previous chapter
6 "Spiritual Medicine for Heretical Poison" Pilgrimage and Propaganda in the Early Counter-Reformation
next chapter

6
"Spiritual Medicine for Heretical Poison"
Pilgrimage and Propaganda in the Early Counter-Reformation

The protracted polemic that Martin Eisengrein's pilgrimage book precipitated assured Bavaria's Catholic reformers that they had hit one of Protestantism's weakest links: its inability to foster widespread devotions that could rival the thaumaturgic and intercessory appeals of traditional religion. For his part in defending the Altötting shrine and in crystallizing the debate over miracles, Martin Eisengrein was celebrated as a Counter-Reformation hero. In Bavaria, he was lauded with carmina; and abroad, knowledge of his skilled defense of the shrine spread even to Rome. In an apostolic letter of 1571, the pope made the theologian and the Altötting provosts who succeeded him extraordinary bishops of the Catholic Church. With this appointment, Eisengrein now gained the prestige he had long desired. Prior to the publication of Our Lady at Altötting , he had been offered the Austrian bishopric of Laibach several times, but the Wittelsbach duke had refused him permission to leave Bavaria. To satisfy the theologian's desire for important office, Albrecht instead named him superintendent of the University of Ingolstadt in 1570. Now the duke rejoiced in Eisengrein's triumph and presented him with a jeweled bishop's staff to commemorate his elevation.[1]

The Ingolstadt theologian's propagandistic defense of Altötting probably convinced few truly committed Protestants of the truths of the Roman religion, but it does appear to have prompted Duke Albrecht to dedicate himself to the revival of the Bavarian pilgrimage network. Although during the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries the Wittelsbach dukes had frequently undertaken imposing


160

processions to their territory's shrines, between 1522 and 1571 they had abandoned these public displays.[2] In the summer of 1571, however, even as Protestants continued to circulate black legends about Catholic shrines and their sorcerous miracles, Albrecht stepped forth to present his own testimony to the power of the saints and local pilgrimages, telling a story about aid he had received after praying to Our Lady at Altötting. Caught in a fierce storm on the Austrian Abersee the previous summer, he had prayed to Our Lady, promising a pilgrimage to Altötting if she rescued him from drowning. He survived, and Albrecht and his court now journeyed to the shrine to present Our Lady with her reward: new, ostentatious regalia for her shrine. The duke styled his visit as a renewal of his family's erstwhile support for the important pilgrimage.[3] Among the many objects included in his "gifts to the Virgin" were a set of altar cloths for the chapel embroidered with silver and gold thread, twenty-one silver statues of the saints, a silver-and-gold communion service, and new festive vestments and hangings for the chapel embroidered with pearls, precious gems, silver, and gold. Albrecht requested that the archbishop of Salzburg come to Altötting to meet his procession and consecrate the regalia with a pontifical mass. As an additional stimulus to Altötting's revival, the Wittelsbach prince stipulated that the new regalia could be used only on the shrine's most important feast days, traditionally the times when most pilgrims flocked to the site to avail themselves of a Church's indulgences.[4]

In his letter of benefaction, the duke expressed a deep concern over the widespread renunciation of the practice of pilgrimage in Bavaria and announced his intention to revive once-popular shrines. In the years following his journey to Altötting, pilgrimage began to emerge as a recognizable element in the Bavarian state's confessional policies. Like the extravagant support he had granted the urban Corpus Christi celebrations, Albrecht's patronage consisted largely of grand gestures. During the reigns of his successors, Wilhelm and Maximilian, the dynasty's exertions on behalf of the shrines steadily mounted. Nowhere in Germany was there a Catholic succession more unfailing in their allegiance to the Roman


161

Church than these Bavarian princes. The essential congruity of the religious policies each duke pursued now provided the CounterReformation program with a long interlude in which traditional religious practices could be nurtured and expanded.

Rather than supporting distant journeys to major international shrines like Rome or Loreto, the Wittelsbach state and its clerical elite concentrated their efforts domestically in order to achieve sacralization of the territory. The extent of their bias may be seen in one telling example. During the jubilee year 1575, the Wittelsbach court preacher Johann Rabus, already famous to the duchy's readers for his part in the polemic over miracles, organized a pilgrimage to Rome. Enlisting representatives of the Munich elite, including court officials, nobles, and even one Wittelsbach family member, the preacher's pilgrimage wended its way through the Tyrol, northern Italy, and on to Loreto before finally reaching the Holy City. En route Rabus kept a journal of every site they visited; returning home he revised and edited his notes into a polished manuscript that extolled the long journey. Presenting the work to Albrecht, he requested a subvention to defray the cost of publication. These funds were never provided, however, and the manuscript was not printed.[5] The duke saw no reason to subsidize publicity about Rabus's international trek when Bavaria had shrines aplenty needing state support.

For the Wittelsbachs, pilgrimage was one means of solidifying ideological and political control over their state. Like the Corpus Christi processions of Munich, journeys to local shrines elicited at least the physical compliance of subjects. It would be mistaken, however, to judge these efforts as calculated "thought control"; after all, Albrecht, Wilhelm, and Maximilian each sincerely believed that the revival of Bavaria's holy places was of paramount importance for the spiritual welfare, prosperity, and protection of the territory. They agreed, in short, with the statement of one CounterReformation theologian that pilgrimage was one of the Church's best "spiritual medicines for heretical poison."[6] Each duke therefore required his officials to participate in the Corpus Christi parades,


162

annual pilgrimages, and weekly religious processions. In their own religious devotions, Wilhelm and Maximilian in particular shared an abiding affection for rituals that required great physical effort. Wilhelm, for example, spent four hours kneeling in prayer each day, and during the 1575 jubilee he and his wife conducted a twoweek public fast. As duke, he made frequent journeys to Bavaria's shrines on foot dressed in rough-spun clothing. His son Maximilian's exertions were similar.[7] Convinced of the protection and benefits that accrued from these physical displays of religious adherence, Wittelsbach state and clerical officials now began to use the pilgrimage as an act of faith—an auto da fé in the true sense of the words—for those they forcibly reconverted from Protestantism. In 1584, for example, the entire village of Miesbach, recently brought under the duke's authority and forced to renounce Lutheranism, became one of the first parishes required to make a pilgrimage. In subsequent decades the directive was to be expanded.[8]

Although state and clergy sometimes relied on compulsion to bring people to the territory's shrines, both recognized that it was beyond their power to command every Bavarian to make these journeys. Moreover, the mobility and potential for religious enthusiasm inherent in pilgrimage were dangerous specters. By the late sixteenth century, the need to enforce order on lay religion had become, in the minds of ruling elites at least, more urgent than ever before. This need arose not only because of the continuing proliferation of various and competing religious positions. Like the rest of the empire, Bavaria was beginning to experience profound economic and social changes in this period. The expansions and contractions of a market economy and agrarian commercialism were altering the character of rural society, bringing dislocation, economic stratification, and the multiplication of the landless in their wake. Because of Bavaria's relative isolation, these transformations may have affected the duchy less than other regions. Yet the Wit-


163

telsbach princes nevertheless feared the growing ranks of paupers, vagrants, and beggars they observed in their midst. The fear that religious enthusiasm might combine with demands for social reform was justified, bolstered by a lineage of late medieval revolts that combined religious devotion to Mary and the saints with calls for change. Although early modern rural and urban rebellions in fact rarely arose within the poorest strata of society, to a ruling elite anxious to consolidate its power over all sectors of its state and conditioned to distrust sudden outbursts of religious enthusiasm, the relationship among economic change, mobility, dislocation, and revolt was quite clear. As a consequence, the need seemed great for the creation of institutions that could contain the centrifugal tendencies of traditional religious practices.

The most significant of all the developments aimed at revitalizing and shaping the character of piety at Bavaria's shrines, one that wielded an influence well into the eighteenth century, was the confraternity. These new religious associations began to appear in the late 1570s in many of the Catholic regions of Europe. In Bavaria they sprang up in the towns and cities where papal nuncios, legates, and counter-reforming clerics like Peter Canisius worked, and within one short generation spread to almost every corner of the duchy. In contrast to the urban sodalities of the later Middle Ages, these new organizations enjoyed little autonomy from the institutional Church, for counter-reformational orders carefully supervised and controlled their devotional life.

Yet even though the Jesuits, Theatines, Capuchins, and other resurgent orders moved quickly to impose discipline, the wave of confraternal piety was amazingly popular from the outset. In Bavaria, the first of the new sodalities was founded at Ingolstadt in 1577, and the next arose in Munich—where the Wittelsbach duke set himself firmly at the head of the new association—one year later. Inscribing his name in the book of Munich's Confraternity of the Major (or "the Major," as it was known for short), Albrecht compelled members of his family and court to follow his example. By 1584, only six years after its foundation, the Major's rolls numbered 138:80 students in the city's colleges, 32 clerics, and 26 laymen representing the Wittelsbach court and the town's nobility.[9]


164

As members of the various professions and guilds expressed a desire to enter into the religious life of the elite Major, new sodalities proliferated to accommodate them; soon a system of confraternities arranged along occupational lines had begun to emerge, both in Munich and in other Bavarian towns.

As in other parts of Catholic Europe, these congregations often took their patrons from the celestial figures revered at local shrines. The Marian cult in particular benefited most decisively from these associations' devotion. During his reign, Duke Wilhelm became the first to inscribe his name in blood in the membership book of the newly created Archconfraternity of the Altötting Madonna, and after only three decades the association numbered more than 6,200 members in its various branches throughout the duchy. Bound by the obligation to repeat common prayers and perform regular devotions, members of the Bavarian Altötting confraternity also made a pilgrimage on foot to the shrine once every four years.[10] Altötting was not the only place to benefit from this outpouring of confraternal largesse in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries; what occurred there was also happening at Andechs, Bettbrunn, and numerous other sites throughout the territory.[11] The increasing numbers of pilgrimage confraternities and their steadily mounting membership rolls, in fact, were beginning to provide CounterReformation shrines with an assured and disciplined constituency.

It was the Jesuits who established themselves as the leaders of this new devotional movement. Together with the Franciscans, Capuchins, Augustinians, and various other orders they now moved to occupy religious houses that had been abandoned or had fallen into decline in the previous generations or, in places where only one or a few priests had formerly functioned, to establish new


165

religious houses. Assuming the responsibility to minister and provide the sacraments to pilgrims at local shrines, the revived clergy were assiduous preachers, confessors, and promoters of miracles. Where they found no or little residual devotion, they set themselves the task of creating and fostering new cults. By the second half of the seventeenth century, their efforts had yielded results: now few districts in Bavaria could not claim their own wonder-working image or statue, carefully tended, protected, and ensconced, often in a striking baroque edifice.[12]

From the outset, the Counter-Reformation forged clear, often explicit, ties with the medieval religious life of Bavaria. Yet the movement cannot be understood as anything less than a departure, in which older notions about shrines, pilgrimages, and the saints were heightened ritually and rhetorically to dimensions far beyond their foundations. This process of attenuation reflected a rising selfconsciousness, one already evident in the writings of the counterreformers and in the devotional life of the late sixteenth-century Marian and saints' sodalities. Choosing triumphant images like the Madonna of Victories as their standards, these organizations imagined themselves as the vehicles through which a Catholic reconquest of Europe would be accomplished. This victory, however, could be achieved only with the purity of mind, body, and soul of each of the sodalities' members. Like the Wittelsbach dukes, adherents of these at first male-dominated and later exclusively male organizations dedicated themselves to an often physically rigorous campaign to discipline mind and body. Through frequent participation in the sacraments—especially confession and the Eucharist—ascetic regimens like the wearing of hair shirts and flagellation, and disciplined prayer, the new devout hoped to accomplish both a personal and a communal catharsis and purification.

In this emerging devotional climate, journeys to saints' shrines became an act of Catholic dedication, and writers and preachers rushed to define pilgrimage in ways that had not hitherto been made explicit. Their clear arguments certainly did not "trickle down" to inspire and inform the religious life of all Bavarians; but


166

for those who participated in the new religious associations, a rationale for pilgrimage was now available.

