previous chapter
1 Bavaria and Its Pilgrimages in the Later Middle Ages
next chapter

1
Bavaria and Its Pilgrimages in the Later Middle Ages

Around 1500, Bavaria possessed both reserves of an enduring, conservative stability and swift sources of change. A region dominated by a traditional agrarian order, the territory was undergoing a revolution in government that would eventually place it within the vanguard of German states. During the Middle Ages, the duchy's ruling dynasty, the Wittelsbachs, had frequently partitioned its lands. Through consolidation in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the number of independent territories had been reduced to just two: Upper Bavaria, with its capital at Munich, and Lower Bavaria, ruled from Landshut. Following the brief War of the Landshut Succession (1503-1505), most of Lower Bavaria was brought under the control of the Munich Wittelsbachs. One year later, in 1506, the Upper Bavarian duke secured the passage of a primogeniture ordinance forbidding future partitioning of the duchy.[1]

The newly reunified Bavaria comprised a large, mostly geographically consolidated territory within the southeastern Holy Roman Empire (see map). Its topography sloped gradually downward from the Alps in the south into a region of hills and high plateaus, before reaching the fertile farmland of the Lower Bavarian plains. The Upper Palatine highlands and the Bohemian Forest formed natural frontiers along most of the territory's northern reaches. Within this considerable expanse of land, the Wittelsbach dukes exercised a greater degree of authority and control than many German princes. Already in the late 1400s, the Upper Bavarian dynasty had begun introducing the bureaucratic innovations and revenue and judicial systems typical of early modern states. They had divided their territory into four administrative districts, each with its


16

Southern Germany, with pilgrimage sites and other places frequently
mentioned in the text. Courtesy of Barbara L. Trapido

own master official, a Rentmeister , who controlled a growing army of local officials; he was also granted broad powers to police the countryside and to supervise the machineries of ducal justice, administration, finance, and security.[2] With the reunification of Bavaria in the early sixteenth century, the Upper Bavarian dukes moved to establish this efficient bureaucratic system in the formerly autonomous regions of their realm.

Such developments placed Bavaria well along the path to becoming a centralized, semiautonomous state. Even with reunification, however, the Wittelsbachs continued to face considerable resistance to their state-building ambitions. Most of the Lower Bavarian nobility had supported their own duke in the civil war and were distrustful of the new regime centered in Munich. The Wittelsbachs' growing bureaucracy, moreover, often assaulted and subverted the


17

ancient privileges, customs, and rights of the duchy's various estates in favor of establishing measures and institutions that favored the ruling dynasty's authority. As a consequence, numerous disputes erupted in the meeting of the duchy's parliament, the Landtag , comprising members of the three estates: the nobility; the higher, aristocratic clergy; and the burghers. Jealous of the rights they had built up during the centuries of territorial partition, the three estates resisted the Wittelsbach state's efforts at centralization, frequently attempting to stem the growth of ducal power by refusing to approve decrees and taxes. Even when granted assurances that their ancient privileges would be respected, the Bavarian diet retained a suspicion of ducal authority. In 1514, for example, the estates sided with the mother of the then-ruling Duke Wilhelm IV in a family inheritance dispute. Rescinding the primogeniture ordinance, the Landtag awarded one-third of the duchy to Wilhelm's brother. Such tactics, however, could produce unexpected results. Although the diet intended their maneuver to stem the growth of Wittelsbach power, Wilhelm and his brother coordinated their policies, combining their efforts to weaken the privileges of the clergy, nobility, and burghers.[3]

Rivalries like these were far removed from the more than four-fifths of the territory's population that were peasants. Yet governmental squabbling nevertheless affected rural society, since controversies often revolved around the Wittelsbach state's rights to tax the peasantry. Although this class bore a disproportionate burden in financing the state, the estates' resistance to taxes and the Wittelsbach's economy in administering their state kept this burden from becoming too great during the first half of the sixteenth century.[4]

Throughout the period treated in this study—that is, roughly 1450-1700—Bavaria remained more profoundly rural than many other parts of the German empire. Unlike the Rhineland or the imperial Southwest, the Wittelsbach duchy (indeed, the German Southeast generally) contained few great cities. On the duchy's western and northern borders, Augsburg and Regensburg were in


18

1500 the two largest autonomous or imperial cities; yet while Augsburg consistently enjoyed wealth and prestige in the empire during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Regensburg had entered into difficult financial times. A shift in trade routes had left it impoverished, and by the late 1400s the town had been forced to declare bankruptcy and to surrender its imperial freedom to a Bavarian duke. It eventually regained its imperial status, but its population of about eleven thousand at the outset of the sixteenth century placed it far behind in the ranks of the empire's most powerful and commercially dynamic centers. Within their own duchy, the Wittelsbachs had also granted urban charters to more than 120 towns and markets. Even by the modest standards of the time, most of these territorial "urban centers" remained in the sixteenth century little more than overgrown villages. Until the end of the Old Reich, Munich and Straubing were the only two Bavarian cities with populations in excess of four thousand.[5]

More agrarian than other parts of the empire, Bavaria could also boast a less turbulent history during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Beginning around 1470, the commercial revolution and the "long century" of population expansion began inexorably to alter the character of German society and economy. The change from an older feudal agrarian order to one based on wage, price, and market structures produced increasing stratification in rural society and a tradition of peasant revolt that affected most South German regions. In Swabia, Franconia, and the imperial Southwest particularly, territorial fragmentation, increasingly restrictive tenancies, and the proliferation of forms of unfree serfdom inspired numerous rural rebellions and peasant disturbances in the decades after 1470. Bavaria, however, remained largely free of the tide of agrarian unrest that culminated in the great Peasants' War of 1525.

