And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
- And did those feet, William Blake

onsdag 6. januar 2016

Wine for the Epiphany - a miracle of Saint Martin's

Today is the feast of the Epiphany, marking the day when the three kings or the three magi came to visit the Christ-child in Bethlehem. In the medieval calendars, Epiphany was a feast of great importance and was celebrated with due liturgical rites.

In this blogpost, I wish to present a story about a miracle wrought through Bishop Martin of Tours on the feast of the Epiphany. The story comes from the third book of the Miracles of Bishop Martin, written by Gregory of Tours who held Martin as his particular patron saint.

Bishop Martin of Tours and a crippled man
MS Egerton 3018, f.117, missal, use of Cologne, 1st quarter of the 15th century
Courtesy of British Library

Adoration of the magi
MS Egerton 2125, f.182v, prayer book, Ghent, c.1519
Courtesy of British Library

It is common in stories about saints that their deeds in life, or the miracles wrought through them either while living or posthumously, are in some way meant to be in imitation of deeds performed by Christ in the gospels. In this case, as will be seen, the imitation is of the miracle at Cana, where Christ made water into wine at the wedding feast.

As will also be seen, the connection to the miracle at Cana is circuitous at best, yet Gregory himself makes this overt connection in the first paragraph, saying:

There was also that extraordinary miracle on Epiphany, when, at the request of the blessed bishop Martin, the Lord produced Falernian wine from water and made wine come forth from the riverbed for a poor man, just as he had once transformed water into wine.
- Gregory of Tours, The Miracles of Bishop Martin, book 2, chapter 16 (translated by Giselle de Nie)

The specification of Falernian wine might seem a bit odd at first, a detail somewhat on the acribic side even for God, but I'm tempted to ascribe this to Gregory's sense of humour, The miracle itself is placed within the frame narrative of a fishing trip on the Loire river which was undertaken by Gregory himself. Together with some companions he inquires a local boatman where there are good places for fishing, and the boatman points out one spot, adding that they should invoke the aid of Saint Martin in order to secure a catch. Gregory's companions show some skepticism to this, saying that "no one had ever seen a fish caught in his name". The boatman then goes on to correct this misapprehension.

For I shall tell you what happened to me this year, how through the invocation of his name and with the Lord's help I deserved to get what I wished. In effect, it was the day of Epiphany and when I entered my storeroom I found nothing in it to drink. When I had left it I prayed, saying: 'Most holy Martin, send me some wine in this sacred solemnity lest, when the others are drinking, I remain deprived.'
- Gregory of Tours, The Miracles of Bishop Martin (translated by Giselle de Nie)

As he is praying, the boatman is called to the other shore of the river to help a traveller across, and as he is rowing "suddenly a huge fish sprang from the water and fell into the boat". The boatman continues:

Having immediately killed it and ferried the men, I returned home, sold the fish for a couple of gallons of wine, and dined along with the others. You will therefore know how quickly, if he is asked in faith, Martin will appear to help in situations in which he is invoked.
- Gregory of Tours, The Miracles of Bishop Martin (translated by Giselle de Nie)

This is arguably not the most impressive way of turning water into wine, and the story sounds more like a folktale in which help comes in unexpected ways and where wishes are granted after having been filtered through a great deal of interpretative liberty. However, Gregory makes the connection overtly and it is clear that in the taxonomy of miracles, the circuitous route to the wine belongs to the same category as the miracle at Cana.

The wedding feast at Cana
MS Egerton 2781, f.15v, book of hours, use of Sarum, 2nd quarter of the 14th century
Courtesy of British Library

The wedding at Cana
MS Arundel 157, f.6v, St. Albans, c.1240, possibly by Matthew Paris
Courtesy of British Library

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