A high degree of literacy was typical of the first members of Counter-Reformation sodalities. During the late sixteenth century, as a result, Catholic writers began to produce an increasingly varied literature to satisfy this readership, with an eye to refining saintly devotion and the pilgrimage process itself. Preachers and clerical writers alike, for example, attempted to enhance the veneration of the saints by multiplying its meanings. In the early 1570s, Johann Nass, once Bavaria's enthusiastic Corpus Christi promoter, turned his attention to the cause of the saints and their shrines. Speaking to a crowd of pilgrims at the hilltop church of Andechs, he rhapsodized about the role of mountains in God's salvific plan. With frequent references to the Old and New Testament, Nass reminded his audience that the Lord frequently imparted special messages and wisdom to the faithful from atop mountain peaks. Journeys to these numinous sites were thus exercises of humility and submission, rewarded by God with gifts of gnosis, intercession, and grace.[13] In contrast to such nature mysticism, Melchior de Fabris called attention to the strongly didactic purposes of the sacred journey. In his Guide for All Crusaders, Pilgrims, and Procession-makers , he stated that by visiting the holy place the faithful could learn to appreciate more fully the transitoriness of human existence. After casting off the cares and pleasures of daily life for a time, they could return to their earthly stations prepared to rid themselves of everything hindering their journey to the eternal fatherland.[14]

Numerous other clerical writers in Catholic Germany joined this effort to define pilgrimage more systematically.[15] For this propagan-


167

distic cadre, the practice had been transformed, to use the terminology of Victor and Mary Turner, from a liminal to a "liminoid" process.[16] That is, it was no longer a practice requiring the faithful to divorce themselves utterly from urban or village surroundings and peers. Rather, what the polemicists imagined was orderly, disciplined ranks of pilgrims, ministered to and supervised by priests, making journeys to places close at hand in the countryside. Pilgrimage, in short, was a sign of penitential devotion firmly located within the structures of a reviving Church and a steadily expanding state. The purpose for these circumambulations, propagandists persistently reiterated, was not to disrupt the believers' lives, but to provide a release. Like the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola, the peregrinational interval should allow the faithful the opportunity to begin to conquer mind and body, enumerate and expunge sins, and wean life from earthly desires to the embracing of eternal ones.

The world outside Bavaria's sanctuaries, these writers warned, was a harsh, impure place filled with dangers. The depravity of this environment made frequent penance, the Sacrament, prayer, and an introspective spirit all the more imperative. Concern for purity of body, mind, and soul—so evident both in the writing of Catholic reformers and in the piety of the emerging sodalities—was in part a response to pervasive fears. Surrounded by hostile Protestant territories, Bavaria's Catholic reformers often deemed their own laity as morally corrupt, degenerate, and filled with "superstitious," and even "godless," notions. These men also sensed true religion to be under attack from the rising numbers of those willing to practice magic, witchcraft, and blasphemy. All these disorders, they declared, were the result of both moral decay and rising satanic activity in the world.

These fears are reflected in a steadily intensifying discourse on the saints and their processions. In his Processional Sermons , for instance, Matthäus Tympe recommended that his readers always


168

follow the venerable practice of conducting their journeys behind the cross to discourage demons from tormenting them. Still others promoted the cultus divinorum as an explicit cure for the ills afflicting contemporary society. The preacher Melchior de Fabris advised his readers that processions to shrines were an ancient way of securing God's grace, that the journeys of the truly pious and their display of submission and devotion before the Lord quelled his anger and garnered his protection from every kind of tribulation: war, famine, pestilence, bad weather, and demonic attack. To abandon so potent a practice was, in Fabris's mind, to ignore the commensal duties that banished evil and, indeed, underpinned society as a whole.[17]

By offering such multiple, enhanced meanings for pilgrimage, propagandists strove to guide the emerging devotional climate of the Counter-Reformation. But even as they advanced ever more explicit reasons for making pilgrimages, they astutely sensed that the physical goals of these journeys—the shrines themselves—needed to be similarly cultivated, framed, and adorned. As a result, Bavaria's clerical propagandists began to create a new literary genre, the pilgrimage book, for those participating in this new Catholic resurgence.

Instead of merely reporting miracles, as most late medieval pilgrimage pamphlets had done, the pilgrimage book of the CounterReformation treated a wide range of issues. They were often several hundred pages long, embracing numerous interwoven polemical, apologetic, and didactic strains. In part, pilgrimage books served to defend shrines from Protestant attack. Usually published in a modest octavo format, they were also a kind of "pocketbook" guide to shrines for literate pilgrims; for besides recounting a selection of contemporary miracles reported at these sites, they provided detailed, organized lists of the church's relics, indulgences, and most important pilgrims. Most significantly, however, they combined a persistent theological apology for the practice of pilgrimage with legends about the site. In this way, the Counter-Reformation pilgrimage book attempted to create a context and history for a particular shrine's devotion.


169

Why did writers of these books labor so intently on this last task? To answer this question, let us consider a fledgling cult imported into Bavaria around 1500 at the height of the late medieval expansion of pilgrimage. At about that time, a group of pious monks in the city of Regensburg brought an Italian painting of the Madonna to their abbey, whereupon they tried to nurture the development of a pilgrimage to the image. Because the painting was unknown to the local population, the monks placed a frame around it that told the legend, history, and miracles in which the Madonna was the principal actor.[18] In short, they inscribed a referential border around the work that allowed literate pilgrims and their illiterate associates alike to revere the Virgin based upon the painting's past intercessory usefulness.

The historian Richard Trexler once observed that the urban religious experience in late medieval and Renaissance Italy was one in which holiness was cordoned off and demarcated with art and architecture. Such architectonic "frames" served two purposes. By capturing and limiting sanctity, they prevented religious reverence from spilling over into more worldly areas of the city. Yet they also insured that the faithful would render proper devotion and observe decorum before the religious image or relic in its own special environment. Hic est locus , those "frames" announced: this is the place—that is, where power resides.[19] For the Bavarian counter-reformers, the need to frame the shrine for this purpose—as a way of insuring reverence—had taken on increased importance, since they faced the task of reviving devotions that had fallen into neglect as a result of the Reformation. Like the pious monks at Regensburg who surrounded their miraculous image with a narrative frame, the Catholic propagandists, too, adapted, rewrote, and even created legends for their shrines. These stories forged links between religious sites and the great events of biblical and ecclesiastical history, often bringing shrines to the center of a drama deemed to have a kind of "world historical" significance. Further, the myths the counter-reformers promoted in pilgrimage books provided an explanation for the continuing reports of contemporary miracles asso-


170

ciated with these places. By locating the source of devotions within the distant past and alleging a continual stream of wonders up to the present, or by placing the shrine at the center of events deemed to have implications for all Christianity, Counter-Reformation legends created powerful historical apologies for their cults.

Throughout Bavaria, a revolution in shrine-oriented mythmaking is evident in the years following 1570. Of course, such legends had been common during the Middle Ages as well. Because many medieval Bavarian shrines had lacked relics and images with which to attract the faithful, legends had often served the crucial purpose of explaining why a particular pilgrimage existed. In the absence of a saintly tumulus or wonder-working image, these stories "legitimated the sanctity of holy places" by linking the saint to the site.[20] We possess few clues, however, as to how that overwhelmingly oral culture of myth and legend operated in medieval Bavaria. For it was only with the coming of the Catholic Reformation in the late sixteenth century that the narratives of many places were first codified through the culture of print.

For the counter-reformers, legends assumed a renewed, heightened importance because the stories they labored to place into circulation now possessed a polemical purpose in the ongoing war against Protestantism. These legends, moreover, moved beyond the traditions of medieval storytelling, which had attempted merely to legitimate by linking the saint to the site. In the apologetic pilgrimage book, the shrine's past and its contemporary miraculous praesentia were linked into an ongoing narrative testimony to the site's power throughout history. Since the Catholic reformers were attempting to renew the pilgrimage as a ritualized and routinized journey to specific places, these narratives concentrated on the goal of these journeys, rather than on the person of the saintly patron. They labored to explain how the site's holiness had been revealed over time.

The plot lines of the counter-reformers' legends fall generally into three broad categories (though considerable cross-fertilization was evident). They are stories about holiness tried yet triumphant, holiness lost and found, and holiness suddenly revealed. With these


171

narratives, Counter-Reformation writers strove to defend saintly devotion from the attacks of Protestants and to forge pilgrimage into an expression of militant Roman Catholicism. In the remainder of this chapter, we will examine how Bavaria's pilgrimage propagandists employed these legends during the early decades of the Counter-Reformation.

Holiness Tried Yet Triumphant

The notion of a Church Militant, tested and tempered by multiple ordeals, had marked the Counter-Reformation propagandistic campaign from the start. In rituals like Corpus Christi, state and Church had imaged Christian history as continually embattled and the Eucharist as a source of unity that emerged ever victorious from its skirmishes with the "godless." The preacher Johann Nass, the hagiographer Laurentius Surius, and the shrine propagandist Martin Eisengrein had each used this tragicomic emplotment to treat ecclesiastical history, the saints, the sacraments, and the numinous locus . Each had stressed the visibility and tangibility of Roman tradition. Emerging from frequent crises, trials, and heresies, ecclesia militans offered its unity and miracles as witness to its divine presence. For the propagandists who dedicated themselves to the renewal of specific shrines in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, tales involving cultic crisis and victory were to become the single most important means of reviving, rehabilitating, and defending their devotions.

The images of ordeal and triumph from which numerous such legends were eventually to be forged shared themes with late medieval Bavarian religion. The mid fourteenth and late fifteenth centuries had seen an increase in pilgrimages to places in the countryside that justified and celebrated the persecution of the Jews. Promoted to give grounds for crusades against this increasingly marginalized group, myths about Jewish host desecration had dominated as an explanation for these cults. In the numerous late medieval stories of crimes against the host, Jews were charged with buying consecrated wafers from Christians and torturing them in ways that recalled the Crucifixion: driving nails through them, hammering them on an anvil, or trampling them under foot-topoi that raised the specter of Christ's torture and sacrifice. As a result of


172

this Jewish crime, these stories noted, the Eucharist would begin to bleed. To conceal what they had done, the Jews would cast the host into a fiery furnace, but it would not be consumed. Finally, in desperation, they might throw the sacred objects into a fiver or well—which would immediately turn to blood. They could not hide their crime; soon it would be discovered and avenged through a pogrom. In Bavaria, sites of alleged crimes against the host often grew to be enormously successful pilgrimage shrines, and the Eucharist's desecration, its "miracle" of discovery, and the subsequent punishment of the perpetrators became the focus of devotions that memorialized, through reenactment, the crucifixional victory.

Widespread in the decades before the Reformation, Bavaria's Bleeding Host pilgrimages illustrate how clerical and lay perceptions concerning thaumaturgy and miracles diverged. No clerically maintained miracle testimonies survive at these shrines; in other words, the Bleeding Host devotion flourished largely without the lure of clerically promoted miracles. Certainly, the burghers and peasants who came to these sites may have attributed intercessions to these "holy hosts," and evidence suggests that they did. After narrating the tale of Jewish desecration of the Eucharist at Deggendorf, for example, the author of a 1520 poetic ballad about the shrine alleged that this "miracle" had been followed by other wonders of healing in the village. A broadside promoting the Passau host pilgrimage in the late fifteenth century, moreover, concluded by depicting the altar of the new shrine draped with votive images, gifts traditionally presented to the saints to give thanks for a miracle.[21] But at neither place did the clergy maintain records of these testimonies.

Various and complex factors underlay this clerical reluctance to link Bleeding Host pilgrimages to a tradition of contemporary intercession. Unlike wonder-working images or relics, the host was not a mere man-made object that served as a channel between God and human beings. It was God and hence could not be seen to intercede on people's behalf in the same ways that the saintly image, the tumulus, or the relic did. To have promoted the Bleeding Host as a source of thaumaturgy and intercession would have threatened the


173

very uniqueness of the divine presence that resided in the eucharistic wafer.

In attempting to maintain the Bleeding Host cult free from miracles, however attractive they might be, the Bavarian clergy were also reacting to the widespread magical use of the Eucharist in late medieval Europe. Ground up and sprinkled on fields, sewn into childbeds, or placed in charms and amulets, the host had enjoyed a long tradition as a magical agent. Yet even as these necromantic uses of the Eucharist continued unabated, fears about Jewish magic steadily intensified.[22] To promote miracles worked in conjunction with a Bleeding Host shrine threatened not only to make the Eucharist into a mere conduit of grace; it also raised the dangerous possibility that those faithful who visited these sites might associate the host's efficacy with magic, especially the magic of the Jews.