Although conditions in the duchy were far from idyllic, the issue of land tenure—a clear cause of rural revolt in other parts of the empire—had been resolved there in ways generally favorable to the peasantry. During the later Middle Ages, the Bavarian nobility and


19

the Wittelsbach dukes had begun granting their peasants heritable leases to prevent their flight from the land. These measures helped to preserve a more conservative agrarian order within the territory.[6] From the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, moreover, most Bavarians continued to live in small farming villages where populations numbered only several hundred. Thus, while markets were available for agricultural surpluses, the subsistence economy remained more important than the commercial. This enduring conservativism meant that in Bavaria's villages both the agricultural and liturgical year remained the principal ways of demarcating time, and religious modes of explaining and protecting existence prevailed.[7]

Those seeking to understand the complex patterns of thought and perception of this very different world must first divorce themselves from some fundamental modern assumptions. In the modern rationalist framework, the interpretation of religion presumes a dichotomy between sacred and profane, and experiences judged to be "religious" are often relegated to a separate sphere of analysis. This kind of dichotomized approach, however, is not effective for examining the religion that prevailed in the late medieval or early modern German countryside. There, what was considered sacred was, as Robert Scribner has observed, "always experienced from within the profane."[8] Religion formed an "economy of the sacred" that expressed itself in practices aimed at sanctifying and protecting human beings, their actions, property, agriculture, and communities.

Since the publication of Keith Thomas's 1971 investigation of faith in premodern England, Religion and the Decline of Magic , historians have become more aware of the complementary roles that "magic" and "religion" played in medieval popular culture. Neither category can be separated from the other with any degree of ac-


20

curacy, for each sought primarily to enlist power—wherever it resided—and to make it usable for both personal and communal needs. This religion was not "pre-Christian," as some have argued, though it sometimes kept alive ideas and practices that may have been pre-Christian in origin. In Bavaria, the sources reveal a Christianity based in ritual and habituated to a situation that was profoundly rural, agrarian, and local.

The religious perceptions of late medieval and early modern Bavarians often expressed themselves in a chorus of customs and rites performed both within and beyond the parish church. Ecclesiastical and extrasacramental rituals marked the passing of the year, and objects such as the Eucharist, holy water, blessed amulets, and saints' relics were conduits for the transfer of both protection and salvific grace. Rites of passage like baptism and the funeral delineated age groups, marking off the relationships of various cohorts to the community writ large. Prayers, invocations, and conjurations sought protection—sometimes divine, sometimes demonic—and a kind of inoculation from the harsh and malevolent forces people perceived around them. By the late fifteenth century, pilgrimage, too, had become deeply rooted in this sacred economy.

Approaching this period with the benefit of post-Reformation hindsight, scholars have identified in the general popularity of saints and pilgrimage a deep spiritual incertitude and anxiety about salvation in late medieval Germany. Yet, I would argue, the prominence of these dimensions of late medieval religion did not in fact arise from a pervasive fear about redemption. Both the saints and their special places were routinized sources for the salvific benefits of indulgences and of physical cures, effects procurable by the faithful in exchange for devotion. Pilgrimage was at this point less a matter of propitiation and expiation than it would become in a later, post-Tridentine age. In Bavaria, shrines were in large part centers of "faith healing," revered and prized because the saints resolved certain otherwise insoluble human dilemmas in ways more effective than those of other institutions. In the absence of effective medication, for example, the onslaught of an illness was often perceived as life-threatening, and its cessation a case of supernatural intervention. While indulgences, too, attracted people to these sites, pilgrims were not necessarily uncertain about their salvation. For most, ultimate redemption was rarely doubted; indulgences merely


21

lessened inevitable purgatorial suffering. Thus, while the popularity of the cult of the saints in this period may suggest a pessimism and anxiety with regard to the human condition, it does not necessarily reveal a populace prepared for the radical departure of Protestant justification by faith.

In the course of the Middle Ages, Bavarians had both imported and created their own panoply of sanctities that resided at specific, observable sites in the landscape. The history of these places differs significantly from that observed in other parts of Europe. Generally speaking, the course of European pilgrimage displayed a gradual progression away from objective kinds of relic and grave cults to ones, like the Marian image cults, that granted the pilgrim's subjectivity greater play. Western Europe's first pilgrimages were to the graves of local martyred and ascetic saints. In late antiquity and the early Middle Ages, the faithful actually journeyed to these sites to pray for healing or aid in the very presence of the saint. In subsequent centuries, however, devotion departed from direct attachment to the saints' tombs. This trend is observable already in late antiquity, when Christians began dismembering and redistributing martyred saints' relics. To satisfy an immense appetite for sanctity, an active commerce and even thievery developed in the remains of the saints, and pilgrimages ensued to churches throughout Western Europe that possessed relics of saints embraced by Roman Christianity. These new international cults gradually displaced the appeal of the early, local saintly tumuli.

After the twelfth century, the popularity of these relic cults waned again in favor of new devotions in which miraculous images, statues, and the Eucharist were revered. The reason for this gradual waning of relic popularity was a new piety that venerated Mary, and later worshipped Christ, as the two most important persons in the celestial hierarchy. Because neither figure had left behind an extensive collection of relics beyond bits of hair, blood, or milk, the image often assumed a greater importance as a central cultic object. At each stage in this progression—from graves to relics to images—the importance of the saint's physical presence at the shrine decreased, while the pilgrim's subjective, imagined experience of the patron increased. One telling result of this change was that the patrons of later medieval shrines did not usually heal people within their church, but at the place where they were invoked.


22

Early medieval customs like incubation—the sleeping or taking up of residence within the shrine to effect cures in the saint's presence—thus became increasingly rare. As a result of these complex and centuries-long transformations, Europeans gradually transferred their loyalties from local thaumaturgists to universally revered members of a celestial hierarchy that included the apostles, early Church martyrs, the Virgin, and Christ.[9] At least one scholar has seen in this displacement a grass-roots source for the late medieval political integration of Western European states.[10] Yet pilgrimage and shrines continued to be marked by profound local variations, despite the external similarities of shared celestial patrons; interpretation of these developments, therefore, should be undertaken with caution.

