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Shared Oneiric Experiences in Medieval Castilian Hagiography

Dreams and visions form an important mode of communication in hagiography. Falling outside the normal realms of a waking and shared reality, they often offer a glimpse of the privileged link the saint enjoys with God. They both make explicit the divine will on earth by reducing the distance between it and heaven, and complicate it by encoding it in cryptic symbolism. As such, they become a crucial intelligible domain that chosen protagonists may interpret successfully, but can leave the unenlightened or faithless confused.

Speaking of the Christian dreamer in twelfth-century Europe, Steven F. Kruger argues that “we see uncertainty and disorientation: individuals – caught between the different categories elaborated by theory, suspended between equally plausible interpretations of their experience– remain finally unsure of how to pin down the nature of any given dream” (Dreaming 65). [End Page 185] Some saints’ lives reflect this observation, offering a complex model whereby the dream vision is problematized either by its incomprehensibility or the impossibility of communicating it to others. The situation is only resolved when the experience is shared with a fellow dreamer, often a spouse. This article traces some of the presentations of this pattern through the medieval Castilian prose legends of Sts. Eustace, Thomas the Apostle, Mary Magdalene, and Elizabeth of Hungary.1 Where the first three display variations on the theme of shared oneiric experience, Elizabeth acts as a later counterpoint, questioning the limitations of this model. When she becomes a widow, the meaning of shared visions is completely transformed, with a new dynamic rewriting the previous partnerships of husband and wife.

The formulation “dream vision” reflects the difficulty of separating the two terms in hagiography, as they are often understood to be interchangeable. The basic criterion that a dream may only take place in a state of sleep is soon questioned by the similar content and presentation of visionary experiences that may occur during a protagonist’s waking time, as well as the lack of a clear distinction between the two states of consciousness. To discount either would lead to an artificial picture of the narrative and spiritual processes at work. For the purpose of this article, any form of dream or vision that brings a divine message is included as part of the fabric of hagiography, despite variations in consciousness or location. This broad and flexible working definition has previously been adopted by other scholars examining the field, such as Peter Brown and Kruger (“Dialogue”). While some, such as Kathryn L. Lynch, go as far as to suppose that the dream vision constitutes [End Page 186] its own literary genre (4–11), in hagiography it is more useful to consider it on a more adaptable scale. The dream vision can indeed be an overarching structure or framework, as Berceo uses it in his Vida de Santa Oria, or it can operate as a motif or setting for smaller episodes, as this article demonstrates.

Thinking on the interpretation of dreams traces a need for caution even in the earliest works on the topic. Pagan writers influential in the Middle Ages, such as Calcidius and Macrobius (writing in the fourth and early fifth centuries respectively), structured dreams in hierarchies according to the level of clarity with which they relayed messages from divine sources. Early Christian thinkers such as Augustine (354–430) employed similar paradigms but also emphasized the spiritual origin of the dream or vision, arising from the interference of angelic or demonic forces. Dreaming was thus a process fraught with the possibility of misinterpretation, leaving the dreamer open both to the error of ignoring a divinely-inspired dream, and to the danger of being deceived by one of demonic origins. Tertullian (c. 160–ca. 225), Augustine, Prudentius (fl. late fourth century), and Gregory the Great (ca. 540–604) all suggest that dreaming is both a privileged and a perilous experience, and that the opening of the soul to such a state of consciousness is an activity that should be safeguarded by vigilance and prayer.2

In line with this element of danger, Kruger (“Dialogue” 78) argues that dream frameworks in Middle English debate poems allow authors to create a space of ambiguity between truth and fiction. Meaning is therefore located in an indeterminate realm between the conscious state of waking and the unconscious and uncontrollable state of sleep. He therefore proposes two overlapping treatments of the dream vision topos: one is used to deal with the individual and “internal human conflicts” (79), and the other addresses questions of a collective or social nature.3 This is a useful point of departure [End Page 187] for a consideration of hagiography, because when it is shared, the individual or internal struggle to comprehend or strive for sanctity passes towards a collective or public domain. Saints’ lives highlight the overlap between these categories because the dream vision is never a fully private event; the recipient is one individual standing alongside the originator of the dream (either divine or demonic), an intradiegetic audience, and also an implied and complicit target audience which will benefit from the experience in equal measure. Reading the dream vision becomes a collective affair, and intelligibility is therefore of paramount importance. The phenomenon itself also constitutes a flexible communicative strategy; the saint is sometimes the recipient of the dream vision, and sometimes the divine messenger, and the motif is also used to describe the experiences of secondary characters. In terms of narrative, it can be adopted at any structural level.