In Bavaria, the pilgrimages to the Bleeding Host shrines at Deggendorf and Passau appear to have endured relatively intact from the later Middle Ages through the Counter-Reformation. Although the clergy at these sites did not record miracles, it is clear that their devotions were nourished on pervasive suspicion and hatred of the Jews and the perception that viewing the tortured Eucharist conveyed a particularly immediate and potent salvific grace.[23] Because these hosts were revered like relics, entering into a site of eucharistic desecration brought the pilgrim directly into the presence of Christ.

The first of these shrines, Deggendorf, had its origins in a wave of pogroms that occurred in South Germany in the mid-fourteenth century. In 1337, the Christians of the town exterminated the Jewish population, after which they followed the common practice of erecting a church on the site of the razed ghetto to commemorate their "victory." Dedicating their new chapel to the "body of Christ," Deggendorfers now set about sanctifying the site. Over the years they acquired various indulgences for their church, but it was not until 1401—more than sixty years later—that one was issued citing


174

the crime of host desecration as the cause for the 1337 pogrom. Offered to pilgrims on the memorial of the destruction of the Jewish community (from September 30 to October 4 each year), this indulgence became known in the later Middle Ages as the Gnad , or "grace," and the pilgrimage to the church in which it was available acquired the same name.[24]

In the case of Deggendorf, the legend of the desecration of the host was apparently first applied as a justification and explanation for the Gnad 's developing devotion only decades after the extirpation of the town's Jews. By the late fifteenth century, however, tales of eucharistic torture had acquired an independent ability to inspire and sustain persecution. At Passau in 1478, for example, accusations of violence enacted on the Eucharist served not as after-the-fact legitimation, but as the very cause for a pogrom. Arrested for theft, Christoph Eisengreishamer, a Christian servant, confessed to having sold hosts to the town's Jews. Passau's magistrates reacted immediately by arresting and questioning a number of Jews and extracting confessions from them. In the wake of the resulting executions, expulsions, and forced conversions, the town's synagogue was demolished and a new church erected, to which a pilgrimage ensued.

Both Deggendorf and Passau remained popular devotions in the early sixteenth century, and a rich lore of oral tales grew up around each, with all the common motifs—as seen in the account of an anonymous poet-chronicler who visited Deggendorf around 1520. He narrated with scrupulous attention to detail the various tortures the Jews had worked on the wafers—sold to them in this instance by a Christian woman. They had scratched it with thorns and punctured it with an awl to make it bleed before throwing it into an oven. There it remained unconsumed by the flames while a vision of the Christ child appeared in the fire. As these tortures were occurring, however, a sentinel standing guard at the town's gates heard the Virgin Mary bemoaning the fate of her son. He alerted the town fathers, and Christian society soon rose up to avenge the murder by exterminating the Jews.[25]


175

The adornments of this narrative—including the betrayal of the Christian community and the Eucharist by a woman, the multiple tortures of the Eucharist, the vision of the Christ child, and the discovery of the crime aided by the Virgin and sentinel—linked Deggendorf's Gnad to other sites, where the same incidents had been alleged. By the late fifteenth century, a unified discourse had emerged concerning crimes against the host; indeed, many places now shared virtually the identical legend.[26] Yet despite the similar motifs and topoi, their purpose was not to alleviate potential doubt or to erase the reality of the crime. In the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, it was generally believed that these events had actually occurred. In accepting stock details, pilgrims to one site could merge what had happened there to a lineage of other crimes throughout Germany.

In the course of the sixteenth century, however, an increasingly critical—and largely Protestant—scrutiny of Hebraic rites and texts raised serious questions about the allegations of Jewish host desecration, which sometimes found their way into the ongoing Protestant-Catholic polemic over miracles.[27] The widely distributed pamphlets of Hieronymus Rauscher, Lutheran court preacher in the Upper Palatinate, for example, recounted a number of traditional legends about eucharistic crimes, transforming them into cases of clerical black magic. For Rauscher and other Protestant polemicists, Bleeding Host "miracles" became testimonies to the frauds, lies, and "magic" that the Roman clergy and Satan had worked to delude simple people.[28]

Nonetheless, in Bavaria knowledge of the crime against the host remained common at every layer of society. In a show trial held in Munich during 1600, Wittelsbach state officials persecuted the Pappenheimer family, itinerant beggars and cesspool cleaners, for the crime of witchcraft. Under torture, one family member confessed without prompting to having stolen and sold hosts to Straubing's Jews. For the state's officials, the fact that this admission came from a group of marginalized, "dishonorable" persons lent it credibility,


176

and ducal emissaries were immediately dispatched to investigate the Straubing Jews. Insufficient evidence, however, was discovered to support the claim.[29] Similar results obtained in subsequent investigations of Jewish host desecration, yet fear and hatred of the Jews persisted, and allegations of eucharistic torture continued to be made sporadically, even into the twentieth century.[30] When the charge appeared in early modern Bavaria, however, it was brought before a state judicial bureaucracy that was more scrupulous about evidence than medieval authorities had been. One result of this skepticism was that because the tale lacked de jure recognition, few new Bleeding Host pilgrimages appeared. Even so, both the Wittelsbach state and the clergy worked to sustain the memory of the state's preexisting medieval host cults by publicizing them systematically. The eucharistic pilgrimage—like the Corpus Christi procession before it—was expanded and its rituals elaborated. The legend of the Bleeding Host was now conflated with the contemporary Protestant abandonment of the orthodox Eucharist, and both were used as a visible testimony to Catholic truth against ongoing attacks by both Jews and Protestants.

It was with a dual purpose—to polemicize against Protestant attacks on eucharistic legends and to proclaim the truth of these tales to the Catholic devout—that the Wittelsbach court preacher Johann Rabus set about treating the origins of the cults of Deggendorf and Passau. In 1583, he preached a sermon before Duke Wilhelm and his court on the Bleeding Host shrine at Deggendorf. Then, at Wilhelm's prompting (and likely with his financial support), Rabus published an expanded version of his remarks entitled A Short, True, and Essential Report Concerning the Revered, Widely Famous, and Eminent Holy Sacraments at Deggendorf and Passau (1584).[31] Rabus had participated in the great annual pilgrimage, the Deggendorf Gnad , on two occasions, and in his pilgrimage book he reports that the procession was still carried on by the villagers of the region (though alas, no documents exist to allow us to assess the intensity


177

of this traffic at this time). Through his sermons on the subject and his printed defense of Deggendorf and Passau, however, Rabus was clearly attempting to promote these shrines to a broader audience. As he states in the dedication, he intended his pilgrimage book not only to defend these cults, but also to "edify" those who made the pilgrimage. As in the case of other Bavarian Bleeding Host shrines, the Wittelsbach court preacher did not join the Eucharist at either shrine to a contemporary tradition of thaumaturgic and intercessory miracles; rather, he concentrated on narrating the story of the host's torture at the hands of Jews and the Christian discovery and punishment of the crime. In this way, the publicity he crafted for Deggendorf and Passau departed from the narrative conventions of late medieval accounts of these shrines.

Rabus devotes the majority of his Short, True, and Essential Report to the Deggendorf shrine. Instead of beginning with the alleged Jewish crime against the host, however, the preacher lodges his treatment of Deggendorf's origins within a long prologue and the broader context of a crisis in Christian history: the political rivalry between the Wittelsbach emperor Louis the Bavarian and Pope John XXII during the first half of the fourteenth century, which eventually resulted in the pope's deposition of Louis as emperor.[32] Even as this famous dispute was unfolding, Christianity, already divided by political and religious controversies, was weakening and would soon be subjected to renewed Jewish attacks. During the summer of 1327, ten years before the Deggendorf host crime, a fiery comet appeared in the skies over the empire, a sign to Jews of the imminent arrival of their Messiah. Because they believed that their salvific prophet would not arrive without the collapse of Christian society, the Jews began to practice their age-old crimes: they poisoned wells, committed ritual murders of Christian boys, and tortured the host. Thus, in Rabus's account the events at Deggendorf are transposed from the level of a local incident similar to ones experienced in many places, to that of a Pan-European, decade-long offensive waged by Jews against Christianity.

After relating the stories of Jewish crimes against the host and the resultant "miracles" at Deggendorf and Passau, Rabus concen-


178

trates his polemical energies on rehabilitating Catholic miracles from the Protestant charge of diabolic magic. Here, anti-Semitism and anti-Protestantism merge into a single discourse. For the court preacher, the reformers become "Pharisees," whose attitude toward true Christianity and its Eucharist is the same as that of the Jews. Citing a number of ancient and medieval theologians, he labors to prove the reality of Christ's continuing power to perform miracles through his presence in the Eucharist. As is typical of Protestant and Catholic polemic alike, he portrays his opponents as deluded by Satan into attributing Christ's wonders to the Archfiend himself. What is interesting about Rabus's argument, however, is the predominance of eating imageries. The devil, for instance, "nourishes" then "spits out" lies and slanders against the honor of the Church's miracles. Certainly the act of eating was central to the Eucharist, and it is not surprising to find the preacher employing its dichotomous opposite of spitting out to treat Protestant attacks on the eucharistic miracle. Through employment of this literary device, he reduces Lutherans and Calvinists to those whose denial of the simple truth of the tortured host is comparable to a lack of mastery over one of the most elemental of human functions: eating. By attacking the veracity of these Bleeding Host miracles, Protestants become "devourers" whose gluttony causes them to eat away at the truth of Christ's miracles, reducing them to demonic slanders.[33]

In 1604, the priest and theologian Johann Sartorius published another pilgrimage book, Memorial of the Miracles of God —though here he confines himself to relating just the myth of Deggendorf, in particular its host miracle.[34] The story closely follows the outlines of


179

Rabus's book, but rather than locating the Deggendorf eucharistic crime within the context of Christian divisiveness and Jewish offensive, Sartorius turns to the entire corpus of host legends retold in the later Middle Ages. In 1592, the Cologne cleric Valentin Leucht had collected and edited these tales into a compendium, An Illustrated Mirror of the Holy Eucharist , a sort of comprehensive guide to the Church's most "miraculous" hosts.[35] Drawing upon this source, Sartorius styles what occurred at Deggendorf into an ongoing testimony to a tradition characterized by Jewish hatred and tortures of the Christian God. By multiplying instances of eucharistic desecration in general he labors to verify systematically the reality of the Jewish misdeed that occurred in the Lower Bavarian town.

Focusing on Deggendorf in particular, Sartorius begins by relating the earliest history of the town's major churches and monastic foundations.[36] Like Martin Eisengrein's historical prologue to Our Lady at Altötting , this section offers a kind of parallel biblical narrative. Showing how the apostolic succession was established in Deggendorf and its vicinity, Sartorius uses this foundation to explain the town's consequent "miracle" of the Bleeding Host. In successive chapters he treats the appearance of the Jews at Deggendorf and alleges a variety of crimes they worked there before their most heinous one: the eucharistic desecration itself.[37] The priest then turns his attention to the latter crime, granting considerable space to each "horror" the Jews enacted on the Christian God. To enhance the drama of this account, he includes separate short chapters for each of their tortures. One, for instance, describes how the Deggendorf Jews drove holes through the host with a sharp awl, another the host being scratched with thorns, another the host's internment in the fiery baker's oven, and so forth.[38]

Like Rabus's account, Sartorius's pilgrimage book follows the story of the Deggendorf Jews to its gruesome conclusion and draws essentially the same message from the tale. Both rely on latent Jewish hatred, not only to defend their pilgrimages, but also to


180

make them into a self-conscious affirmation of Roman truth against the "lies and deceits" of Judaism and Protestantism, which are now fused into a single tradition of hate.

