Faculté des lettres et sciences humaines

Milagros fronterizos: ignorancia y libertinaje clericales y el público de los Milagros de Nuestra Señora

Sánchez Jiménez, Antonio

In: Neophilologus, 2001, vol. 85, no. 4, p. 535-553

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    In this article, I study the nature of the audience of the medieval Spanish writer Gonzalo de Berceo's most famous work: the Milagros de Nuestra Señora. To do so, I look at Berceo's poem in relationship with its cultural and historical context: the situation of churchmen and women in thirteenth-century Castile.

    In my article, I discover that the two main sins committed by ecclesiastical sinners that Berceo's Virgin Mary forgives in the poem are fornication and ignorance. These two sins were indeed frequent in the Castilian church of the time, standing as its main peculiarity. Foreign reformers tried in vain to eliminate fornication and ignorance, finding only the rejection of the Castilians clerics, who saw in their intervention an attempt to undermine the Castilian churchmen's independence. I identify these reformers with some authority figures that appear in Berceo's work. Indeed, Berceo's Mary not only forgives the peculiar sinners, but also punishes the reformers with uncharacteristic harshness.

    I conclude that the Milagros de Nuestra Señora presents a very controversial topic, that of clerical fornication and ignorance, in a way that could hardly be used to attract pilgrims to Berceo's monastery, as it has been proposed. On the contrary, the poem's point of view on the subject would only be likely to appeal to a very particular audience: Castilian churchmen, maybe even Berceo's companions at San Millán monastery. This audience would regard the characters' fornication and ignorance as forgivable peculiarities, and any attempt to reform them as an unjustifiable intrusion. In short, this audience of Castilian churchmen is the most likely to have been Berceo's.