The emphasis laid on intelligibility and collective understanding is particularly prominent when dream visions are incomprehensible without input from a further character in the narrative. In hagiography, either an individual has not yet reached a state of faith that would dispel misinterpretation, or complementary experiences need to be retold and connected in order to make sense of both. The resulting tensions and the differing roles performed by couples, particularly husbands and wives, can allow the dream vision to function as a lens through which to view gender differences.

It is important to note that the dream vision appears in the Bible in a number of forms. Particularly significant is the fact that many of the hagiographical commonplaces surrounding family and communication reflect the experiences of Mary and Joseph before the birth of Christ. Matthew 1–2 records Joseph’s three dreams, explaining Mary’s conception, warning the family to flee to safety in Egypt, and announcing when it was safe to return to Israel. Luke 1–2 contrasts Mary’s vision of an angel who foretells Christ’s birth with her relative Zechariah’s parallel experience regarding his son John; the first child is born from a virgin mother, the second from an old woman. Here, the function of dreams and visions is blurred but their [End Page 188] messages corroborate one another in order to build a collective picture of understanding through a network of family. Later saints’ lives continue to adopt this model.

Prose hagiography produced in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries often upheld traditional medieval Christian values regarding the family and marriage (Weinstein and Bell 226–28); in the legends of Eustace and of Thomas the Apostle, communication between husband and wife assumes a central role to make a previously opaque message intelligible. However, female and male roles are more commonly examined in isolation. For example, although saints’ lives contain many examples of strong female leaders (such as Katherine of Alexandria), many others superficially correspond to a number of more rigid, largely passive stereotypes (such as the Virgin of Antioch) or note a predilection for visionary activity as opposed to miracle-working. Elizabeth of Hungary is one example of this trend. Likewise, the male saint, particularly the early Christian convert and martyr, is frequently a prominent figure both before and after his conversion, and his religious experiences frequently take place in the same public arena (such as George or Sebastian). However, the differing gender roles offered by these legends are often substantiated by complementary –rather than segregated– oneiric experiences. In a marriage of public and private, miraculous spectacle and nocturnal dream, male and female work together to form a coherent whole. There is a flexibility surrounding gender roles that allows them to be manipulated. Alternatively, gender paradigms sometimes show themselves open to further complications, such as in the legend of Mary Magdalene. Here, the effects of dream visions shared by a married couple are multiplied by later ones that separate male from female, rather than collapsing their identities. The experience can be used to highlight the differences between the genders, or to represent the symbiosis present between them.

According to medieval Castilian hagiography, the tale of the Roman officer Eustace and his family is essentially one of a reversal of fortunes.4 After [End Page 189] meeting Christ, he loses all of his worldly goods and flees Rome. His wife is abducted and his sons apparently lost to wild animals, and he lives in poverty for fifteen years. At the end of this period, he is discovered and reinstated to his role as general. His wife finds him and they are reunited with the children, now young men. They return to Rome in triumph after success in the war, and the family undergoes martyrdom together for their Christian beliefs. Dreams and visions are a constant motif in the narrative, experienced by several characters, and they function as one of the unifying factors for the family.

At the beginning of the legend, Eustace gives chase to a magnificent stag when out hunting one day. His meeting with the animal constitutes his first contact with the message of Christianity:5

E como un día fuése a caça de monte, falló una manada de ciervos, e vido entrellos un ciervo muy grande que se apartava sólo a foyr por el monte. E yendo los cavalleros en pos de los otros ciervos, fuése Eustachio en pos dél a todo correr. E Eustachio, yendo en pos dél, subióse encima de un risco. E Eustachio començó a pensar en q manera lo podría tomar. E paró mientes con diligencia al ciervo, e vido que tenía entre los cuernos una cruz más clara quel sol, e que estava en ella crucificada la ymagen de Nuestro Redemptor. E así como fabló en otro tienpo el Señor a Balán por la boca del asna, asý fabló aquí por la boca del ciervo a Plácido. E díxole: “¿Por q me perssigues, Plácido? Yo só Jhesu Christo, al qual tú honrras con las tus limosnas e non me conosces. E las tus limosnas subieron delante de mí, e descendí por te caçar en aqueste ciervo que tú deseas tomar”.