To answer the charges of Protestants against cults like those of Deggendorf and Passau, moreover, Rabus and Sartorius wove their tales of eucharistic desecration and triumph into a broader context. For Rabus, the origins of the devotion still visible at Deggendorf lay in a period when Christianity was internally divided owing to the struggles between emperor and pope. As a consequence of the Church's turmoil, the Jews had moved to attack the host. Today in yet another period of strife, his polemic warned, the offensive against the Roman Eucharist was continuing in the guise of the Protestant heresies. His work thus urged its readers to remain faithful to an eternal visible truth that had been and was still being assaulted by various heretical and demonically inspired groups. For Sartorius, the truth of the incident at Deggendorf was demonstrated by a verifiable lineage of similar crimes worked in almost every European country. In citing Valentin Leucht's eucharistic compendium, he hoped to convince his readers through a kind of protohistorical method. Piling incident upon incident, and recounting the Deggendorf crime of eucharistic desecration in particular in minute detail, he hoped to gather a wealth of detail too massive to deny.

Both authors saw the mystery of their shrines residing in the cults' great episodic reenactment of the Crucifixion; by throwing into relief the "enormous" events that led to the shrine's founding, each also attempted to maintain his cult free from the appeal of a tradition of thaumaturgy and intercession. The implicit argument was that such extraordinary eucharistic miracles did not warrant a subsequent legacy. For Rabus and Sartorius, the purpose of pilgrimages to Deggendorf and Passau, among other sites, was rather to memorialize a crucifixional torture and victory and to celebrate Catholicism's prowess in repulsing onslaughts against its truths.

Without a doubt, the two books represent dismal episodes in the Bavarian Counter-Reformation's propagandistic campaign. Yet it is at least comforting to realize that such exertions were now necessary because the myth of eucharistic desecration had begun to be subjected to criticism. By the late sixteenth century, Deggendorf's and Passau's Bleeding Host legends needed to be carefully tended


181

and nurtured by clerical promotion if they were to grant continuing meaning to annual rites like the Gnad .


No case so vividly illustrates the Bavarian Counter-Reformation's deliberate fostering of pilgrimages redolent with the imagery of crisis and resolution as that of St. Benno's shrine in Munich. The saint, an eleventh-century bishop of Meissen, had excited controversy from the earliest years of the Reformation. In the late fifteenth century, his cult had blossomed at Meissen, and the episcopal government and the princes of Ducal Saxony had lobbied Rome intensely for his canonization. In 1523, when their efforts finally succeeded, the bishop of Meissen and the Saxon prince planned to use their newly canonized saint to counter the early Reformation movement in their region. Publicity for the rites surrounding Benno's elevation inspired Luther and other early Protestant pamphleteers to issue tracts denouncing the cult. These attacks proved futile, however, and the shrine, still sponsored by its prince and bishop, retained its notoriety during the 1520s and 1530s. Then in 1539, just hours after the death of the last Catholic Saxon prince, a crowd entered Meissen's cathedral, tore down the shrine, and threw its shards into the Elbe. Meissen's cathedral canons, however, having foreseen this attack, had already spirited their saint's relics to a nearby monastery for safekeeping.[39]

Here matters remained for over thirty years. In 1572, several Catholic princes approached the episcopal government at Meissen, requesting to transfer the saint's remains to more congenial locations. After four years of negotiations, the bishop awarded the saint's remains to the Bavarian duke.[40] Dispatching his emissaries to Meissen, the duke had the relics secretly taken to the Bavarian border; they were met by a triumphal procession that carried them on to the duchy's capital, where their arrival was celebrated as a Wittelsbach victory in the ongoing war against heresy. In those same years, of course, Albrecht and his state officials were redou-


182

bling their efforts to expel Protestants from Munich. Hence the arrival of this saintly thaumaturge must have been seen by the city's Protestant burghers as yet another sign of the direction in which both state policy and religious affinities were moving in the capital.

Following the welcoming festivities, Benno's remains were housed in the Wittelsbach family chapel, where they remained for several years like a "Counter-Reformation trophy."[41] In 1580, however, Duke Wilhelm moved the relics to the city's parish, the Church of Our Lady (Frauenkirche). At the time, both the Wittelsbach duke and the canons of this church were working to have the capital of the local diocese moved from Freising to Munich. In so doing, Wilhelm hoped to wrest control from the sometimes obstreperous, aristocratic cathedral canons at Freising. Benno's placement in the city's parish church and his subsequent naming as patron of Munich (fig. 12) were clearly intended to bolster Wittelsbach episcopal ambitions.[42]

From that time well into the eighteenth century, in fact, Benno was to be employed for numerous pious, polemical, and political ends. In 1596, having failed to secure episcopal status for Munich, Wilhelm began a massive building program at the Church of Our Lady. Finally completed in 1623 during the reign of Wilhelm's successor, Maximilian I, this redecoration had as its focal point the so-called Benno Arch, which until its demolition in the mid-nineteenth century dwarfed everything else inside the church.[43]

Symbolizing the triumph of the Christian relic cult over the "lies and deceits" of Protestantism, Wilhelm's artistic program at Our Lady aimed to fulfill a variety of ends for the Wittelsbach state as well. The Benno Arch was to be a national shrine and, much like the medieval French chapel of St. Denis, a kind of dynastic showcase,


183

recalling to visitors some of the ruling family's most important members. Underwritten with funds from the Wittelsbachs, the city of Munich, and other towns and monasteries throughout Bavaria, the structure covered the church's presbytery and, beneath it, a newly remodeled Wittelsbach mausoleum.[44] In placing the dynasty's graves close to Benno's relics, Wilhelm and his successor, Maximilian, adopted the traditional practice of burying their dead with a saint (ad sanctos ). In the Middle Ages, such burials were believed to place the deceased within the protective "odor of sanctity" that emanated from the corpses of the saints. These Bavarian dukes certainly desired the benediction of their new saint, even in their graves. Perhaps more importantly, however, the new Wittelsbach mausoleum, with its rescued saintly patron, glorified the dynasty's consecrated role as a "defender" of the faith.

Among the graves of ancestors buried in the church, that of the notorious German emperor Louis the Bavarian was granted primacy of place directly beneath the structure. Attended by angels, Louis's huge bronze catafalque far outshone St. Benno's opulent yet life-sized reliquary. Indeed, the edifice surrounding the emperor's resting place created a frame that memorialized him as a kind of "unofficial saint." In presenting Louis to worshippers in this manner, the Counter-Reformation had in fact effected a most creative rewriting of the past, for during his tenure as emperor Louis had waged war against Rome and been deposed by the pope. The "shrine," in short, reflected the increasing determination of the Wittelsbachs to define the counter-reformational program according to their own pious and political needs. By placing their family members within the "odor of sanctity," Wilhelm and Maximilian hoped to appropriate the trappings of sacral kingship and create a visible buttress to their increasingly determined attempts to dominate the religious practices of their territory.[45]

For the Wittelsbach dynasty, Benno was a kind of sanctifying agent; his consecrated life and dramatic rescue from Protestant


184

Meissen reflected and underscored the Munich princes' role as defenders of Catholicism. Yet the saint's "official" life also contained strains and themes uniquely well suited to the spiritual tastes of Munich's clergy and laity. During the eleventh-century Investiture Controversy, for instance, Benno had remained true to the Roman pope over the demands of the German emperor.[46] During the early Reformation, the attacks on his cult lent the saint an even greater notoriety and made the protection of his devotion into a self-conscious affirmation of Catholic truth vis-à-vis Lutheranism and Calvinism. While the imposing monument in Munich's parish church may have glorified the Wittelsbach dynasty more than it did the Meissen bishop, there can be no doubt that the town's faithful yearned after Benno's ecclesiastically sanctioned power. As participation in the young devotion grew, followers' attentions focused on the role of Benno as intercessor, wonder-worker, and pious paragon. Shortly after the saints' translation to the Church of Our Lady, votive offerings began to turn up at the saint's reliquary and processions from villages in Munich's vicinity started to make their way to the nascent shrine. By 1598, Munich's Jesuits also showed their approval of the cult when they staged a Latin School drama of the saint's life and wonders.[47]

In 1601, a new life-sized reliquary bust appeared on the church's high altar as a testimony to the affections Benno had stirred in Munich. Made of silver and decorated with precious gems, the sculpture cost almost 1,700 florins: a princely yet appropriate commemoration to a saint whose distressed life and afterlife suited the devotional needs of Counter-Reformation Catholicism.[48] More than half this sum came from Munich's burghers, a sign that the imported saint had found a considerable following among the town's inhabitants. The male elite of Munich had formed a new St. Benno confraternity, which was now working to promote the greater glory


185

and expansion of the cult. For its pious works, the brotherhood chose to aid the impoverished, providing them with food and shelter and underwriting the expense of placing their children in trade apprenticeships. During the first decade of the seventeenth century, this sodality received a number of indulgences for their devotion.[49]

The Benno cult thus fulfilled a variety of aims for the various constituencies in and around the town. Not only a symbol of Bavarian unity, Benno embodied Catholic confessional truth, a testimony to the province's championship of the Roman resurgence. In the nearby countryside, villagers looked to the saint for intercession and healing, while for members of the Munich male elite he served as a symbol and patron of "brotherly" unity.

Around 1600, the clergy of the Church of Our Lady moved to promote their new devotion in a more systematic manner, recording and publishing the saint's miracles in order to draw the faithful to Munich. In the century that followed, however, only 546 wonders were set down at the shrine, a relatively modest number when compared to other places. These miracles reveal, moreover, that the character of Benno's cult did not differ significantly from that of numerous other popular devotions in early modern Bavaria: for those seeking intercession, Benno served primarily as a healer. These miracle accounts also disclose that the pilgrimage remained relatively geographically circumscribed, with the faithful coming primarily from Upper Bavaria, the southernmost part of the territory. Beyond this region, the reputation of the cult was limited.[50]

Munich's Church of Our Lady may never have gained the same following as the most popular Counter-Reformation cults, but this was not because of lack of promotion. During the seventeenth century, the clergy of the Frauenkirche conducted an extensive printing campaign to develop the reputation of their devotion. The largest portion of books published by the shrine were thin miracle pamphlets similar to those issued in the late Middle Ages.[51] Al-


186

though often more polished, possessing a greater degree of explanation, and more complete than late medieval books, they nevertheless remained a truly popular literature, in that by virtue of their cost and modest vocabulary they addressed the broadest possible readership. They would, of course, have been read by clerics and members of the Bavarian elite as well, but by and large these slight volumes, emblazoned with images of the saint, were meant to cultivate an awareness of Benno's miracles among the literate and semiliterate artisans and villagers who visited the site.[52]

Yet miracle pamphlets were only one part of this publicity campaign. Like Altötting and an increasing number of other shrines, the Frauenkirche also distributed the apologetic pilgrimage book. In place of the thin, terse style of the miracle pamphlets, these works were intended for a more elite audience of clergy and laity, and they sought not only to publicize the wonders of the saint but also to explain the historical origins of his cult. For these explanations, however, clerical propagandists turned not to an examination of the early sixteenth-century controversy over Benno's cult, but to the saint's life in the eleventh century. In his own times, they argued, Benno had persistently proven his superhuman capabilities of surmounting enormous difficulties. From then until the present, he had thus been an important source of aid, a conduit through which divine power could be garnered. In the first of several pilgrimage books printed for the site, A Certain and Approved History of St. Benno , an anonymous clerical author adapted the conventions of medieval


187

hagiography to the contemporary circumstances of Benno's cult in Munich. Following the treatment given the medieval life of the saint, he divided his book into sections that examined St. Benno's vita and his posthumous miracula at Meissen and Munich. As a bonus, he provided a translation of the papal bull canonizing the saint. Woven throughout, needless to say, was also the standard anti-Protestant polemic, coupled with a counter-reformational concern for rehabilitating saintly devotion generally.