The specific implications of pilgrimage for our understanding of political and cultural patterns will likely remain controversial for some time. Nevertheless, it is clear that the general course of cultic development sketched here for Western Europe as a whole does not hold true for Bavaria, or for Germany generally. As in other European regions, Bavaria's first pilgrimages had as their destination saintly graves, the figures most often revered in the early Middle Ages usually being the missionaries and first bishops of the territory. In Germany, however, the tumulus cult remained rare, and in Bavaria in particular no pilgrimages to local saints' graves arose in the early Middle Ages, besides those to cathedrals and monastic churches.[11]


23

During the later Middle Ages, new kinds of cults competed with these older tumulus devotions. Perhaps the first to emerge to challenge the grave cult, in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, was the eucharistic cult, occupying an intermediary position between the physicality of the older types of devotion and the subsequent forms of visual and imagistic piety. At the shrines of these cults, the Eucharist was revered much like a relic; but it was the sensual act of viewing the hosts that transferred onto the faithful a kind of salvific grace. The legends associated with these sites vividly evoke the steady rise of eucharistic devotion in the later Middle Ages and the diffusion of the belief in the Real Presence. Miraculously preserved from mistreatment at the hands of women, magicians, heretics, and Jews, the host was celebrated at Bavaria's shrines as a divine locus that possessed the power to protect and avenge itself. The consecrated wafer performed its miracles in various ways. When dropped by the careless, it refused to be moved from its resting place. For those who desired to use it for magic, the wafer bled as a warning. For those who doubted the divine presence, apparitions appeared to convince them. And when tortured, the host revealed its agonies to Christians who avenged the crime.[12]

In Bavaria, this last, most frequently retold legend about the Eucharist was often associated with the Jews. During two successive waves of pilgrimage foundations in the mid fourteenth and late fifteenth centuries, a number of shrines dedicated to "Bleeding Hosts" appeared in the territory. The legends retold about these sites often explained and justified Jewish pogroms. Drawing details from the New Testament Passion narratives, these stories of "crimes against the host" (Hostienfrevel or Hostienschändung ) alleged an ongoing tradition of Jewish torture waged against the Christian God. Because of their hatred of Christ, the narrative intoned, Jews would purchase hosts from a Christian betrayer and torture them in ways


24

that recalled the Passion and Crucifixion, scratching them with thorns, driving nails through them, or pounding them on an anvil. When the hosts would begin to bleed as a warning, the Jews, to hide their crime, would throw the wafers into a fiery furnace, but they would not be consumed. In the legends of some shrines, a vision of the Christ child also appeared. In desperation, the myth related, the Jews would cast the wafers into wells or into a river that would immediately turn blood-red. The Virgin or angels would appear to announce the crime to Christians, who would avenge the deed by executing the offending Jews and the "Judas" who had betrayed Christian society by supplying the wafers to the Jews.[13]

Within the boundaries of Bavaria, shrines with legends like these were especially common in the Donauraum , the region of northern Lower Bavaria straddling the Danube River, a fact that reveals the presence of a deeply rooted tradition of Jewish hatred in the region.[14] In addition, however, legends about host crimes helped to sustain the widespread perception that holy objects like the Eucharist were vulnerable to attack. They could be tortured and defiled, and yet could triumph over their oppressors. Legends of the Bleeding Host celebrated the Eucharist as a locus for overcoming evil.

Even while cults like these proliferated in Bavaria in the later Middle Ages, a number of others also appeared. Late medieval Bavarians journeyed to holy places associated with a saint, to wonder-working images of the Virgin, and to the graves of long-deceased thaumaturgists. The first of these types of cults, that of the locus sanctus , was particularly widespread in Bavaria in the later Middle Ages. In contrast to sites with relics or saintly graves, a "holy place" shrine possessed no physical remains of the saint. Its appeal resided primarily in the perception that it was a locale particularly blessed with the saint's patronage. In the absence of the tangible presence of the patron by way of objects like relics or artistic images, legends served to link the saint to specific places, and the subsequent tradition of thaumaturgy and intercession—often assidu-


25

ously publicized by medieval clerics—affirmed the saint's continued patronage over the shrine.

At the locus sanctus of St. Leonhard at Inchenhofen, for example, the church possessed not even an image of this French noble saint until centuries after the pilgrimage had commenced. The church was in fact home to but a tiny and insignificant devotion for quite a while; then as one medieval cleric tells us, Leonhard performed a stunning miracle of retribution. One day, three knights and forty horsemen visited Inchenhofen looking for a place to set up camp. Seeing signs of devotion at the church, though, and recognizing it as a holy place, the warriors searched elsewhere. Immediately after they left Leonhard's presence, one of the knights was struck dead, and his companions discovered two stolen chickens in his saddle bags. Knowledge of this judicious punishment soon circulated in the region; Inchenhofen's pilgrimage grew dramatically, and Leonhard's presence continued to be confirmed through an ongoing tradition of thaumaturgy and intercession. The case of Inchenhofen was typical.[15]

At the same time as numinous "holy places" like these were growing in popularity, Bavaria's older grave cults also experienced a renaissance. In much of Europe, these shrines survived only as a kind of archaic remnant; yet in Bavaria, the clergy at a number of ancient abbeys, monasteries, and cathedrals moved to revive these devotions in the years around 1450. Long-forgotten saints like St. Simpert at Augsburg or St. Rasso at Grafrath were rediscovered and their bodies ceremonially exhumed and transferred to newer, grander tombs that became the destination for large numbers of pilgrims.[16]

In much of Western Europe, widespread Marian devotion had first begun to appear in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Such worship was a fundamental departure from preexisting cults, since


26

Marian pilgrimages were tied to images and statues rather than to sacred places, relics, or hosts. According to legend, Mary's body had been assumed into heaven with few relics left behind; as a consequence, images became the central object for the faithful's devotion at the Virgin's shrines.