(Biblioteca Nacional 12689 fol. 90ra)

[End Page 190]

The pagan Placidus responds to the inherent attractive quality of the stag, and therefore obliquely experiences the attraction of the new religion it represents. This is simultaneously a secular and spiritual quest. Furthermore, the stag is portrayed as a physical vehicle for Christ.6 Although it carries an image of the cross, symbol of martyrdom and death as well as conversion and salvation, the voice does not come from the figure crucified upon it, but explicitly from the mouth of the stag (see Numbers 22:21–34).7 The nature of the relationship between the animal and the figure it carries is both made clear and deliberately muddled. Christ explains that the stag is part of the strategy that will eventually lead to Eustace’s martyrdom and subsequent glory, but uses the device of mundus inversus. The hunter becomes the hunted in a chase where identities and purposes are suddenly inverted.8 Eustace can no longer be sure of himself, or trust his perception of his own value. This is the first stage of a complete reconstruction of his identity, including a new faith, a new name, and a comparison to Job.9 The stag was not what it appeared; but neither, it seems, is Eustace. In short, rather than producing a satisfying feeling of bliss, this experience is supremely disturbing. The saint [End Page 191] feels fearful, and lies unconscious on the ground for a while in shock before he is able to listen to the explanation Christ offers him.

At the heart of this discomfort is an ontological problem: identity seems to be open to hybridity and recomposition. Eustace is about to reconstruct himself in relation to his new Christian community. The possibilities are exciting, but the corollary to this process is the implication that the self can also be split and fractured in order to be reconstituted. Christ’s animal-human-divine hybridity reveals many elements that can instruct Eustace, but they also show how fragmentary and unstable identity can be. The fact that this episode redefines the saint’s relationship with his environment underpins this reading; the saint is in a wild, potentially threatening space dominated by forces other than those of man, he receives a vision that connects the divine and human worlds, and identity is likewise a much more intricate and unrestricted phenomenon than previously assumed. The vision provides a lens for Eustace to perceive something of the vertiginous nature of how much he has taken for granted, and how little he actually understands or is able to control.

When Eustace returns home, the importance of his family life is thrown into relief. Although independently active herself, his wife provides a uniquely female foil –as wife and mother– to his journey, rather than sharing the focus with him. This is illustrated by the means by which she is prepared for their conversion. While Eustace encounters a manifestation of Christ and converses with him at some length, his wife simultaneously receives a shorter and more cryptic divine message in a dream:

E como Plácido tornas[e] a su casa e dixiese estas cosas a su muger, respondióle la muger a alta boz e dixo: “Señor mío, a mí paresció la noche pasada e me dixo: ‘Cras vernés a mí tú e tu marido e tus fijos.’ ¡E agora conosco que él es Jhesu Christo, fijo de Dios bivo!”

(Biblioteca Nacional 12689 fol. 90rb)

The message makes little sense to her, and she can do nothing to explain or consolidate it without knowledge of her husband’s experience. Where Eustace receives a waking vision in an open and public (albeit remote) location, his wife is offered the opposite: a private nocturnal encounter in a bedchamber. This variety reinforces traditional gender paradigms in [End Page 192] which the male operates in a domain available for all to scrutinize, and the female in the domestic sphere behind closed doors. Their intimate evening conversation, possible only because they are married, allows her to understand and support her husband, and permits them both to grasp the full meaning of Christ’s messages.

The different responses of Eustace and his wife inform the rest of the narrative, which focuses on Eustace’s separation from his wife and sons, and their eventual reunion. Viewed in this way, it becomes problematic to interpret the saint in isolation from his family. His wife is an essential counterpoint to her male protector, despite the fact that the account is principally concerned with her husband. When they are reunited, it is she who pulls Eustace from his despair and provides the hope of finding their sons alive again:

E ella preguntóle por los fijos. E respondióle que los mataran unas animalias bravas, e contóle la manera de cómo los perdiera. E respondióle ella e dixo: “¡Fagamos gracias a Dios! E pienso que así como nos fallámosnos por el don de Dios, así nos dará gracia e logar para fallar a nuestros fijos antes que partamos de aquesta vida mortal”. E díxole él: “Ya te dixe que los mataran unas animalias bravas”. E respondióle ella e dixo: “Yo estava el otro día en una huerta, e fablavan en uno dos mancebos de los que aquí vienen contigo del tienpo quando eran niños. E segunt lo que ellos dizían, creo que son nuestros fijos. E por ende, mándalos llamar e sabe dellos la verdat”.