Like many pilgrimage book authors, the anonymous writer of the Certain and Approved History explicitly located Benno and his wonder-working power within the lineage of the apostolic succession, narrating the Christianization of Meissen's surrounding region and the establishment of an apostolic see in the town—two events that explained Benno's subsequent miracles as part of the Church's continued accretion to biblical narrative. As his main source the author drew from Hieronymus Emser's pre-Reformation hagiography of Benno, published in 1512 almost a decade before the saint's canonization.[53] (During the subsequent controversy over Benno's elevation, Emser also wrote a tract attacking Luther for denouncing the cult.)[54] Like Emser, the author of the Certain and Approved History stressed the sanctity that the future bishop of Meissen displayed from an early age. Upon entering the Benedictine order, he observed, the saint could not even read mass without breaking into tears.[55]

Emser, however, had concentrated on the saint's ability to balance the competing demands of spiritual and worldly life, and to rise above human frailty. By contrast, although our anonymous author mentioned these traits, they were subsumed to the demands of a new, more militant piety. He focused, for example, on Benno's participation in the eleventh-century Heidenmissionen , the savage annual campaigns that forced the conversion of the Slavs and


188

Wends in the region around Meissen. Yet the brutality of these militaristic crusades found no mention in our writer's account of the saint's life; instead, he portrayed these people as "arch-heretics" who, like the modern Lutherans and Calvinists, had fallen under the devil's spell. In working for these tribes' conversion, Benno therefore became a kind of Christian exorcist, delivering the deluded from damnation. In addition, our author projected on these Eastern European groups the charges of ritual murder and dualism. The most important members of their pantheon were a "god of light," Svanthewitz, and a "god of darkness," Zcernebok. To propitiate their luminous deity, the Slavs annually offered up a Christian man. Although Benno knew this, he refused to fear, even when taken prisoner. Impressed with his heroic demeanor, his captors quickly converted to Christianity.[56]

Benno's success in converting the Slavs and Wends, however, represented the reclamation of a damned and demonically possessed tribe, a fact that certainly did not please the devil. Thus angered, Satan began to plot against the saint—and here our author alleges a series of ordeals the devil produced in his effort to discredit and destroy the bishop.[57] The most important of these was the Investiture Controversy, in which struggle the bishop remained faithful to Rome, even though it meant defying the emperor.[58] In this history, then, this famous panimperial struggle is described as an event contingent on the successful missionary efforts of a consecrated bishop. As in the forty-day trial of Christ in the wilderness described in Luke 4, Mark 1, and Matthew 4, Satan proved capable of producing numerous snares and temptations for the Meissen clergyman. Yet in this case the demonic offensive against a Catholic saint bore with it the power to change the course of history.

With the conclusion of this extravagant hagiography, our author moved on to recount some of the miracles Benno performed during both life and afterlife. These he presented in separate chapters, attempting to demonstrate an unbroken strand of wonders produced by the saint from the days of his earthly ministry until the


189

present. In the first section, containing miracles the saint worked while still living, the stories recall the wonders of both the Old and New Testaments. Like Moses, the saint turned a stone into a lake to refresh one of his audience, and like Jesus he was also able to transform water into wine.[59] By attributing the wonders of both the ancient Jews and Christ to the saint, the book again sought to establish a convergence between biblical narrative and the continuously unfolding story worked through Catholicism's celestial intercessors, the saints.

In the remaining two sections, Benno's posthumous miracles at Meissen and Munich are examined.[60] The second of these sections—concerning the saint's miracles recorded in the Church of Our Lady—was given an eschatological cast. In the foreword to these accounts, the author called attention to these miracles as "signs" sent by God to confirm Catholic truth against the attacks of Protestants: "God the Almighty has also allowed his great miracles to shine forth clearly in these our last, confused, and unhappy times in order to confirm powerfully the intercession and intervention of his chosen ones." Again recalling Old Testament language and imagery, he applied the concept of a chosen people to the Catholic Church, and rhapsodized that the miraculous nature of sainthood was in essence a special seal to the "God of Israel's" covenant with that institution. "So [it is] not without reason that David writes that God is wondrous in his saints: Wondrous is the Lord in the mighty ones. The God of Israel will give his people power and strength."[61]

The author of the Certain and Approved History thus strove to make Benno's wonder-working power contingent on his standing in the apostolic succession, his relationship to the biblical and ecclesiastical narratives, and the colossal struggle he waged against Satan. However, the concern for the saint's actual life, as found in this pilgrimage book intended for a relative elite cadre of clergy and


190

laity, was not the staple of the thin miracle books being published for the site at the same time. When the clerics in the Church of Our Lady addressed their broad popular audience through the pronouncement of miracles orally and in the miracle books, it was the ongoing, contemporary testimonies to Benno's sanctity that predominated, not the reputation of the cult's saintly source. Certainly, pilgrims to the imposing Benno Arch during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries could not have massed the intensely visual representation of Benno as a triumphant, legendary figure. Nor could they have failed to mistake the connections that this monument underscored between the legendary sanctity of the Meissen bishop and the contemporary efforts of the Wittelsbach dynasty to sanctify its role as Catholicism's protector. In presenting its historicized apology for the cult, the Counter-Reformation program in Munich thus advanced multiple media: one a pilgrimage book addressed to an elite cadre, the other a visible, artistic representation intended for all the faithful. Nonetheless, these artistic and literary campaigns did share a common subtext, for both explained how a saintly thaumaturge, exorcist, and bishop had ultimately triumphed over Catholicism's detractors with the aid of a consecrated dynasty.

The print campaign conducted for this shrine was one of the most diverse waged by any devotion in Bavaria during the seventeenth century. It was, indeed, an essential component of the program to establish and foster a previously unknown cult. In the end, however, the campaign's successes proved modest, and caution us from assuming that printed clerical advocacy alone could create a truly widespread devotion. In the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as in the later Middle Ages, printed texts remained adjuncts to far more important forms of oral and word-of-mouth promotion. Moreover, it was ultimately Bavaria's pilgrims—her villagers, artisans, and burghers—rather than the nobles, clerics, or other elites, who controlled the destiny of the duchy's shrines, showering these sites with varying degrees of attention. Yet even so, it is not insignificant that in the case of St. Benno's devotion, the Wittelsbachs, Munich's clergy, and her burghers had combined forces to create a reasonably prosperous cult where none had previously existed. At the center stood the figure of a saintly thaumaturge and bishop whose canonization had been relatively recent


191

and controversial. His churchly seal of approval was attractive to both Munich's clerics and Bavaria's princes, who used the cult as an instrument for heightening confessional awareness and demonstrating the unstoppable miraculous potency of Catholicism's celestial intercessors.

In assessing changes between canonization practices in the late Middle Ages and the Counter-Reformation, Peter Burke noted that the Roman ecclesiastical hierarchy in the later period drew its saints almost exclusively from the ranks of clerical elites.[62] The resurgence of Benno's cult at Munich is one episode away from the Church's power center at Rome that fits with this general pattern. The author of the Certain and Approved History strove—like the Roman curia's investigators in canonization proceedings-to make wonderworking more clearly a preserve of the clerical caste and the product of an enduring biblical narrative. Nevertheless, diversity persisted with regard to the Munich cult. The Wittelsbach princes appropriated the saint in their rites of translation, in their triumphal procession, and in their artistic representations in ways that glorified not only their ancestry but also their hegemonic ambitions over Bavaria's confessional loyalties. The town's elite male burghers, too, celebrated the new saint as a model of piety, placing him at the center of their own efforts to battle poverty. And within and beyond Munich's gates, artisans and villagers looked to Benno for aid in battling illness and unyielding circumstances. If we read the modest miracle books printed for this audience, we find that their clerical promoters relied largely, if not solely, on the claim of contemporary miracles to nurture the cult's popularity. For this readership, composed of modest craftsmen, merchants, and members of the lower clergy, it was not narrative legend, but the visual embodiment of the Benno Arch that testified to the saint's standing within an ancient succession.


Today, the village of Bettbrunn shows few signs that it was once the site of a busy Counter-Reformation pilgrimage. A hamlet of two hundred inhabitants, it lies about a dozen miles northeast of Ingolstadt in the remote and economically depressed Köschinger For-


192

est. During the late sixteenth century, however, the place, located as it was within the borders of Bavaria yet close to the Protestant Upper Palatinate, came to assume considerable importance—greater importance than it might otherwise have enjoyed. Selfconsciously promoted as part of Bavaria's counter-reformational policies on the part of both Church and state, Bettbrunn proved a source of irritation to Protestant officials. In the visitation records of the Upper Palatinate, it was frequently mentioned as a place sought out by secret Catholics.[63]

Although Bettbrunn was the site of a pilgrimage dedicated to the "Holy Savior," few documents exist to inform us about its history before the Counter-Reformation. An indulgence bull dated 1330 points to the shrine's late medieval origins, and two preReformation votive candles still survive, indicating that pilgrims visited there in this period. Several mass endowments and land donations were also made before the Reformation.[64] Yet little can be said with certainty about the events that precipitated the devotion. The documentary silence was broken in 1584, however, when Johannes Engerd, a professor of poetics at the University of Ingolstadt, published Bettbrunn's first Counter-Reformation pilgrimage book, Holy Savior at Bettbrunn .[65]

Like so many of Bavaria's first-generation propagandists, Engerd was a convert; he was also a close associate of Johann Rabus, Martin Eisengrein, and Johann Nass.[66] The circumstances behind his authorship of the work, moreover, probably reflect how the clergy at many South German shrines developed their print campaigns in the wake of the Reformation. In this case, the local parish priest at


193

Bettbrunn, Georg Prantl, recruited Engerd to write a book of apology and polemic for his church. Gathering together manuscript miracle reports, a rhymed chronicle treating the shrine's origins, and various other documents for the Ingolstadt rhetorician to use, Prantl paid the professor ten gulden. Within twelve days, Engerd had produced a two-hundred-page book modeled on Eisengrein's Our Lady at Altötting .[67]

His source on Bettbrunn's history was allegedly the late medieval poetic chronicle he received from Prantl, which he redacted into the conclusion of his book. Yet Engerd was himself a poet; and the manuscript that he supposedly used no longer exists. Moreover, in his conclusion to his pilgrimage book he admits to having "improved" the older chronicle. Perhaps, like many a propagandist in any period, he wrote the poem about the site himself, drawing upon scattered bits of evidence and lore about the pilgrimage. In any event, Holy Savior at Bettbrunn can hardly be considered a dispassionate, detached account of the origins of the Bettbrunn devotion. Like all Counter-Reformation pilgrimage books, it is partly a creative reworking of legend and verifiable history and partly a story constructed for purposes of polemics and zealous piety.

Like Eisengrein's earlier work, Engerd's book was published at the Eder Press in Ingolstadt, the printshop from which most late sixteenth-century pilgrimage works issued. The first edition of seven hundred cost sixty-one florins, four kreuzer to print.[68] It is impossible to gauge at what price these books were marketed at the shrine in the 1580s and 1590s, but even if the Bettbrunn clergy had taken a modest profit, the books would certainly have been within the means of more prosperous artisans and merchants, the upper clergy, and state bureaucrats.[69]

Although only 11 percent of the shrine's still-extant early modern


194

miracle records indicate the occupation of pilgrims, we can make some educated guesses. Because Bavaria was still a peasant society in this period, the largest proportion of visitors to the shrine would have been agricultural workers and farmers from the vicinity. It is logical to assume, moreover, that where an occupation was not mentioned, it was probably because the person came from an unexceptional background. Clerical scribes, after all, would have been more anxious to record and promote the pilgrimages of "honorable" members of the elite than those of simple farmers and peasants. Yet according to the Bettbrunn miracle records, the procession to the shrine was not limited to rural society alone. In those cases where occupation is mentioned in the miracle records, 64 percent were artisans and members of the building trades. Another 10 percent were state bureaucrats (4 percent), academics and clerics (4.5 percent), and army officers (1.5 percent)—all occupations that by the end of the sixteenth century required a relatively high degree of literacy. There was clearly a market for the Bettbrunn pilgrimage book, though it was far smaller than the market that would eventually exist for the thin miracle pamphlets produced in the next century.[70]

In his introduction to the work, Engerd acknowledged his indebtedness to Martin Eisengrein.[71] Following the pattern established in Our Lady at Altötting , Engerd began by narrating Bettbrunn's history, including the area's pre-Christian past and its conversion by apos-


195

tolic missionaries during both Roman and early medieval times. He noted, for instance, that within years of the Ascension, St. Lucius Cyrensis was preaching the Gospel at Regensburg, Bettbrunn's diocesan capital. Moving on from these earliest missionaries to consider the Christianization of the heathen Bajuwaren invaders, he then turned to St. Rupert, Bavaria's "first apostle." Engerd made a long sojourn through the earliest ecclesiastical history of the territory, telling of Rupert and his apostolic successors' establishment of episcopal governments at Regensburg, Passau, Salzburg, Freising, and Brixen. The purpose of this prologue soon becomes clear: for Engerd, as for other Counter-Reformation authors, the apostolic succession—with its connections to the biblical drama—possessed a tangibility that explained the subsequent plethora of miracles. Bavaria's conversion by apostolic figures conferred a miraculous presence on the subsequent history of the Church in the province.[72]

In his earlier treatment of Altötting, Martin Eisengrein had transformed his tiny chapel into a place of pagan worship converted to better use by its Christian consecration. Engerd, for his part, insisted that the practice of pilgrimage itself was an ancient Germanic rite, purified by its importation into Christianity. In one digression, he betrays his humanist, rhetorical training and provides an etymology for the word pilgrimage (Wallfahrt ). He alleged that the ancient practice of Wallfahrt (which he misinterpreted as meaning something like Waldfahrt , or, literally, "forest journey") was a propitiatory rite conducted in the primeval woods to secure the protection of the heathen gods before battles and ordeals.[73] Pilgrimages, he asserted, began

in the time of the ancient Bavarians, [who] worshipped their [god] Alman Argle with chants, songs, and poems. Often before they went into battle or [faced] difficult trials they would make walfart or journeys into the forest, especially to the great oak forests. From this, we derive the term "pilgrimage." After they became Christians, they


196

visited and revered the churches of Christ, the true savior; Mary, Our Lady; and the other dear saints of God with prayers and Christian pilgrimages.[74]

Engerd hoped that early modern Bavarians, like the ancient Germans before them who sought out their god Aiman Argle in the forests before going to battle, would journey to shrines like Bettbrunn to enlist the power that reposed there for waging the battle of daily life. The old customs had been purified by their importation into Christianity, he argued, and blessed by a God who showed approval with "striking miracles." Thus in his account, pilgrimage became a visible testimony to Catholicism's power to work conversions not only on human beings, but on their age-old customs and practices as well.