In a study of the Marian images of Bavaria, however, Torsten Gebhard proved unable to verify the presence of a single statue or image of the Virgin within the territory before the early fourteenth century. The oldest Marian images from this period employ the iconography of the sedes sapientiae , or "throne of wisdom," an early medieval type of depiction that had already fallen into disuse in most of Western Europe by the time it appeared in Bavaria. These images portray Mary as the theotokos , or "God-bearer"; she sits in a rigid forward direction and presents the Christ child to onlookers as the embodied Word of God.[17] After 1340 a new depiction of the Virgin, the pietà or Vesperbild , is detectable in Bavaria, but these images did not inspire independent Marian pilgrimages. Because the pietà concentrates attention on the role of Mary as the suffering mother of Christ, it was employed first as an adjunct to the eucharistic devotion at Bleeding Host shrines, appearing alongside the imago pietatis or Schmerzenmannsbild , a bleeding depiction of the tortured Christ that was often displayed at sites of host desecration.[18]

This iconographic evidence suggests that a widespread, autonomous Marian devotion did not exist in Bavaria during much of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Although several Marian shrines appeared in Bavaria in the mid-fifteenth century, devotions at these places remained localized. They were in any case soon eclipsed by the development in the 1490s of Altötting, a site destined to be celebrated variously as a symbol of imperial unity and a sign of the imminent Apocalypse. In 1489, miracles began to be reported at a small chapel in this town believed to date to Carolingian times. Within several years thousands of pilgrims from


27

Bavaria and the southern empire had transformed the formerly insignificant church into one of the most popular destinations in Germany. Members of the imperial nobility, the Lower and Upper Bavarian dukes, and even the Holy Roman emperor processed there, showering the site with ostentatious gifts. In 1492 alone, the shrine's revenue totaled 12, 375 pfund pfennig , a sum equivalent to the contemporary value of roughly 4,000 horses or 6,600 cows.[19] By the early sixteenth century, the church's treasury was rich enough to serve as a war chest for the Lower Bavarian duke in waging the so-called War of the Landshut Succession against his Munich cousins. And despite the pilgrimage's decline from 1503 to 1505 as a result of that conflict, it soon revived and continued to be a popular destination until 1520. Throughout the period 1490-1520, the Wittelsbach dynasty had continually supported the site, bestowing it with attentions otherwise reserved for only a few of the most important places of pilgrimage in the territory. As the premier Bavarian edifice dedicated to the Virgin, Altötting was to continue influencing Marian devotion in the region throughout the early modern period.

Although the Marian cult was the last major type of pilgrimage to develop in Bavaria, it quickly enjoyed a widespread appeal. Rather than supplanting the other already-established host and saints' cults, however, Marian devotion continued in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries to flourish alongside older pilgrimages. Indeed, the late medieval flowering of lay piety in Bavaria was expressed largely through the simultaneous popularity of these various cults. Describing his fellow countrymen in the early sixteenth century, the humanist Johannes Aventinus included the observation that Bavarians were "pious, ... going happily on pilgrimages," and that they had "many shrines."[20] Modern historical research has confirmed the truth of his assessment. By 1500, an explosion of devotion in the region had forged a sacral landscape characterized by an almost bewildering variety of sacred sites and the frequent processions of villages and individual pilgrims.


28

Bavaria's shrines were marketplaces in a sacred economy, exchanging healing, intercession, and indulgences in return for a pilgrim's visits, prayers, and gifts. Although visited by all types of people, including burghers, artisans, and nobles, these were primarily sites of peasant pilgrimage.[21] At the sacred destinations, religious life featured the same longing after protection evidenced in other dimensions of the rural mentality. Seeking cures or aid in some otherwise hopeless circumstance, the faithful approached their saintly patrons with prayers and vows, promising journeys if they received aid. To make their entreaties more attractive, however, the prospective pilgrim offered a gift along with the appeal. Most often, votants cautiously stipulated that they would present the gift only if they were helped. In the later Middle Ages much gift-giving was a fairly simple affair: it involved specific quantities of wax (an important medium of exchange throughout Europe and a source of lighting for the church), grain, cloth, and other raw commodities. The giving of basic materials like these was usually deemed sufficient to entice the saints to use their powers of intercession. These items, moreover, were an important source of revenue for the clergy who resided at the pilgrimage church, and markets sometimes developed to resell the gifts to other pilgrims.[22]

The relationship established by a votant's invocation of the saints was a contractual one and an essential first step on the path to receiving aid. For those who were incapacitated and incapable of making the vow, others would promise for the afflicted. The recipients of saintly help, however, were bound to fulfill the promise of pilgrimage and gift presentation. Shirking this responsibility invalidated the original vow and resulted in punishment by the saint—a sort of spur to make good on the contract. Medieval miracle records include numerous stories warning pilgrims not to neglect the timely completion of their promise lest they begin to suffer their diseases or hardship again. In surviving records from late medieval Bavaria, this perception of miracles as the product of an unequal yet contractual exchange is common. Would-be pilgrims prayed to the saints,


29

promising a pilgrimage and gift, but then cautiously waited before completing their vow to see if their request had in fact been granted.[23]

Shrines may have functioned thus as important components in a sacred economy, yet they were not completely free, unregulated markets. The clergy labored to control, nurture, and expand them, turning to a variety of media for purposes of promotion. Since late antiquity, the recording and pronouncement of a saint's miracles had served numerous polemical, apologetic, and propagandistic purposes. In his City of God , for example, the fourth-century bishop Augustine, having overcome early doubts about the reality of contemporary saintly intercession, used numerous miracles worked by the orthodox saints Stephen, Gervasius, and Protasius to polemicize against the Arians and Donatists.[24] In the Middle Ages, the recording of intercessory testimonies—now increasingly routinized and formulaic—continued to lend supernatural confirmation to cults and to expand devotion. In an increasingly orthodox Europe, however, the clergy who ministered at various cultic centers often considered it helpful to collect pilgrims' testimonies that proved the efficacy of their own patron and allowed their cult to compete in the increasingly diverse and crowded arena of devotion. In twelfth- and thirteenth-century France and England, scribal records of miracles began to be made at numerous places. In Bavaria, the practice of setting down these testimonies was known as early as the eleventh century, but only in the later Middle Ages did it become truly widespread. Prompted by a rising desire to learn about cases of supernatural intervention, as well as the general increase in pious devotion, Bavaria's clergy became some of Europe's most diligent recorders of saintly miracles.[25]


30

This cataloguing of a saint's contemporary miracles served several functions. First, because the shrines at which the cures and interventions occurred were generally small, drawing their clientele largely from the immediate vicinity, publicity helped the clerics to assure devotees of the saint's continued effectiveness in the region. Recorded miracles were thus proclaimed to pilgrims on the church's annual feast days, when traffic at the shrine was heaviest. Included in the records were the votant's name and place of residence, the nature of his or her problem, and, usually, the year in which the miracle occurred. Second, the details of these wonders concretized a patron's intercession, thus bolstering the shrine's viability; through use of this information, clerical promoters labored to increase the size and scope of their cult. Third, miracles supported a cult's claim to indulgences—the official Church's sanction for a pilgrimage and an important currency in the late medieval spiritual economy.