(Biblioteca Nacional 12689 fol. 92va)

Her faith, loyalty to her husband, and maternal instincts represent her three main functions in the text, defining her character and action. In her hope to find her children, she refuses to accept Eustace’s explanation of their sons’ disappearance. In this way, the narrative contrasts her emotional maternal nature with Eustace’s logical conclusions regarding the boys’ fate. This scene may be read as a conflict between reason and instinct, and by medieval standards, Eustace demonstrates a more developed interpretation of the facts. However, the tension is actually between the limitations of reasoning, and faith in divine providence. As a consequence, Eustace’s wife is not only correct, but also avoids the despair that affects her husband. Together they showcase different approaches to their experience, but also complement [End Page 193] each other perfectly; each is incomplete without the other, and the narrative could not progress without both.

Eustace’s wife, therefore, fulfils a number of functions. She reflects and reinforces the processes and morals that underlie Eustace’s progress in a way that reflects her femininity, playing an active role at a number of structurally crucial points in the narrative. Dialogue with her does not serve a merely dramatic purpose for the reader or audience’s benefit, but is also key to making the Christian message intelligible to the other characters. Consistent with this logic, Eustace’s martyrdom is made complete by the fact that his wife and two sons die at his side. This marriage is not a human relationship to be forsaken in favour of a mystical union with Christ, as readings on virgin martyrs often present.10 This family remains united in death as well as life. Human family is therefore not incompatible with spiritual reward in this legend; indeed, it makes that spiritual reward attainable by collective effort. The privileged bonds and channels of communication that family allows are the means of achieving holiness as a unit, each playing a different and valued role.11

Despite the privileged and sympathetic representation of familial and matrimonial elements in the legend of Eustace, the act of breaching the intimacy and privacy of the marital bedchamber is a widespread topos in hagiography, particularly as emphasis continues to be placed on the omniscience of God.12 An episode in the account of St. Thomas offers a different treatment of the motif, in which the couple are not the central protagonists but marginal characters, and the saint himself assumes a very different role. When the apostle has arrived in India to begin the proselytizing mission that will culminate in his martyrdom at the hands of [End Page 194] a pagan priest, he attends the wedding of the local king’s daughter. The king begs him to bless the union, and after he complies, a branch of dates is found in the bridegroom’s hand. When they go to bed, instead of consummating the marriage, they fall asleep and “soñaron amos a dos” (Escorial h–III–22 fol. 40va). They dream that a king comes to them to link the apostle’s blessing and their future inheritance of glory. They awake and ponder the meaning of this vision when Thomas himself appears with the following message:

El mi rey vos aparesció agora, e me metió acá, cerradas las puertas, para que la mi bendición fiziese fruto sobre vos e guardásedes la entregüedat de la virginidat.

(Escorial h–III–22, fol. 40va)

After explaining the nature of virginity and its relationship to sin, two angels arrive to help protect them. Later, they are baptized and live holy lives until martyrdom. Inseparable in wedlock, the two characters share their vision and Thomas’s explanation.

Thomas is able not only to enter the locked room, but also the couple’s understanding. The physical and private space that they share symbolizes their mutual intellectual space. Domestic, architectural, intellectual, and spiritual spheres collide and merge in this episode, displaying the extent to which the marriage has transformed them, and echoing the correlation of the parallel experiences of Eustace and his wife. Furthermore, the account is deliberately unclear regarding the nature of Thomas’s appearance; the couple have awoken from a dream, but Thomas seems to occupy a state halfway between dream apparition and physical presence. This provides a reworking of the motif of two complementary visions in the form of two simultaneous identical dreams and visitations. The experience is still shared and corroborated by the couple, but understanding is reached through dialogue with the visitor, rather than between the two dreamers. In this manner, marriage provides not a lens with which to study the reactions of different genders to a pair of dream visions with the same message, but a multiplication of subjects with whom the experience resonates. This is underlined by their minor roles in the narrative, suggesting that they are repeatable examples of the effects of the transformative power that Thomas brings. Rather than highlighting the different paths to sanctity that the bride and groom might take, as was the [End Page 195] case with Eustace and his wife, it emphasizes the identical nature of their goal, and provides a companion for each in their faith. Marriage here breaks down barriers between individual and shared identity, as the dream vision breaks down categories of understanding and space.