Following this prologue, Engerd moved on to treat the legend of Bettbrunn's foundation. The devotion at Bettbrunn, he wrote, began in 1125, when a "poor, simple, but God-fearing" shepherd went to mass to fulfill his Easter duties. When it came time to take communion, the shepherd, who was a believer in the Real Presence and a fervent venerator of the host, received the wafer, yet removed it from his mouth and placed it in a special box. Since he could not attend mass often because of his flock, he desired to use the host for his private devotion and to have the Savior near him at all times. Returning to his sheep, the shepherd made an altar by fixing his staff in the ground and placing the host on top of it. Once when his animals grew restless and he was distracted, he picked up his staff without thinking and hurled it at his flock; the consecrated wafer flew into the air and landed on the ground. In great distress, the shepherd tried to retrieve it, but it would not allow itself to be moved or touched. Terrified, he ran to his confessor to tell him what had happened, and the priest hurried to the site to rescue the wafer. Each time he tried to approach it, however, it would move farther away from him beyond his grasp. The priest immediately set out for Regensburg to report the incident to his bishop, who was also "eager to see and experience the miracle" and "traveled to the place in a special, splendid procession." Arriving at the spot, the Regensburg bishop was able to retrieve the host, whereupon he vowed to


197

build a special chapel to honor the Savior at the site. From that date, Engerd alleged, Bettbrunn became a place of refuge and hope for countless Christians.[75]

The austere myth that the pilgrimage book author related is deceptively simple, for it is a story replete with details that served Counter-Reformation purposes. It begins when a pious yet misguided shepherd decides to take the Eucharist away from the parish so that he can have God's presence by him at all times. There is no hint whatsoever in this account that the herder's intentions were evil: they were but misguided. Although shepherds, like prostitutes, millers, Jews, and women, had often appeared in medieval eucharistic legends as members of marginalized groups who harbored maleficent or magical intentions toward the host,[76] here the shepherd is transformed into a paragon of honorable piety, motivated only by pure desires. When he accidentally throws his staff and sends the host toppling to the ground, he knows immediately the consequences of his action. Once he seeks out his priestly confessor for guidance, the legend becomes a vehicle for outlining the proper flow of authority within the Church. When the priest's attempts prove unsuccessful, it is up to the territory's spiritual overlord, the Regensburg bishop, to recover the mistreated wafer. Thus, only an apostolically consecrated figure is in the end able to counteract and make right the shepherd's mistreatment of the Eucharist, and it is the same man who proposed to build a church at the site.

As we have seen, the proliferation of unapproved and undisciplined devotions was a persistent problem for the late medieval ecclesiastical hierarchy. In Bavaria, the construction of numerous unsanctioned churches and altars had threatened to negate the Church's ultimate control over cult.[77] Engerd, however, in commenting on the legend of the shrine's foundation, intoned the importance of ecclesiastical sanction: "Who first discovered and founded this chapel which has been adorned with so many of the wondrous works of God? It was certainly no Lutheran, neither heretic nor master of the sects, but rather a Catholic man, an emi-


198

nent bishop, an esteemed, highborn prince and lord, Lord Hartwich I, the twentieth bishop of Regensburg."[78]

The devotion that developed at Bettbrunn, though given first approval by the Regensburg bishop, also represented a rededication of the site to its original purpose. In ancient times, Engerd stated, the place had been known as Bettbrunn, literally "well of prayers"; as proof that the site had been revered by the ancient tribes who lived there, the author called attention to a primordial spring that still flowed in the town. By 1125, however, the region had been largely abandoned, and only two modest houses were left. The site was now known as Vehbrunn, or "cattle spring." Following the great eucharistic miracle that transpired there, the place-name was changed back to Bettbrunn—and thus the event became in Engerd's account a pronouncement that returned the site to its original purpose as a place of prayer and devotion.

When the holy chapel was built on the oft-trod site, the original name Bettbrunn was once again adopted. Just as the pious, simple shepherd sought to direct his prayers to the living well of holiness and [to use] the true heavenly bread of Christ Jesus for the spiritual succor and nourishment of his soul in the same way as he refreshed his body with earthly food and the spring of the forest, then we, too, should do these same things at this holy chapel of Bettbrunn. We should pray by the well of life, Christ Jesus, who is always present in the holy sacrament. We should pray by the well replete with God's gracious works. We should pray there at the well where our prayers and vows are rewarded with such power and wondrous grace from God.[79]

Bettbrunn's host miracle, then, was a sign that revealed to local inhabitants the place's true purpose as a reservoir of God's grace and power. By concentrating on the power of the place, Engerd also maintained the traditional clerical reluctance to link thaumaturgy and intercession with the Eucharist itself. After he had related the story of the establishment of the first Christian chapel at the site, the host failed to figure in any of the subsequent narrative.[80]

During the first two centuries of its existence the Bettbrunn church remained a simple place of prayerful reverence, but in 1330


199

the original building burned down, and the shrine's fate dramatically altered. For in the still-smoldering embers, Bettbrunners discovered their chapel's image of the Savior miraculously unharmed.[81] The pious villagers now built a much larger church to house their victorious image. Miracles occurred, and bishops and popes awarded the cult their official sanction: indulgences. A popular thaumaturgic pilgrimage developed, drawing even Bavaria's nobility and clergy to Bettbrunn's great "house of miracles"; indeed, from that time the Wittelsbachs began to harbor a special and longlasting affection for the site—as evidenced in Engerd's account by a 1575 pilgrimage of the Wittelsbach son Ferdinand upon recovering from a serious illness.[82]

With his story of perpetual reverence and devotion completed, Engerd turned to satisfying the pious curiosity of his literate readership by pointing out the numerous spiritual attractions of the site. He provided, for example, a twenty-page catalogue of the shrine's relic collection that included descriptions of 28 reliquaries and 110 separate saints' remains.[83] Interestingly, a visitation conducted at Bettbrunn twenty-five years earlier, in 1559, had discovered no relics in the church at all. This lack of saintly remains was, however, typical of many medieval Bavarian shrines, and to remedy it relic collecting often became almost a passion among the clerical elites of the Catholic Reformation. To be sure, swelling collections of relics proved most useful for enhancing traditional visual piety. At Bettbrunn by the late sixteenth century, according to Engerd, the shrine's relics were being displayed in an annual ceremony similar to the great "relic shows" customary in many late medieval German cities, where the entire chorus of local saints would be ceremonially displayed before a large audience and the indulgences attached to the viewing and veneration of each announced to the crowd. At rural Bettbrunn, the practice was largely the same. As each relic was held up for view, Engerd tells us, pilgrims spliced a notch on their walking staffs.[84]


200

Besides picturesque details like these, this work, like so many Counter-Reformation pilgrimage books, painted vivid idealized portraits of the pious behavior of those who visited the shrine. When people emerged from the forest surrounding the village and first saw the holy site, they fell immediately to their knees. They made their way to the shrine, saying Our Fathers with raised hands and staffs in ritualized gestures of prayer. They thanked God and Christ for preserving them and prayed that the Lord would expunge their sins so that they might enter into this "Holy of Holies."[85] Such passages demonstrate clearly that ideal mixture of inner contemplation and outward display of devotion so encouraged by the counter-reformers. With them, writers like Engerd may have been attempting to inculcate a standard of propriety and decorum among their readers. Yet for many of those pilgrims who purchased these books or who were participating in the disciplined devotional resurgence of the confraternities, these pious ideals had already converged with reality.

In the final chapter, Engerd turned his attention to relating miracles recorded at the church.[86] Like the Tuntenhausen clerics, he claimed to have selected these from a much larger number of miracles—some 3,500, in fact—recorded at the shrine between 1573 and 1584.[87] Because the original records from this period no longer exist, this number cannot be verified; yet the offering revenues of the shrine in these decades, when the pilgrimage was just beginning to grow after the initial impact of the Reformation, do not support the claim to such a plethora of miracles.[88]

In relating these testimonies, Engerd, like Eisengrein before him, ordered his accounts under various thematic headings, ones that explicitly recalled the miracles worked by Christ. The first sub-


201

division, which recounted seven cases of demonic possession and exorcism, was typical of the approach he took throughout. After presenting each testimony—including the details of the votant's possession, vow, cure, and pilgrimage—he used the evidence of these miracles to attack Protestantism in a blatant polemic.[89] While Engerd's arguments and rhetorical style may have confirmed among his readers the truths of Catholicism's thaumaturgy, his use of the "signs" of the Gospel narrative, in which he related them to contemporary circumstances, was likely an even stronger testimony to the power of miracle. Christ continued, Engerd assured, to cure the faithful who came to Bertbrunn, just as he had cured the faithful of biblical times. By relating these contemporary miracles to those of the living Savior and lodging them within the context of his Catholic shrine, Engerd presented the contemporary Church's thaumaturgy as having a special relation to the scriptural story. In this way he combated Protestant polemical charges regarding the dangerous and "unscriptural" innovations of the traditional Church's divine cult. He did so, moreover, by turning the reformers' own weapon—the razor of Scripture—on themselves.

In truth, despite the biblical subheadings, the tales Engerd recounted were remarkably similar to those in circulation at other shrines around the same time. Yet there was a difference, for his history of Bettbrunn was also a carefully organized and framed account of cultic development. The site, revered and sought out by Bavaria's pre-Christian tribes, had been largely abandoned by the time of the shrine's precipitant host miracle. Centuries ago, the bishop of Regensburg had witnessed that event and approved the development of a devotion at the site. After two centuries of prayer-filled reverence, a second miracle—this time of preservation from fire—had again occurred there.

In point of fact, however, it is likely, given the almost complete lack of medieval documentation on these miracles, that the ecclesiastical hierarchy figured little in the history of the shrine's birth and development. Nor can Engerd's claim of a long and special affection for the place on the part of the Wittelsbachs be verified. If


202

family members visited Bettbrunn in the late Middle Ages, they left behind no enduring votive gift to testify to their journey—a curious oversight for princely pilgrims.