Oral proclamation was well suited to a society in which only a small fraction of the entire population was literate. Yet a growing desire to hear and learn about cases of supernatural intervention-a desire evident from the rising attention in the fifteenth century to the recording of such miracles—also inspired the adoption of new media to expand the advertisement of specific sites. Crystallized into pictures, retold in sermons, lauded in songs and poems, and published in modest broadsides and pamphlets, miracles became the focus of an active trade by Bavaria's clergy and laity in the generations immediately preceding the Reformation.

Around 1500, the pictorial depiction of these testimonies in commissioned altar cycles began to flourish in Bavaria. The first Bavarian "miracle picture cycle" (Mirakelbildzyklus ) was likely commissioned for the Altütting shrine sometime around 1500; it retold in cartoon fashion the initial miracles that had revealed the site's power and precipitated its pilgrimage. The distilling of wonders into narrative pictorial cycles possessed a unique advantage over oral pronouncement: pictures worked continuously, conveying the shrine's intercessions to pilgrims even when priests were not present in the church. It would be a mistake, though, to view such developments as born solely of clerical calculation. For roughly at


31

the same time as the clergy moved to present their patrons' miracles pictorially, the Bavarian laity began bringing illustrated votive tablets as gifts to their saintly intercessors. These representational offerings, painted or carved in wood and wax, described pictorially the aid the pilgrim had received thanks to his or her prayerful vow to the saint. Left at the shrine, they functioned like the altar cycles as an enduring testimony, stronger than mere wax or money, to the saint's aid.[26]

Both the pictorial and oral pronouncement of miracles functioned only within the pilgrimage church proper. In the late fifteenth century, however, the clergy adopted printing as another medium for broadcasting the news of their patron's effectiveness. With the publication of printed pamphlets, illustrated broadsides, and thin chapbooks they moved to extend their promotional campaigns beyond the physical confines of their churches. Procured at the souvenir booths that surrounded the pilgrimage church, the printed work traveled home with its new owner and could spread word of a shrine's miraculous power among those who had not personally made the journey.

In an environment saturated with claims of supernatural intervention, Bavaria's pilgrims appear to have questioned the veracity of these accounts but rarely. For these people, miracles served as the primary confirmation of the sanctity of local holy places. As a result, in the generation before the Reformation, the thin "miracle book" emerged as the single most common kind of printed document used to advertise a shrine. Nevertheless, its adoption remained relatively limited. Printed editions from this period survive from only three sites, all of the Marian cult: Altötting, Tuntenhausen, and Regensburg.[27]


32

A common style characterizes most of the printed miracle books published between 1490 and the onset of the Catholic Reformation around 1570. Usually thin, about eight to ten pages long, having a title page decorated with a print of the Virgin, these books presented a series of miracle reports taken from the shrine's manuscript collections. The accounts were usually retold in simple succession, with miracles tumbling one after another. To keep costs low, the literary style remained simple, even terse, with conjunctions and sentence subjects frequently omitted. Only occasionally did the author attempt to corroborate or fortify these accounts with the names of witnesses or an explanation of all the circumstances surrounding the event.[28]

Even more rarely was any effort made to place these testimonies into an interpretive framework. Most often, the pamphlet's title page announced simply that these "wonders" had been reported at the shrine and were now being published so they could be more widely known. Although briefer than most, the first surviving Alt-


33

ötting miracle book from 1494 is typical of many of those published in Bavaria during the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. It recounted a mere twenty-five miracles, a small selection from the scores that were likely on the books at the shrine at this time. Its title page, emblazoned with a print of the Virgin and child, noted that these miracles had only recently been recorded in the Marian chapel at Alttötting, centuries after its construction by the Emperor Charlemagne. This book, like many published in Bavaria before the Reformation, was not organized in strict chronological fashion: miracles reported in 1494 appeared before those that occurred in 1492. Nor was any classification scheme used. Cases of people revived from death or near death appeared alongside the stories of those who received relief from rheumatism or a difficult childbirth. Each miracle was piled one on top of another in simple succession in a kind of ongoing narrative testimony to the multiplicity and diversity of the Virgin's intercession.

One exception to this general pattern was a book published for Altötting in 1497, entitled The Little Book of Mary, God's Mother's Refuge at Altötting . Its author, Jakob Isseckemer, was the administrator of Altötting's collegiate church. Longer at fifty-four pages than most of the early miracle books, it exhibits a greater degree of technical and literary finesse than the others as well.[29] Its title page (fig. 1) is decorated with a print of the Madonna and child standing in a half moon and surrounded by a flaming halo—iconographical references to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. Wax votive images of arms, legs, and children hang all around the Virgin, and pilgrims flank her on the right and left. Two pilgrims kneel in prayer before Our Lady's altar; another approaches on a wooden leg, offering a wax foot as a votive gift. To the left of the Virgin, a man is depicted impaled on a torturing wheel; blood flowing from his body is being lapped up by a dog. This section of the print refers to the last miracle narrated in the book, the story of an unjust imprisonment and torture rectified by the Virgin.[30]

There are considerable differences between the style of the 1494 book and that of Isseckemer's 1497 edition. A lengthy dedication and preface precedes the miracle narratives in the latter work, in


