Heavenly Healing or Failure of Faith? Partial Cures in Later Medieval Canonization Processes
By Jenni Kuuliala
Church and Belief in the Middle Ages. Popes, Saints, and Crusaders, eds. Kirsi Salonen and Sari Katajala-Peltomaa (Amsterdam University Press, 2016)
Introduction: For the past decades, canonization processes and miracle collections have provided a treasure trove for the historians of everyday life. Using them as source material, topics such as family life, childhood, and gender roles have been covered by many scholars, in addition to the study of the veneration of saints and the canonization process itself. Healing miracles, with their basis in the Bible, were the fundamental type of miracle performed by saints. For medieval people, the miracles performed by Christ provided the models for subsequent miracles, which continued to be conducted after his life on earth. A high proportion of recorded miracles cured blindness, deafness, speech disorders, and various conditions impairing a person’s mobility. Therefore, they also provide a very unique source type for the study of medieval illness and health, as well as dis/ability.
Although many of the healing miracles included in later medieval canonization records, as well as in other types of miracle collections, are sudden, often even showy cures, a large proportion of the recoveries of particularly physical impairments and long-term illnesses were gradual.
Additionally, hagiographic sources include a group of miracles that were somehow partial. By ‘partial cure’, I mean healing miracles, after which some milder symptoms of the previous illness or impairment remained. The term is a modern one; although the sources record the possible ‘incompleteness’ of the cure, there is variation in the labelling and phrasing of them. Cures that can be defined as partial were, in any case, scrutinized relatively rarely in the canonization hearings.
Those scholars who have paid attention to their existence have explained this lack of coverage by interpreting them as failed miracles, or uninteresting to the commissioners. For example, Maria Wittmer-Butsch and Constanze Rendtel write that partial cures were most often rejected because they were considered rather as healings, not miracles, and thus no longer interesting for the process, and Stanko Andrić places partial cures in the category of failed, or ‘not-quite-successful’ miracles.