The myth of Bettbrunn, with its mix of history and legend and its strains of ancient reverence and subsequent diocesan and ducal approval, lived on in Bavaria for almost two centuries.[90] As the year 1600 approached, the first edition of Engerd's Holy Savior at Bettbrunn sold out; a second edition revised by David Mörlin went on sale at the shrine in 1597. One year later, the preacher Jacob Hornstein published a shorter pilgrimage book that repeated Engerd's codification of the legend.[91] By excluding contemporary miracles from his work, Hornstein was able to provide readers with a modest, cheaper alternative to Engerd's tome. In tandem, the two works expanded the audience for the carefully crafted Counter-Reformation story. In his expanded edition of Holy Savior , moreover, the editor David Mörlin included four miracles reported at the shrine by Lutherans who desired to "test" the site's power before renouncing their Protestant faith. Satisfied, they converted to Catholicism.[92] These cases remind us of how important the Roman clergy considered Bettbrunn as a testimony to the greater thaumaturgic and intercessory power of Catholicism vis-à-vis Protestantism. Their inclusion in the pilgrimage book indicates that this shrine may have been selected for literary invention more because of Bettbrunn's location in a confessional border region than because of any explicit demands of Catholic piety.


203

Holiness Lost and Found

In the early decades of the Counter-Reformation, Bavaria's pilgrimage propagandists also revived and adapted a second legendary type—stories about "holiness lost and found"—to the needs of the contemporary situation. In this topos, a shrine's relic collection, image, or saintly grave, neglected or lost for a time, was "miraculously" rediscovered. Such legends had their roots in medieval patterns of storytelling, including the alleged connection to biblical narrative: a legacy of dramatic resurrections. In the early Church, the rediscovery, translation, and elevation of saintly relics had provided an important focus for Christian piety, and through medieval devotional classics like Jacopo da Voragine's Golden Legend these stories had been widely disseminated and celebrated in Europe. Certainly the most renowned of these events had been Constantine's mother Helen's rediscovery of the True Cross in fourthcentury Palestine. But the drama of "lost and found" saints had been repeated in many places in early medieval Europe as anxious Christians searched for the remains of distinguished martyrs and holy men to satisfy their appetite for sanctity. In subsequent centuries, stories about these rediscoveries and elevations continued to keep alive the notion that holy objects, though subject to neglect, had the power to renew devotion.

In the late Middle Ages, the Bavarian clergy had begun to promote a spurt of dramatic relic discoveries similar to those reported in late antiquity and the early Middle Ages. In this process, the wonder-working power of the relics of long-forgotten saints like St. Rasso at Grafrath or St. Richildis at Hohenwart had been renewed, and their cults had grown to be enormously popular. Rasso, for example, had worked almost 5,200 miracles in the seventy years or so before the onset of the Reformation, and Richildis's cult had reported more than 2,000 in a little more than three decades before 1520. Still, all over Bavaria this floresence of miracle reporting had withered in the wake of Protestant attacks on pilgrimage.

In the Counter-Reformation, the ideas inherent in these incidents—that lost holy objects could be rediscovered and devotions renewed—were to provide propagandists with a vehicle uniquely well suited to the demands of Counter-Reformation piety. Rather than concentrating on reviving the saintly tumulus cults, however,


204

the counter-reformers applied the idea of holiness lost and found to cults dedicated to the Eucharist, saintly images, and relics. In late medieval Bavaria, the most celebrated legends of this type were associated with the Benedictine abbey at Andechs, with its legend of the three holy Eucharists and impressive relic cache and their unearthing by a mouse. In fact, this tale continued to be circulated in the decades before the Reformation in a series of tersely written, cheaply produced chronicles; in 1595, however, the clergy at Andechs decided to repromote the story, and they now adopted the emerging genre of the pilgrimage book to satisfy the needs of a new generation of readers. The history of the site would be repackaged in a bold, apologetic, and devotional format.

By this time, a pilgrimage confraternity similar to those appearing at Altötting and other sites was working for the renewal of Andechs. Counting among its most important supporters the bishop of Augsburg, Cardinal Otto Truchseß von Waldburg, this organization had been from its inception a distinctly elite body of nobles, burghers, and clerics.[93] It was primarily for just such devotees, in fact, that the Benedictine abbot at the shrine composed his Chronicle of Andechs , which treated not only the precipitant legend of the church, but a broad range of counter-reformational issues besides.[94] Like the other books we have reviewed, it delved deep into the past, attempting to "prehistoricize" the site's devotion. In addition, it catalogued and presented visual representations of the shrine's most important relics, so that its literate readers could keep track of the many items they viewed there. The book also explained the customs observed on the site's most popular pilgrimage days, and the reasons why these particular feasts had become important.

Even in the late medieval chronicles published for this church, the Benedictine clergy had promoted the cult's connection with the nobility and the Wittelsbach dukes. Now, though, Andechs's aristocratic pretensions were increased, and the reasons for the nobility's special affection for this site made more explicit than ever before.


205

Finally, the book was also generously filled with apologetic defenses of the Catholic belief in shrines and pilgrimages.

Following a dedication to the Wittelsbach duke Maximilian I, who was a frequent visitor to Andechs in this period,[95] Abbot David outlined the various reasons people had for visiting his shrine. Many, he stated, came in search simply of physical healing; yet he also called upon a powerful biblicism, natural mysticism, and psychologized piety to promote the site.[96]

In the late Middle Ages, Andechs had already been portrayed as Bavaria's "Holy Mountain," and now the abbot fused this traditional nomenclature with imagery drawn from the Bible. In both the Old and New Testaments, he observed, God often imparted special messages to man from atop mountain peaks, and he went on to list the various hills and mountains that figured in the Scriptures. Andechs too, he said, was one of these special sites, a kind of Bavarian Mt. Sinai, a place from which the deity had from time immemorial imparted wisdom and grace and sealed covenants with the region's inhabitants. Unlike that peak in Exodus, however, this Bavarian "holy of holies" was not restricted to priests and charismatic saints alone. Rather, this holy site has served as a well of "visible grace" to "many men," who have testified to the wondrous miracles God has worked on them. The visit there to commune with the deity has "quickened ... and confirmed [many] in their Catholic faith," making "the love of God to burn in them." Entrance into the divine presence at Andechs touched in all pilgrims an internal chord of humility, submission, and unworthiness.[97]

For anyone who has visited this church, the abbot's praise for the natural features of Andechs will ring true. Situated at the summit of a high knoll in the middle of the Upper Bavarian plain, Andechs is about fifty miles southwest of Munich. The Ammersee stretches westward from the foot of this hill, and directly south of the shrine the Alps jut up majestically. On clear days, several hundred miles of Alpine terrain and large stretches of the Upper Bavarian plateau can be observed from the church; and in turn, Andechs can be seen


206

from miles around. It is a spectacular location, and it is not unsurprising to find the abbot delighting in the physical nature of the place. His statements, however, display less affection for the simple beauty of the site than for the marvels that God had worked there. Unlike Petrarch, who upon ascending Mt. Ventoux gloried in the immediate physical surroundings, Abbot David remained detached from these splendors.

Adopting the style of other pilgrimage books, Abbot David began his narrative of the shrine's development long before any pilgrimage existed at the site. Yet whereas in most respects his account of the Andechs legend was faithful to standard late medieval versions, it differed in two important ways. First, his focus fell less on the great "miracle" of Andechs's rediscovered relics than on events preceding this incident. Second, he moved the origins of the saintly line of early medieval Andechs counts back several centuries relative to other medieval accounts. In the late fifteenth-century version of the tale, the counts of Andechs—who built a fortress on the future site of the pilgrimage chapel—were identified as eighthcentury figures given control over their territory by deputies of Charlemagne. Abbot David, however, located their origins in the sixth century—the time of Bavaria's Christianization. Like Eisengrein and Engerd, then, the abbot called up the dark days of Bavaria's pre-Christian past. In a subsequent chapter, moreover, he reproduced a detailed genealogy of this lineage and, by recalling its numerous saintly members, labored hard to establish a claim of enormous sanctity for the family.[98]

Of course, the late medieval chronicles of the site had attempted in similar fashion to connect Andechs with saintly, noble figures from the distant past; now, though, Abbot David multiplied the shrine's noble connections and made their association with the site even more antique. As a result, Andechs's development as a pilgrimage site became even more reliant on the ministrations of a saintly and apostolically consecrated line that had lived and worked in the region from the very inception of Catholicism in Bavaria.

As a pilgrimage site, Andechs was beholden particularly to the tenth-century count St. Rasso. An avid pilgrim and relic collector,


207

Rasso had amassed a significant number of apostolic remnants while in the Holy Land, which he installed in his mountaintop fortress at Andechs. In succeeding generations other saintly members of the family added to this collection, and the abbot carefully described each new addition to the cache, the most significant of these being the three holy hosts sent by St. Otto, bishop of Bamberg.[99]

Turning to the subsequent history Of the shrine's relic collection and its removal for safekeeping, the abbot again subtly altered the medieval legend. With the destruction of the counts' fortress in 1229, the relics lay forgotten in the ruins; yet even though neglected, they continued to provide aid to the faithful—a topos absent from earlier accounts. Fifty years after the devastation, a woman was cured of an eye illness at the site, and a chapel was built to commemorate this event. Here, according to Abbot David, was yet another proof of the power that had reposed in this site and its relics throughout time.

Although it continued to work intercessions, the wondrous collection was not known about until 1388, when a mouse brought a clue to the relics' whereabouts and laid it on the church altar one day during mass.[100] Because of neglect, knowledge of this precious repository had been lost, and Abbot David did not intend to let these objects be forgotten again. The largest portion of his book was therefore given over to a highly detailed Heiltumverzeichnis , a catalogue of all the shrine's relics.[101] Such listings had been common in the Middle Ages: printed for the great annual displays of relics held in many cities, they allowed pilgrims to keep track of the myriad items on view; they also served as a kind of souvenir, recalling to pilgrims the important items they had seen. In Bavaria, however, no relic catalogues were printed in the late Middle Ages, and relic displays, so common in the rest of the empire, were apparently held


208

only in the imperial city of Regensburg and the diocesan capital of Passau.[102] In any case, Abbot David embraced the strongly visual traditions of salvific display, and by the late sixteenth century the shrine was holding an annual relic display of its own, which was indexed by the Chronicle catalogue. Not only did it aid pilgrims who bought his book in identifying the many items they saw, but it also allowed them better to relive the event when they returned home.

For the believer who had read about and seen the plethora of saints' relics housed in this church, there could have been little doubt about the site's power. Yet in a place so crowded with the physical remains of the saints, the drive to see everything might have led to chaos. For this reason, the abbot attempted to discipline the piety of his faithful readers. In passages similar to those in other pilgrimage books, he stressed the deep interior spirituality, humility, and introspection of those who visited the church. Warning of the dangers of impatience, he cautioned the devout to direct their hearts and wills to God while on the "sacred journey" to Andechs. In prayer, the votant should foster a quiet and contrite spirit, rather than expending effort in outpourings of verbiage, for the Lord did not "desire a lot of chatter," but rather a devout heart "without which he has nothing for which to care."[103]

After discussing proper pilgrimage behavior, Abbot David turned in the final sections of his work to describing—again, in considerable detail—the major indulgences and benefices given to the shrine as well as some of the contemporary miracles recorded there. Again, following the pattern of other pilgrimage books, the abbot grouped similar intercessions under categoric headings, thus highlighting the variety of cases in which the saintly relics at Andechs had provided aid. Like Eisengrein's Our Lady at Altötting or Engerd's Holy Savior at Bettbrunn , this book presented the miracles


209

wrought at Andechs as the logical continuations of a narrative of antique devotion and reverence.

In truth, the Andechs devotion, like that at Altötting, was a relatively recent phenomenon, having originated in the dramatic unearthing of the relics at the end of the fourteenth century. In the Chronicle , however, the "miraculous" rediscovery was framed as an event prepared by a centuries-long tradition of veneration by a noble lineage that had given the site rich endowments throughout the Middle Ages. As it developed during the Counter-Reformation, the Andechs legend was broadened in scope: its origins were now situated in the sixth century, the era of Bavaria's conversion by apostolically consecrated missionaries. In this subsequent retelling of Andechs's history, the author assured readers that shrine time represented not a discrete chronology, but a collection of kairotic moments. Like its spatial geography, which was demarcated into areas of greater and lesser power by the relics of Catholicism's intercessors, Andechs's history, too, had been characterized by episodes in which divine grace was made evident to the faithful. In the face of questions raised by Reformation attacks on the saints, the Andechs legend, as retold by Abbot David, counseled perpetual diligence. Here the site's relics had been neglected, disregarded, and yet rescued from their obscurity. As an insurance against disaffection, the clergy at Andechs continued to issue versions of Abbot David's pilgrimage book throughout the early seventeenth century.[104]

Holiness Suddenly Revealed

In late medieval Bavaria, previously unimportant, even marginal, shrines that suddenly and inexplicably revealed their power through spontaneous wonder-working had been common, often leading to the development of immensely popular devotions. Images, relics, or the numinous site itself might even "show forth" (zeichnen ) with signs. From the perspective of Bavaria's ecclesiastical hierarchy, such extemporaneous wonder-working was inherently problematic: it riveted the laity's attention on chapels and altars that


210

were sometimes unconsecrated, made natural features like springs and wells the objects of religious affection, and threatened to usurp clerical control over worship. Thus, although these devotions continued to proliferate, the Bavarian clergy began to labor to make the divine presence contingent on a site's connection with provincial and imperial history, a legacy of aristocratic benefactions, and affiliation with legendary clerical figures.

