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CONFERENCE ABSTRACT

 

"Gonzalo de Berceo's Milagros de Nuestra Senora as a Space of Cultural Encounter"

 

Julian Weiss, King’s College London


This paper attempts to historicize the collection of Marian miracles compiled by the famous Riojan cleric Gonzalo de Berceo in the mid-thirteenth century. I begin by reviewing the recent ideological readings of Berceo's Milagros, especially the recent book by Marta Ana Diz, who argues that the Virgin Mary is a means of 'propagating the ideology' of a newly centralized and reformist Church. After a brief critique of that view on theoretical grounds (it is based on too narrow a concept of ideology), I argue that the Virgin Mary is not so much an ideological trope for an institution, as for a process of negotiation between different forms of authority and power. Berceo's manipulation of the convention of Virgin as 'mediatrix', his adaptation of his sources, and his representation of the 'miraculous', combine to reconcile some of the contradictions that were produced in the course of the profound social, political, and cultural changes of early thirteenth-century Iberia. I illustrate this hypothesis by analyzing the miracles that represent such issues as peasant labour, Jewish 'humanity', and female religious authority--issues that were particularly contentious during the period of territorial expansion and religious restructuring that occurred during the great Castilian 'Reconquest' of c. 1220-1260. Historically, the cult of the Virgin Mary could serve many ends and interests: this paper shows how, in one particular historical conjuncture, clerical representation of the Virgin Mary opened up a space in which an ideological relationship could be forged between 'cult' and 'culture'. Berceo's representation of the Virgin Mary's liminal position between humankind and God operates on two levels that are related by paradox: Mary's miracles define the boundaries that separate the various components of a culture (economic, religious, racial, sexual), even as they erase those boundaries in the quest for a harmonious and integrated whole, subject to a higher authority. The Virgin Mary was a fulcrum between the two poles of this 'harmonious discord', and as such she was appropriated by clerics eager to represent themselves as the indispensable mediators between a diverse, expanding society and the increasingly institutionalized centres of religious and secular authority.

 

 

 

 

 

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