34

which Isseckemer outlines a radical apocalyptic Mariology. He begins by tracing the history of the Virgin's veneration at Altötting back to Charlemagne's time, when the great emperor captured the site from heathens and built a chapel dedicated to Mary there. Yet the shrine became prominent only around 1490, he reports, when the Virgin began to reveal miracles there. Since that time, all who have called on her "in good will and with their entire trust" have been answered.[31]

In Isseckemer's dedication, though, the tiny chapel at Altötting assumes far more than a thaumaturgic role in the divine historical plan. Mary, he writes, has only lately begun to perform miracles at Altötting to prepare the world to resist the Antichrist. The miracles the Virgin is working at the shrine are consequently transformed in this account into signs intended to draw the righteous away from evil. Here "in the heart of the Holy Roman Empire," the grace of God and the intercession of Mary have been made visible to encourage the faithful to seek out the Altötting Madonna's refuge and be readied for the judgment soon to be levied on the world:

For God has held to one rule since the beginning of the world: more than once when he wanted to alter the course of the world he has sent someone who has proclaimed this with miracles, or miracles have begun to occur. Thus when he wanted to change the entire world he sent Noah who proclaimed this with many miracles.... When he wished to alter the promised land and to keep the unfaithful out of it he sent the people of Israel forty years filled with miracles.... And now God will change the course of history once again and will punish the entire world. Following the rules that he has followed in the past, he has now sent us the Virgin Mary with her goodness, which is so overflowing to those who flee to her and truly call upon her; this has been confirmed by the countless men from many lands and birth who have come to Altötting to pronounce the graces of Mary that have occurred to them.[32]

The preface that follows these remarks is written in the form of a sermon, with text from John 19: "Behold your Mother." Isseckemer transforms Christ's statement to John the Beloved from the cross into a metaphor for the Church's relationship to Mary. He then


35

proceeds to narrate his selection of miracle stories from the "many thousands" reported at Altötting.

Isseckemer's Little Book of Mary is unusual among the early printed miracle books in many respects. The style, vocabulary, and syntax of the work show immediately that Isseckemer was writing for an elite audience. In contrast to the 1494 edition, this later book contains longer, more involved sentences and more descriptive information. Its length would have made it costlier than the typical thin printed miracle pamphlet as well. With regard to content, Isseckemer's explanation of Our Lady of Altötting's miracles in terms of an apocalyptic Mariology is singular among Bavarian miracle books printed before the onset of the Counter-Reformation. Unusual, too, is his grouping of similar miracles together under subdivisions, based on Bernard of Clairvaux's sevenfold mission of Mary: from her, the imprisoned receive release; the sick, health; the sad, comfort; the sinner, indulgence; and so forth.[33] Although this style of presentation was later adopted by many early modern miracle books, Isseckemer's 1497 book is one of only two extant works from before the Catholic Reformation to employ an organizing schema.[34]

Most important is the fact that Isseckemer invested the miracles of the Altötting Virgin with broad historical, religious, and geographical significance. Here in the center of the Holy Roman Empire, he argued extravagantly, God was performing miracles through the Virgin's intercession to call the world away from sin and to repentance. This attempt to enhance the meaning of the shrine's wonders was not imitated in other, more modest miracle books; most often, the mere printing of miracles was considered sufficient to prove the power of shrine patrons. In this respect, then, Isseckemer's Little Book of Mary remained a solitary phenomenon.

In the period before the Counter-Reformation, the printed miracle book remained closely tied to the oral and pictorial pronounce-


36

ment of wonders within the pilgrimage church. Indeed, one scholar has characterized these books as a kind of "extended arm" of the pilgrimage preacher who pronounced the shrine's miracles regularly.[35] This broadly addressed literature, in short, served primarily to augment patterns of promulgation, promotion, and advertisement that were fundamentally oral in conception. Still, the use of printing to circulate miracle stories had revolutionary potential in that it offered the clergy an opportunity to promote their cults to wider audiences removed from aural and visual immediacy.

Although most Bavarians were apparently concerned chiefly with learning about the continuing proofs of a shrine's saintly guardianship, the legendary associations of that power were also a matter of some interest. As we have seen, the legitimacy of Bleeding Host and locus sanctus cults in particular were often initially validated through legends about the Eucharist or the saint. [36] In the later Middle Ages, Bavarians celebrated the tales, histories, and myths of other sites within their territory as well. And again, multiple media played a role. Exploited and retold in broadsides and printed chronicles, depicted in art, and lauded in poetic ballads, legends focused attention on the precipitating incidents that had revealed the shrine's numinous power.

Depictions of these narratives in song may have been common in Bavaria in the generations before the Reformation; yet, unlike the thousands of miraculous testimonies that survive, only a few such songs still exist. In late medieval Germany, itinerant balladeers and bards plied their trade in town and countryside, sometimes performing at pilgrimage shrines in exchange for donations. Often they sang before banners or panels that told the story of a shrine's foundation visually. These early multimedia shows allowed audiences to visualize the events that had transpired to produce the cult. The texts that accompanied such performances have endured only when wandering minstrels or poets prized their creations enough to have them written down.

One such poetic legend treats the origins of the Bleeding Host shrine at Deggendorf, a Lower Bavarian village just north of the


37

Danube River.[37] In it, the poet tells of the purchase by Jews of consecrated hosts from a local Christian woman and subsequent tortures inflicted on the objects. As the wafers began to bleed, angels appeared to warn the sentinel, who rushed to tell the town fathers of the crime in progress. The resulting vindication of the host and the punishment of the crime, the poet alleges, gave rise to a tradition of thaumaturgy in Deggendorf. The specter of the Real Presence—tortured, made to bleed, and yet triumphing over its oppressors—had subsequently produced a plethora of miracles at Deggendorf. Thus, as in other legends about the Bleeding Host, the poet establishes a convergence between the actions and events recorded in the New Testament and the specific incident at Deggendoff. What happened in the Lower Bavarian village was essentially a recurrence of the Passion narrative in the gospels. And following the crime against the Eucharist, the Savior's miracles had shown forth at Deggendorf: the blind had been made to see, the deaf to hear, and the lame to walk. It is interesting, and important from the standpoint of our investigation, that no contemporary records by clerics of miracles survive from the Bleeding Host shrine at Deggendorf. Nor do miracle records exist from other sites of alleged Jewish eucharistic desecration. The bard of the Deggendorf legend may have linked the Eucharist to an ongoing tradition of thaumaturgy, but Bavaria's clergy do not appear to have associated miracles with the Bleeding Host.[38]

In addition to poems and songs, the illustrated broadside served to advertise and communicate the lore of late medieval shrines. And again, very few examplars survive. Since illustrated single-page prints were often used as household wall decorations, their scarcity might be explained by their expendability. One extant print for the Bleeding Host shrine at Passau (fig. 2), printed sometime around 1478, may be typical of a genre that was common in the late fifteenth century, though it is impossible to know for certain.