The technique of engaging actively with an interlocutor in a dream is taken further in the legend of Mary Magdalene.13 Mary operates in the domain of sleep as efficiently as in that of waking action. She arrives in Marseille after Christ’s death and, preaching from the doorway of a local temple, she addresses her words to a local prince and his wife who are offering sacrifice in the hope of conceiving a baby. They do not heed her words; later she comes to the princess in a dream to remind her of the plight of starving Christians. However, the call to compassion has a disturbing edge, as Mary also threatens her if she does not share this “visión” (209) with her husband. The princess is fearful of the consequences and prefers to keep the dream to herself, but on the third night Mary takes a more direct and terrifying approach:

E la tercera vegada, a la media noche, aparesció al marido e a la muger muy sañuda e muy irada, así encendida que les semajava [sic] que ardía la casa, e dezía: “Tirano cruel, mienbro de tu padre Sathanás, duerme con tu muger sepe[n]tina, que no te pudo dezir lo que yo le mandé. Tú, enemigo de la cruz de Jhesu Christo, fuelga[s] bien farto de buenos manjares, e dexas perescer aquel[l]os omnes santos de fambre e de set; e yazes en [e]l palacio enbuelto en paños de seda, e veyes aquellos siervos de Dios muy desconortados en el portal del templo, e veniste tu carrera. Sepas, falso, que non escaparás, así que non ayas pena por ende, porque te tardeste tanto de les fazer algund bien”.


As the vision fades, the couple wake up in terror; they realize they have received the same message. The wife suggests that the best course of action is to do as Mary asks, so that they might avoid the wrath of her God.

The saint here uses a threefold method of communication. When the couple ignore her spirited preaching by the temple door, she enters the woman’s [End Page 196] intimate bedroom space by appearing to her in a dream. When this does not achieve the desired effect, the vision occurs to each separately yet simultaneously. Only after they have seen her anger do they realize that they have been party to the same experience, and stop ignoring her commands. Although this couple is rich enough to be able to ignore poverty in others, and occupied with their own childlessness, Mary is able to penetrate their self-centred and introspective outlook by utilizing the dream as a means of communication directed specifically at a couple, as opposed to an individual. As in the legend of Thomas, the boundaries of private space are dissolved into a communal intellectual domain in which the intimate environment of marriage becomes something that can be manipulated and transgressed by a saint.

Some time later, the prince asks Mary to pray for their longed-for child, and the princess falls pregnant. He then wishes to journey to meet St. Peter in order to find out more about Mary’s message “por provar si era verdat lo que predicava la Madalena de Jhesu Christo” (210). His wife, despite her pregnancy, insists on accompanying him. However, a storm causes her to go into labour and she appears to die in childbirth. He persuades the sailors to land on a nearby rocky island and, leaving his wife’s body and the hungry baby in a sheltered spot, trusts in Mary’s God to look after the child. Two years later, returning home from his pilgrimage to Jerusalem with Peter, he finds the toddler alive and the mother waking up. She says that Mary acted as midwife and companion, and recounts all of the sights that her husband has seen: “En essa misma manera fui yo convusco, guiá[n]dome la Madalena, e aconpañá[n]dome” (212).

Once again, Mary Magdalene’s most effective means of communication is through a medium situated between sleep and wakefulness, death and life. She accompanies the lady in her most intimate moments of childbirth, and she raises her baby. Together they follow the husband around the Holy Land, forming a female pairing to mirror Peter and the prince who act in a straightforward realm of wakefulness. The dichotomy of vision and action is presented clearly by their becoming pilgrims without physical travelling, or even waking. The female characters here are allowed a privileged power [End Page 197] of vision and understanding through their faith, whilst the male characters must attempt the same thing whilst bound in the realm of the literal and the physical senses.14 The traditional gender paradigm of the passive female and the active male seem to be fulfilled here, but also radically reinvented. Activity and passivity are not established in a hierarchy in which the former is seen as superior to the latter; rather, the female, non-sensory experience seems to be a more privileged and total event than its male counterpart. In this way it corroborates the case of Eustace’s wife: the female dream vision is more internalized than a male experience via the senses. It lacks physical presence, but by the same token, physical presence is rendered unnecessary, forsaken for a more immediate and direct mode of communication.

