Senior Fellow: April–September 2018
Research Project: Miracles and Scepticism in the Fifteenth-Century Empire
Fifteenth-century spirituality was already extremely individual, often focused on acquiring as many indulgences as possible for the salvation of one's soul. Thus, the relationship with saints and miracles was a very personal one, and people expected that saints would respond to their gifts. In consequence, saints and miracles could be put to the test, which did not always end in a positive result.
The project aims to collect and analyse late medieval examples for this kind of scepticism, starting from three cases from the Holy Roman Empire and Prussia: (1) the canonisation process of Dorothea of Montau in Prussia, which failed even though many testimonies were heard; (2) the discussions of the "holy blood" of Wilsnack, focusing on the spiritual value of two hosts consecrated before a fire which afterwards turned red and finally lost their physical appearance; (3) the critical attitude of pilgrims such as Arnold von Harff when they encountered the same relics at different sanctuaries. In each case, there will be an analysis of the basic arguments, how they were substantiated, and their consequences. The final aim is a tentative evaluation of the role of scepticism in late medieval popular beliefs.
Jürgen Sarnowsky has been a professor of medieval history at the Universität Hamburg since 1996.