In the early Counter-Reformation, Bavaria's clerical propagandists redoubled these efforts, striving to "prehistoricize" and shroud in legendary mystery many sites of religious reverence and stressing their organic role in the biblical drama and the apostolic succession. This "traditionalizing" impulse was now more necessary than ever before, as a weapon against Protestant attacks on saints' cults and pilgrimages as recent clerical, even demonic, inventions. But counter-reformers' efforts to locate pilgrimage within a visible Catholic, confessional lineage also arose from the perceived need to discipline lay religion. By identifying their cults with ancient tribal religious practices purified by importation into Christianity, Bavaria's Catholic clergy attempted not only to link pilgrimage with the region's earliest cultural identity, but also to demonstrate that only the Catholic religion had the power to transform age-old devotions. Moreover, by concentrating on the necessity of apostolic sanction, they tried to show that supernatural intercession was available only through routine clerical channels.

For most of the Catholic reformers, the precise locations of Bavaria's numina had been revealed long before at specific times, and they assured their audience that the territory's sanctity was by and large a fait accompli . The faithful could add to Catholicism's complement of holy places by importing a disregarded and neglected saint like Benno of Meissen, but his wonder-working now hung solely on his standing within an antique apostolic and clerical succession. The Catholic commonwealth imagined by the counter-reformers required the faithful to display submission, humility, and devotion before what they perceived as a long-revealed religious principle, expressed by the full complement of saints' cults, holy places, and religious images with its legacy of power. In this way, the Catholic reformers used the past not just polemically, but also as a disciplinary agent; saintly and divine presences, they insisted, did not normally appear in sudden outbursts of wonder-working that in


211

turn created episodic religious enthusiasm. Rather, the Catholic heritage was marked by moments of special grace performed by apostolically consecrated figures that engendered lasting religious affection.

These attempts to mold pilgrimage into part of a clear legacy were persistent, but not without deviation. At Flochberg, just across Bavaria's eastern border in the county of Oettingen, for instance, a new devotion without ancient origins appeared after 1583 and was enthusiastically promoted by the local parish priest, Abraham Nagel. Nagel's propagandistic campaign illustrates very well how the defense of pilgrimage and the cult of the saints were gradually appropriated outside Bavaria. The county of Oettingen is also of particular interest to us because its ruling family—and hence its physical territory—was confessionally divided. Thus, development of a thaumaturgic pilgrimage there was aimed—as it was in Bavaria—at opposing Protestant ideas and practices, which carried some weight but did not (yet) predominate in the Catholic part of Oettingen.[105] Moreover, the new devotion aroused immediate criticism from the evangelical clergy in the adjoining Protestant half of the county, leading to another polemical exchange between Protestant and Catholic theologians.[106] Flochberg's success in inspiring controversy, therefore, provides us with yet another proof of the fears the resurgence of Catholic pilgrimage aroused among the evangelical clergy.

In 1583, Abraham Nagel published Our Lady at Flochberg in the Rye Field at Wolfgang Eder's press in Ingolstadt.[107] The stylistic and visual similarities between this book and Eisengrein's Our Lady at


212

Altötting or Engerd's slightly later Holy Savior at Bettbrunn are immediately apparent. Nagel displays as well his familiarity not only with Eisengrein's pilgrimage book, but also with the recent dispute over miracles and shrines; he even includes large excerpts from Johann Rabus's Christian Refutation of "On Miracles and Wondrous Signs ."[108]

Unlike Altöting, Bettbrunn, or St. Benno's shrine in Munich, the devotion at Flochberg was a new phenomenon without medieval antecedent. Thus, Nagel could not draw upon ancient legends or historical accounts; yet he did have the excitement of a contemporary miracle—a series of Marian apparitions—to exploit, and this he did with zeal.[109] Promotion of a "new" shrine was problematic, for it laid Nagel and the Catholic clergy open to the charge of working "magic" and fostering "diabolic" innovations to lead the laity astray.

As the sixteenth century was drawing to a close, Catholic and Protestant authorities alike were scrutinizing events such as were claimed to have transpired at Flochberg more carefully than ever before. The Protestant Johann Marbach, for instance, had already used the presence of Marian apparitions in Martin Eisengrein's Altötting exorcistic account to prove that the Jesuit Peter Canisius was a black magician. But beyond their potential for negative polemical exploitation, apparitions were proving increasingly destabilizing for both Protestant and Catholic clerics, because they threatened "official" control over religious experience. Nagel therefore fused to his account of Flochberg's precipitant miracle a wealth of details designed to protect his story from Protestant attack and to underscore the extraordinary character of the events that had shaken this tiny village. What had happened here, he claimed, was a rare yet verifiable case in which the Virgin had directly interceded to change the course of human history.

He began his account of the devotion on May 26, 1582, when Apollonia Wintzer disciplined her ten-year-old son Wilhelm for neglecting his chores. Enraged by his disobedience, the mother beat the child with a sharp birch rod until he fell into a series of convulsive, epileptic fits. Terrified by her actions and powerless to help the


213

child, Apollonia sought advice from her neighbors, who could offer no suggestion to stop the convulsions. In desperation, she sent for her husband, the court tailor to the Catholic counts of OettingenWallerstein. The father, Nagel wrote, "took the gripping pain of his own flesh and blood to heart," repeatedly bemoaning the fact that he could not take the child's suffering upon himself. Seeing his grief, one of his neighbors suggested the father vow a pilgrimage, which he immediately did. Invoking the Virgin, he promised a journey to Our Lady of Kochheim with a pound of wax if the child were cured.[110]

Unlike late medieval miracle accounts, in which relief was formulaically described as "immediate," this pilgrimage book transformed the cure of the child into a dramatic weeks-long struggle. On the first day after the vow, the author noted, the child began to perspire but did not regain consciousness. The next day he revived, but a long period of convulsions followed, usually four or five times each day. The situation continued like this for about two weeks until Pentecost, at which time the child began to report experiencing Marian apparitions during the night:

Then during the night an earnest and beautifully formed woman appeared beside his bedstead in actual visual form with a blue mantle covered from the hem to the top with shining stars and a gleaming halo surrounding her head. She touched him, lifted his head up and took away [from him] the root which the noble woman, Johanna, countess of Oettingen (by birth a countess of Hohenzollern) had placed there out of pity and compassion for him. And she spoke to him. "Wilhelm, each evening, when you go to say your prayers, go into the adjacent long rye field. There is a root buried there that will help you and make you healthy." And after this she hung the root back around his neck and when the child closed his eyes from fear and dread, she disappeared.[111]

The child, however, failed at first to act upon his vision; the second night, the Virgin reappeared with the same message. Wilhelm then told his mother of the apparition and begged her to let him go to the rye field. Fearing what might happen if the convulsive child left the house alone and dismissing the visions as mere fits, however,


214

the mother forbade him to go to the place. Even though her messages were being disregarded, the Virgin continued to appear to the boy each night for more than two weeks.

The parents still procrastinated, doubting the child's visions and the effectiveness of any root buried in a rye field. Yet each day the attacks reappeared, so that by the end of June the parents and the boy had "scarcely had a day's peace." Finally the father agreed to take the boy to the rye field. Upon their arrival there they said an Our Father, a Hail Mary, and the Apostle's Creed, then entered the space. When the child had walked into the field about thirty steps, the Virgin again appeared to him. This time, however, Mary became a thaumaturge, acting to cure her young patient. First she took the miraculous root of which she had told the child, pressed it on his forehead crosswise, and then produced a vial of holy water out of her cloak. Pouring some onto her hand, she placed her two longest fingers into the water and made the sign of the cross on the child's forehead and heart and on both hands and feet. Finally she gave him the following message: "My son, go. Your illness will not reappear again during your entire life. Be pious. Pray. Call upon God. Go diligently to Church. Listen to God's word and complete your pilgrimage." She turned and walked away, "looking like the clear sun," and soon disappeared from the child's sight. But she left him completely healthy.[112]

Nagel's narrative may appear complex and contrived, yet these very complexities defended the cult of the saints from Protestant attack. Clearly, Nagel reasoned, apparitions occurred—rare, exceptional testimony to Catholicism's wonder-working power, testimony that could not be revealed to everyone. Each component of the story—from the father's vow of the pilgrimage through the son's vision and to the Virgin's cure—served Catholic confessional purposes. In his narrative fashioning of the incident, Nagel's approach was in fact similar to Martin Eisengrein's account of the 1571 Altötting exorcism: he first retold the entire miracle and then proceeded to discuss each episode, refuting in advance, so to speak, any possible Protestant criticisms. Thus, his miracle also served as a vehicle—as did Eisengrein's exorcism—for discussing the nature


215

and meaning of pilgrimage, vows, the invocation of the saints, and the veneration of relics and images.

In particular, Nagel's account of the Virgin's healing of the afflicted child affirmed the traditional belief in the efficacy of specific places and objects, a precept that the Counter-Reformation program in South Germany had stressed from the start. In both Nagel and Eisengrein's accounts, the resolution of the votant's affliction began with a Marian apparition that called the faithful to a specific site, one that would prove holy and efficacious. In Nagel's story, however, instead of healing being channeled through a charismatic priest like Canisius, the Virgin herself appropriated the functions of both priest and folk healer.

Our Lady of Flochberg's wonder-working resembled Canisius's in Our Lady at Altötting in other respects as well. In that earlier account, the Jesuit father had used a plethora of mediating agents to exorcise the woman's demons. At Flochberg, too, Mary employed various antidotes to conquer the convulsions. She revealed to the boy Wilhelm the secret of a root buried in the rye field and pressed it against his forehead, thus appropriating the tools of folk medicine. Yet her healing also relied on holy water and the sign of the cross, and in that way reaffirmed the efficacy of traditional religious practices and the great degree of protection and aid that the Roman Church afforded the faithful.

Finally, the stories of the events at Flochberg and at Altötting were also similar in that both cast the treatment of the afflicted in a fully "religious," interior, and spiritual light. Rather than the immediate or "cheap" cures of late medieval miracle literature, Eisengrein and Nagel painted the Altötting and Flochberg miracles as the climax to a long period of struggle against illness. This struggle, to be sure, enhanced the drama and veracity of both accounts; but it also transformed the miracle into a process that first demanded internal catharsis and purification before the ultimate cure. In other words, it reflected that mixture of inward devotion and outward demonstration of faith that Catholic propagandists had recommended since the inception of the Counter-Reformation.

At Flochberg, Mary reminded the cured boy that the award of a miracle should be followed by ongoing amendment of life. Her last words were "Be pious. Pray. Call upon God. Go diligently to


216

church. Listen to God's word and complete your pilgrimage." At the end of the Altötting drama, too, Canisius had preached a similar message to the afflicted woman and the audience in the chapel. Thus, in both accounts the receiving of a cure was woven together with a change in living and the diligent practice of Catholic cult, features appropriate to Counter-Reformation purposes. Unlike the medieval Mary, who meted out aid to all regardless of the quality of their piety, this Virgin intended those she helped to change and become rigorous practitioners of the Catholic religion. She might comfort and heal the sick, but the purpose of these ministrations was ultimately to increase the level of devotion of her parishioners. Mary now expected more in return—an internal transformation of the heart and faithful attendance at mass and confession-than a pound of wax or a length of cloth.


217

previous chapter
6 "Spiritual Medicine for Heretical Poison" Pilgrimage and Propaganda in the Early Counter-Reformation
next chapter