The mystical encounters of St. Elizabeth of Hungary (1207–31) align her with the pattern of an implicitly female dream vision. Unlike the legendary saints considered thus far, the sources describing her life include records from eyewitnesses and other reliable contemporary testimony. This makes the representation of her experiences a useful means of comparing the dream vision phenomenon with its partially retrospective recreation, as seen in earlier legends. The narrative recounts Elizabeth’s early promise of sanctity, her happy and pious marriage, and her gracious acceptance of widowhood and poverty. She grows in spiritual maturity and becomes increasingly sensitive to divine influence. Her contemplative states are explicitly linked to those received by the princess in the legend of Mary Magdalene: “E dávase con todo cuydado a la contenplación por que poseyese con santa María Magdalena la parte mejor” (Biblioteca Nacional 12689 fol. 184va). These trance-like experiences manifest her emotions as beautiful tears of joy.

One particularly intense vision occurs as she contemplates the altar during Lent. Upon returning to her dwelling, she sinks into the lap of her maid and spends the rest of the day wordlessly looking through the window and [End Page 198] alternating between laughing with joy with her eyes open, and closing her eyes and crying. When she finally speaks, it is to address Christ, and her words form part of a conversation of which the onlookers can hear only her side. At this point her handmaids find the courage to ask her what she has seen, and she tells them that Christ has been leaning towards her from heaven and leaning back again all day. She therefore succeeds in expressing the content of the vision both verbally and by the evidence of its physical effect. However, she reaches the limits of expression when asked about the vision in the church:

E començáronle las servientas aún a rogar que les dixiese la visión que viera en el altar. E ella respondióles e dixo: “Non conviene que vos diga lo que allí vi, mas dígovos esto: que vi cosas maravillosas de Dios, e fue lleno de alegría el mi coraçón”.

(Biblioteca Nacional 12689, fol. 185ra)

As with the princess in the account of Mary Magdalene, the presence of a divine companion leads to total spiritual connection and emotional comprehension for Elizabeth. The senses and intellects of those not privileged enough to share in this experience directly are left with only a partial understanding, forcing them to recreate an inferior version in their own minds by imagination. Without a human husband, she cannot rejoice in a shared memory; neither can she fully express herself to those around her.

Between them, the legends of Elizabeth and Mary Magdalene suggest a hierarchy of dream visions in which the direct and internalized communicative experience is privileged over a sensory means of gleaning information, and both are superior to a retrospective and internal reimagining of the process. However, whatever the path to comprehending the divine, the tangible results of these dream visions are of the highest importance. The princess and Mary have nurtured a little boy, and are privy to knowledge they could not have done so by normal human means; Elizabeth’s proximity to Christ not only permits her to see divine secrets otherwise hidden, but also convey upon her a “don para ynflamar a los otros al amor divinal” (Biblioteca Nacional 12689 fol. 184va).

The legends considered above seem to point to two models of the dream vision. One concerns married couples who remain united and equal partners [End Page 199] in their faith, such as Eustace and his wife, the bride and groom in the legend of Thomas, or the prince and princess when they first hear from Mary in their chamber. Alternatively, they also suggest a deeply satisfying internalized spiritual experience offered to privileged female characters by a divine guide in the absence of a partner, as demonstrated by the princess’s story, and by Elizabeth. The latter is a widow, and therefore looks to Christ as a legitimate choice of bridegroom; the princess has been abandoned through necessity. Furthermore, the princess holds a pivotal position, presenting both models at different points in the text. Both uses of the topos are concerned with modes of communication between close companions, and both explore the tensions between direct revelations and the limits of physical existence.

