Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Myroblytes: Miraculous oil in medieval Europe
by Mullins, Sylvia Elizabeth, Ph.D., Georgetown University, 2017, 489; 10271780
Abstract (Summary)

In medieval European society, holy oil played a seminal role in defining individual sanctity and legitimate political authority. In the Glossa Ordinaria, exegetes presented oil as a sign of divine election. Within the oil-rich liturgy, medieval Christians celebrated their beloved saints, some of whose bodies produced quantities of oil. The saints who oozed miraculously are known as myroblytes – from the Greek, meaning “myrrh-gushing” or “myrrh-flowing.” In the early medieval period oil flowed predominantly from the bodies of male saints who were members of the ecclesiastical elite. In the later medieval period, however, oil flowed mainly from the bodies of laywomen, including penitents. With the rise of Catherine of Alexandria’s cult in the eleventh century, authors began to envision female saints as sources of holy oil. Mendicants in particular took an interest in disseminating the cults of female myroblytes, in order to bring women and their devotional practices into the fold of the institutional Church. The appearance of female myroblytes coincided with a development in Rome's fons olei legend. Prior to the High Middle Ages, authors interpreted the fons olei as a portent of Christ’s birth, which providentially coincided with Caesar Augustus’ reign and the pax romana, an unprecedented era of peace. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, however, medieval authors claimed the fons olei flowed from Santa Maria in Trastevere, a church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. Mary became the myroblyte of myroblytes. This development reflected greater devotion to female figures such as the Blessed Virgin and Mary Magdalene as well as a new emphasis on Christ’s humanity. In the early thirteenth century, the fons olei served as a powerful symbol in papal discourse as Innocent III sought to combat the Cathar heresy and to bring marriage more firmly within the purview of the Church. The “oil of gladness” flowing from the fons olei symbolized the papacy’s plenitudo potestatis – the divine source of power from which all other earthly powers flowed. Myroblyte vitae and the legend of the fons olei demonstrate how miraculous oil defied gender binaries and shifted from being mainly a sign of powerful male monarchs and ecclesiastical elites (both of whom were anointed with oil) to signifying the miraculous and divine nature of more ordinary human beings, including laywomen and children.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Collins, James B.
Commitee: Ciabattoni, Francesco, Jansen, Katherine L., Leonard, Amy
School: Georgetown University
Department: History
School Location: United States -- District of Columbia
Source: DAI-A 78/10(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Religious history, European history, Medieval history
Keywords: Liturgy, Miracles, Oil, Papacy, Rome, Saints
Publication Number: 10271780
ISBN: 978-1-369-78187-8
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