38

Through a series of cartoonlike images relating the Jewish purchase and torture of the Eucharist, the discovery and execution of the perpetrators, and the expulsion of the Jewish community from Passau, the print retells the events that produced the new pilgrimage. Such images would likely have been bought by literate and illiterate alike, since the simple visual presentation of the Bleeding Host miracle was readily understood and the print's modest cost made it an affordable souvenir of the journey to Passau.

More complex is a broadside (fig. 3) recounting a miracle that occurred in the Upper Bavarian village of Schöffau and was attributed to a Marian statue in the nearby Benedictine abbey of Ettal. Printed in 1517, the anonymous broadside, the text of which was likely created by a brother at the powerful monastery, recounts the story of a child who was lost in the wilds near his village for several days. To aid the search, the child's father prayed to the Virgin, who preserved the boy until he could be rescued. An illustration depicts this rescue and shows the Ettal Virgin and Christ child floating above the Upper Bavarian landscape in which the miracle occurred. Surrounding the image of the Virgin are the names of five Marian pilgrimage sites: Loreto in Italy; Einsiedeln in Switzerland; and Aachen, Altötting, and Ettal in Germany. The accompanying rhymed text tells of the child's preservation and tersely relates the legends of these five sites. By connecting the Ettal abbey with the Virgin's house at Loreto, the angelic shrine at Einsiedeln, and the churches allegedly built by Charlemagne at Aachen and Altötting, this advertisement attempted to lend luster to the less well known Ettal-whose location at the crossroads between these four major Christian sites, notably, marked a crucifix in the earth. At Ettal, too, visitors could see a Marian image revered by the German emperor Louis the Bavarian. To heal the ruler's famous breach with the papacy, a monk had presented Louis with this special Marian image and instructed him to build a monastery to house it. From that date until the present, the publication claimed, the Virgin's presence had served to confer blessing and protection on the region's inhabitants.[39] Thus the terse Schöffau miracle broadside ultimately connected the miracle of the


39

child's preservation with a famous event in Bavarian and imperial history: the papal deposition of the flamboyant Wittelsbach emperor Louis. These links, however, remained subtextual; although they would have been obvious to those who read the broadside, they were not made explicit in the work.

In addition to miracle pamphlets, songs, and broadsides, interested parties could turn for a shrine's history to written chronicles, which were also to be found for sale at some late medieval places of pilgrimage. In Bavaria, they survive only from Altötting and Andechs. Both these chronicles tell about the history of the shrine and connect these cults with prominent imperial, noble, and clerical officials. Including information about the church's major relics, indulgences, and endowments, or about the pilgrimage church itself, these works use the tradition of the site—its historical vicissitudes and continued survival—to prove divine blessing.

The oldest of these pilgrimage histories, the Chronicle of Mt. Andechs , was first printed around 1473 and had apparently gained a wide readership before the end of the fifteenth century. By 1500, five separate editions of the book had been published.[40] An Upper Bavarian shrine, Andechs had become popular in the late fourteenth century, when a mouse "miraculously" discovered a large cache of relics and three hosts. The author of the Andechs chronicle focused on the dramatic discovery of these sacred objects, but he also delved into the "prehistory" of the shrine, delineating the church's development before it became a widely revered pilgrimage destination.

Created in Carolingian times, the county of Andechs had been blessed with a saintly, noble line of custodians. Avid relic collectors, these counts had endowed ten monasteries in their territory and given them notable relics, each of which the author of the Chronicle of Mt. Andechs carefully catalogued. One of the most important


40

pious members of this lineage was St. Rasso, who brought back various impressive relics from the Holy Land in the tenth century, installing them in a monastery he endowed on the Amper.

In subsequent centuries, the relic collection of the counts of Andechs continued to grow. Another lineage member, Bishop Otto of Bamberg, acquired an assortment of holy hosts from the saintly Emperor Henry, who in turn had been given the wafers by Pope Leo IX (r. 1049-1054) in hopes of ridding the emperor's lands of plague and warfare. Upon receiving these precious items, Otto, Henry's bishop, had forwarded them to his father for safekeeping in the family's mountaintop fortress. Two of these hosts, significantly, had been consecrated by the early medieval pope Gregory I (r. 590-604), and the third by Pope Leo himself. The Andechs chronicle connected the shrine's hosts to two dramatic eucharistic miracles that had occurred at pontifical masses. At the first, Gregory had performed the sacrament before the Spanish queen Elyira, who doubted the Real Presence of the body of Christ in the Eucharist. During the celebration, a divine light bathed Gregory, and the instruments of Christ's torture, including the crown of thorns, appeared before the mass celebrants; the queen was apparently convinced. Similarly, in the second of these eucharistic miracles, this time at the mass performed by the eleventh-century Pope Leo, the name Jesus was made visible in blood on the host, assuring those present of the reality of Christ's presence.

These hosts, together with the counts' relic cache, were sealed in the walls of the family's castle for protection in 1229, during yet another period of imperial warfare. In the subsequent fighting, the mountaintop fortress was largely destroyed; the holy relics, however, remained safe in their hiding place. Later, a church was built on the spot, and the former fortress walls were incorporated into this structure. The relics remained forgotten and neglected until one day in 1388, when a mouse came during mass to the high altar of the church and deposited a parchment scrap identifying some of what lay hidden nearby.