In exploring these paradigms, the four legends highlight both the exhilaration and the shortcomings of the individual’s comprehension of the divine. Even when collated in communal effort, dreams and visions are still open to difficulties and fallible interpretations. This is a necessary fact of human mortality. Men and women are restricted by time, space, and their own physical existence, so simultaneous experiences must be shared at a later point, public and private spaces must interact in order to build a comprehensible picture, and onlookers need guidance to interpret the behaviour of another’s transcendent state. They also draw attention to the latent instability of identity and its potential to be transformed, especially in an act of conversion and later of redemption.15 Both of these characteristics emphasize the fragmentary and volatile quality of human existence, but also hint at the possibility of its transcendent nature. Only occasionally do dream visions seem to allow the individual to rise above these restrictions with divine aid, as in the case of the princess in the account of Mary Magdalene. Further to these ontological restrictions, hagiography also raises questions over interpretation and transmission. Sharing two or more experiences may [End Page 200] provide enlightenment, as it does for Eustace and his wife; however, there remains an anxiety over the possibility of misreading, as the couple from the Thomas legend demonstrate.

Hagiography therefore presents the shared dream vision as a way of examining and upholding the communicative bonds between husband and wife, and the human and the holy. The private chamber is often a crucial element here, as it functions as an intimate architectural space that is penetrated, mirroring the spiritual call that resonates within the soul of the protagonist as a result of the divine message. It can be an important space for conversation and the piecing together of knowledge that to the individual may remain opaque. However, it can also be a site of anxiety that demands careful treatment, as the characters that choose to ignore dream visions discover to their cost. Whether the male and female experiences are different and complementary, or constitute identical and simultaneous visions, the topos becomes fluid and ambiguous when an attempt is made to structure them into a hierarchy by gender. In some cases, such as that of Eustace and his wife, the female character plays a summarising, domestic counterpoint to the male protagonist. However, the more extraordinary and deeper experience of the comatose princess accompanied by Mary Magdalene seems to subvert this function of the shared dream vision, privileging direct communion with the divine over that of the limited physical senses. In other cases, shared experiences seem beyond communication to others except through future actions, such as the couple in Thomas, or Elizabeth of Hungary. Here, neither gender seems privileged, but both protagonists are lauded as equal in the sacred bonds of marriage.

The success of the dream vision often depends on the domestic spaces that facilitate the possibility of sharing it with intimate acquaintances. In these conditions, female characters play an important and equal role to their male counterparts, or even privileged parts in a drama in which men are absent. As such, hagiography presents a glimpse of a very human and social side to sanctity; very few saints can interpret and communicate dreams alone and without help. Bonds of marriage, love, and long familiarity between characters make it possible to transcend these difficulties and approach the [End Page 201] true meaning of the divine messages they receive. Furthermore, they validate the symbiosis present in marriage. Without these relationships, the dream vision is transmitted only partially, trailing into silence with the solitary Elizabeth of Hungary as she becomes powerless to express her ineffable experience in human language.

Sarah V. Buxton
University of Durham

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1. The texts are taken from Castilian versions of Flos sanctorum texts, compendia of prose saints’ lives reworked in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Verse hagiography, such as the Vida de Santa Oria, is already the topic of some debate regarding the meaning and function of dreams and visions (see Uría Maqua, Walsh, “The Other World” and “Sanctity and Gender”, and Aquilano and Desing in this cluster; for the range and variety of hagiography, see Baños Vallejo). This article aims to present a picture of some of the manifestations of the topos in prose hagiography. The particular saints’ lives chosen here are a representative sample of those that introduce the motif of the dream vision through a variety of manifestations. It is not by any means exhaustive; for example, Sts. Adrian and Natalia (covered in part by Beresford in this cluster) would also be a suitable object for this analysis. It is hoped that the present study will provide a lens that may be used to apply to further texts as scholarship continues to edit and make them available.

2. Kruger offers a full discussion of the patristic attitudes towards dreams and their interpretation, along with references to primary sources (Dreaming 35–56, particularly 43–52).

3. Kruger also rejects Francis Lee Utley’s division of the corpus into religious or didactic and secular dream-vision debate texts (672), on the grounds that the themes are not treated in a sufficiently distinctive way to sustain this division (“Dialogue” 79). Fernando Gómez Redondo’s work on medieval Castilian prose corroborates this view, especially where he addresses the overlap of the two categories present in otherworld journey narratives (1821–52). See also Walsh “The Other World”.

