whom he had once cast out a devil by the power of God. But she kissed the steps of his feet, giving thanks to God and to his servant St. Francis who had freed her out of the hand of death. Finally, Brother Elias urged the saint by his prayers, and he spoke to her after he had been assured by the people of her illness, as was said, and of her cure.
Of the Cleansing of Lepers
At San Severino in the Marches on Ancona a certain young man named Acto, who was covered all over with leprosy, was considered a leper by all in accordance with the verdict of the doctors. All his limbs were swollen and enlarged, and because of the distention and puffed up condition of his veins he saw everything awry. He could not walk, but lying as he did continuously in his sickbed, he caused his parents sorrow and grief. His father, tortured daily as he was with his son’s suffering, did not know what to do about him. At length it came into his heart to commend his son by all means to blessed Francis, and he said to his son: “Son, do you wish to vow yourself to St. Francis, who everywhere is renowned for his miracles, that it might please him to free you from your illness?” He replied: “I want to, father.” The father immediately had paper brought and, after he had measured his son’s stature in height and girth, he said: “Raise yourself up, son, and vow yourself to blessed Francis, and after he has cured you, you shall bring him a candle as tall as you are every year for as long as you live.” At the command of his father he rose up as well as he could, and joining his hands, he began humbly to invoke blessed Francis’ compassion.
Accordingly, after he had taken up the paper measure and completed his prayer, he was immediately cured of his leprosy; and getting up and giving glory to God and to blessed Francis, he began to walk with joy. In the city of Fano, a certain young man named Bonushomo, who was considered paralyzed and leprous by all the doctors, was devoutly offered to blessed Francis by his parents. He was cleansed from the leprosy and cured of his paralysis and made completely well.
Of the Curing of the Dumb and the Deaf
At Citta della Pieve there was a very poor beggar boy who was completely dumb and deaf from his birth. He had a tongue that was very short and mutilated so much so that it seemed to those who had examined it many times that it had been cut off. One evening he came to the house of a certain man of the city who was called Mark, and by means of signs, as is customary with the mute, he begged shelter from him. He leaned his head sideways, his jaw against his hand, so that it could be understood that he wanted to be sheltered with him for the night. But the man took him into his house with great happiness and willingly kept him with him, for the boy knew how to be a competent servant. He was an ingenious young man, for, though he had been deaf and dumb from the cradle, he understood by signs what was commanded him. One night when the man was at supper with his wife and the boy was waiting on them, the man said to his wife: “I would consider it the greatest miracle if the blessed Francis would give hearing and speech to this boy.”
And he added: “I vow to the Lord God that if the blessed Francis should deign to work this miracle, I will, for love of him, hold this boy most dear and provide for him as long as he lives.” Wonderful indeed! When the vow had been made, the boy immediately spoke and said: “St. Francis lives.” And then looking about, he again said: “I see St. Francis standing on high and he is coming to give me speech.” And the boy added: “What therefore shall I say to the people?” Then that man arose, rejoicing and exalting greatly, and he made known to all the people what had happened. All those who had seen the boy before when he could not speak came running, and, filled with admiration and wonder, they humbly gave praise to God and to blessed Francis. The boy’s tongue grew and became adapted for speech, and he began to utter properly formed words as though he had always been speaking.
Another boy, by the name of Villa, could not speak or walk. His mother made a waxen image in fulfilment of a vow and took it with reverence to the place where the blessed father Francis is buried. When she returned home, she found her son walking and speaking. A certain man, in the diocese of Perugia, had completely lost the faculty of speech. He always kept his mouth open, gaping horribly and in great distress, for his throat was much swollen and puffed up. When he had come to the place where the most holy body is buried and wished to go up the steps to the tomb, he vomited much blood, and completely relieved, he began to speak and to close and open up his mouth as was necessary.
A certain woman suffered such great pain in her throat that from the excessive burning her tongue had dried to her palate. She could not speak, nor eat, nor drink. Plasters were applied and medicines used, but she felt no relief from her infirmity with all these things. Finally, she vowed herself in her heart to St. Francis, for she could not speak, and suddenly her flesh broke open and there came from her throat a small round stone which she took in her hand and showed to everyone nearby, and she was soon completely healed.
In the city of Greccio there was a certain young man who had lost his hearing, his memory, and his speech, and he could not understand or perceive anything. But his parents, who had great faith in St. Francis, vowed him with humble devotion; when the vow had been fulfilled, he was most abundantly endowed with the senses he had lacked through the favor of the most holy and glorious father Francis.
To the praise, glory, and honour of Jesus Christ our Lord, whose kingdom and empire endure firm and immoveable forever and ever Amen.
This was a movement in the Middle Ages whose characteristics were: evangelical obedience to the Gospel, a rigorous asceticism, an aversion to recognizing the ministry of unworthy-living priests, a belief in visions, prophecies and spirit possession. A.J. Gordon in his book The Ministry of Healing quotes the following doctrine of the Waldensians:
Therefore, concerning this anointing of the sick, we hold it as an article of faith, and profess sincerely from the heart that sick persons, when they ask it, may lawfully be anointed with the anointing oil by one who joins them in praying that it may be efficacious to the healing of the body according to the design and end and effect mentioned by the apostles; and we profess that such an anointing performed according to the apostolic design and practice will be healing and profitable. (Gordon 1802, 65).
COLETTE OF CORBI (d. 1447)
The following is recorded about Colette in The Lives of the Saints:
In 1410, she founded a covenant at Besancon; in 1415, she introduced a reform into the convent of the Cordeliers, at Dole, and in succession into nearly all the convents in Lorraine, Champagne, and Picardy. In 1416, she founded a house of her order at Poligny, at the foot of the Jura, and another at Auxonne. “I am dying of curiosity to see this wonderful Colette, who resuscitates the dead,” wrote the Duchess of Bourbon, about this time. For the fame of the miracles and labours of the carpenter’s daughter was in every mouth.
After having spent two years at Vevey, Colette went to Nozeroy, to the princess of Orange, and remained with her till 1430. Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, recalled Colette to Flanders, where she founded several houses, and glorified God by many miracles. (Baring-Gould, The Lives of the Saints, 1897, 3:99-100).
More to come!