The chronicle then discusses the development of popular devotion at Andechs. A year after the relics were discovered the Wittelsbachs transferred the collection to their capital at Munich, but when "terrifying" signs in and around the city were witnessed, they returned the items to their proper place of devotion on Bavaria's "Holy Mountain." On the night they were reinstailed, an


41

earthquake occurred—clearly a sign. Realizing the power of these items and their place of veneration, the Wittelsbachs anxiously supported the pilgrimage site, securing numerous indulgences for the powerful collection and, in 1451, endowing a monastery there to minister to the faithful. In its conclusion, the Andechs chronicle carefully catalogues the numerous noble and ducal benefactions and indulgences that had been given the cult and lists all the relics housed in the church.[41]

Although the style of the chronicle is terse, lacking extensive commentary or exposition, Andechs emerges in this work as a place to be revered for more than the miracle of the relics' discovery or the ongoing testimony of intercession. Andechs's sanctity, the work made clear, rested on a centuries-long tradition of pious benefaction on the part of Bavaria's nobility and clergy. From time immemorial, the aristocracy and ecclesiastical hierarchy had showered this site with attention, using it to house numerous impressive relics, including the miraculous Eucharists, remains of the Holy Apostles, and even part of the crown of thorns.

Just as the Andechs chronicler made his shrine into an embodiment of imperial history and aristocratic pretensions, so too did the Wittelsbachs' humanist court tutor Johannes Aventinus in his History of Altötting . Unlike the Andechs work, however, Aventinus's short book does not treat the later development of this famous pilgrimage site, but is confined to tracing the shrine's early medieval history. Aventinus begins with a long prologue on the history of Bavaria from its settlement after the biblical Flood to the Roman conquest and the barbarian invasions. He then focuses on the conversion of the heathen "Bajuwaren" to Christianity during the sixth-century missions of St. Rupert. After their baptism in the new religion, he reports, two Bavarian dukes, Otto and Dieth, hastily constructed chapels at Regensburg and Oting. From this point, Aventinus restricts his history to the latter locale. It became the burial site for Duke Otto, and in following centuries the German emperors showered the place with numerous benefactions. Destroyed by the Magyars in the tenth century, it was rebuilt and lavished with even more gifts and attentions. It is here, however, that the Bavarian court tutor ends his chronicle, declining to treat


42

the fifteenth-century development of the pilgrimage except to note in a hasty, one-paragraph conclusion that the site had been subsequently blessed "with special graces and miracles."[42]

Both Aventinus's reluctance to detail the course of the pilgrimage to Altötting in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and his concern to mold the chapel into a symbol of ancient German culture and imperial unity were common traits of late medieval humanists. In their hagiographies, the humanists often expunged the traditional testimony of saintly miracles and instead molded the saint's life into an example for pious emulation. Aventinus's account, to be sure, did not deal with the person of a saint but rather with the history of a shrine; nevertheless, he remained reticent to discuss the Virgin's miracles at the site. To rectify a pervasive sense of cultural inferiority, moreover, the German humanists had turned to the ancient tribal past to celebrate the pure virtues of the Germanic tribes vis-à-vis the corruption and decadence of late-imperial Rome. This they did in large part by means of geographical and topographical studies.[43] Aventinus's location of the Virgin of Altötting's cult in the time of the early medieval Bajuwaren, then, was of a piece with his humanist training. Yet whereas the elite circle that likely read his chronicle may have accepted the dark and mysterious tribal origins of the shrine, his historiography likely exercised little force beyond that small group. For the thousands of pilgrims who flocked to the site in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, the story of Altötting's origins was probably far simpler: although the chapel there was an ancient structure, constructed by Charlemagne, its true significance had been made known only in the late 1400s, when the Virgin began to work miracles there.

Similarly, the narratives outlining the origins of most Bavarian holy places appear to have been far less embellished than either Aventinus's history or the Andechs chronicle. The pretensions of the latter two accounts—their attempts to "prehistoricize" the pilgrimage by linking it to events in ancient and imperial history—


43

were not shared by the primarily oral tales that justified most devotions. Admittedly, our knowledge of this storytelling culture remains incomplete, but here and there we do garner pieces of evidence that reveal its configurations. The stories told about most pilgrimage sites were more spontaneous and unpredictable than the more imposing chronicle-styled creations. Usually a shrine's legend alleged that at some point in the past the site itself, its saintly image, or its relics had simply begun to work miracles. In late medieval Bavaria, it was the devotion of pilgrims that created places of religious reverence. Thus legends that linked sites to the clerical hierarchy, the nobility, or great events in German and Bavarian history were not necessary to elicit the faithful's piety.

A typical case is that of Tuntenhausen in Upper Bavaria, about which a miracle book published in 1506 relates artlessly that a statue of the Virgin had begun to work miracles one day in the 1440s.[44] In a vision Mary appeared to a suffering woman, looking like she did in a statue that stood on the altar of the Tuntenhausen church. The Virgin's message was that the woman could cure herself by making a series of pilgrimages to that church. From that point a cult developed that was confirmed by subsequent miracles.

When compared to Altötting and Andechs, with their more elaborate histories, Tuntenhausen and similar sites were very much creations ex nihilo, for their spontaneous wonder-working was in itself cultic legitimation. In Bavaria, such places continued to multiply until the Reformation. Thereafter, and largely under the impact of Protestant criticism, Bavaria's clerical promoters would only increase the drama and scope of many of the territory's pilgrimage legends. Like Aventinus and the Andechs chronicler, these men attempted to create a prehistory for religious devotion that explained why one site was revered above others. In addition, they labored persistently to anchor the power to work miracles within the tradition of an "official" Church. In this process of legendary and mythic revision, history, understood as an ongoing narrative that continued to shape the present, was to become the explicit justification for the shrine's miraculous numen.


44

previous chapter
1 Bavaria and Its Pilgrimages in the Later Middle Ages
next chapter