4. Castilian prose hagiography is divided largely into Compilation A (or Gran flos sanctorum), and Compilation B, both mostly derived from Jacobus de Voragine’s Legenda aurea. See Thompson and Walsh for the former, and Beresford, The Severed Breast 243–50, for the latter. The unique manuscripts Escorial h–I–13, Biblioteca Nacional 10252, and Biblioteca Nacional 780 fit in neither tradition, but present more elaborate readings from independent sources. As Compilation A offers a greater range of readings than Compilation B and also usually remains closer to its Latin source, its texts are given in the first instance. For editions of the legend of St. Eustace see Walker, Moore (63–81), and Zubillaga (81–100). Eustace’s name before baptism is Placidus, and the texts use the two interchangeably.

5. The stag is central to the conversion of Eustace. Thomas J. Heffernan argues that the legend is likely to have been influenced by Christian sources, citing authorities such as Ambrose, Gregory of Tours, and Bede, while noting similarities between it and an ancient Buddhist legend (69). The legend of St. Antoninus is analogous. See Escorial K–II–12 (fols. 184ra–87va) and Escorial h–I–14 (fols. 241vb–45rb) for Compilation B, or the incomplete Compilation A version found in Biblioteca Nacional 12689 (fols. 65va–66vb). In the transcriptions, abbreviations have been expanded and are given in italics; initial double letters have been made singular; accents and punctuation are editorial.

6. The relationship between the stag, the hunt, and the Church as a means of reaching God’s salvation is made explicit in some strands of the bestiary tradition, such as the Latin Second-family bestiary that casts the stag’s enmity for the serpent, its inherent spirit of cooperation, and its willingness to feed on snake’s poison to expurgate ill health and renew its youth, as characteristics of a harmonious ecclesiastic structure (see Clark 134–36). The Castilian bestiary tradition, from Brunetto Latini’s Livres dou Tresor, does not explicitly moralize, but all of the interpretations of the Second-family texts would be valid were they to be used in a preaching or educational context (see Baldwin 43–45). Catalan examples also normally adopt a similar Christian interpretation of each beast, but the stag is omitted from Panunzio’s editions.

7. There are echoes here of Constantine’s conversion. Like Eustace, he was a high-profile pagan of Rome whose vision of a cross both needs further explanation and signifies the moment of adopting Christianity (see Edwards 63–66).

8. Edith Randam Rogers’s work on the motif of the hunt explores the multiplicity of connotations arising from medieval portrayals of hunting. She argues that it can symbolize the potential for courtship, testing of fidelity, ill luck, and even death –all notions present or foreshadowed in this scene.

9. “Conviene que sea provada por tenptaciones la tu creencia, e sea demostrada la tu paciencia así como fue demostrada la de Job” (Biblioteca Nacional 12689 fol. 90va). Eustace is able to fulfil a typological role that reflects the struggles of Job with the additional presence of the redeeming Christ. Therefore, his difficulties will be even greater than those of his biblical predecessor, as he himself bemoans at fol. 91rb.

10. St. Agnes is a notable example. See Burrus and Beresford, The Legend.

11. The focus on marital and familial bonds is supported by John K. Moore’s observation in reference to the unique Castilian version found in Escorial h–I–13 (xx). He argues that the compilers of the manuscript placed increased emphasis on the role of Eustace’s wife, making the figure of the calumniated wife a unifying feature across the collection. This suggests that different gender roles were important to the intended audience, and that female characters were represented in a deliberately sympathetic light.

12. A well-known example can be found in St. Alexis (see Vega).

13. St. Mary Magdalene does not appear in Compilation A. For editions, see Baños Vallejo and Uría Maqua (207–15), Gatland (183–92), Moore (3–9), Walsh and Thompson, and Zubillaga (7–15). Citations here are taken from Baños Vallejo and Uría Maqua.

14. A final posthumous miracle mentions a cleric whose sinful life is redeemed only by a special devotion to the Magdalene. It is noteworthy for its prolongation of the theme of being neither asleep nor awake when he receives communication from her. Her message when he visits her tomb is experienced “nin bien durmiendo ni bien velando” (215). However, once more this state provides a successful means of communication, and he repents and lives a holy life from that moment onwards.

15. The writings of St. Paul are fundamental to this aspect of doctrine. Where salvation in Christ is offered, it must also be partnered by a rejection of a former self, representative of a sinful and corrupt past, and the adoption of a new self in the image of God. See Colossians 3:5–10 and Ephesians 4:22–24. Paul casts this transformation as the hopeful and joyous miracle of redemption, but ontological questions regarding the stability of the self cannot be avoided, especially when recounting the experience to others.