The recycled image

June 1, 2007 | 14 comments
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Does source study make us better readers?

I, Hercules, Duke of Ferrara, [attest that] we now have in our city of Ferrara several nuns miraculously redolent of holiness, and above all the worthy sister Lucy of Narnia, who truly bears the wounds of our Lord Jesus Christ upon her body. But we understand that several wicked children of roguery, sowing rats among the wheat, speak evilly of and defame her. So we cannot refrain from giving testimony of the truth, so that you and other god fearing Christians may travel on the path of virtue in the way of verity and hold to that which is true, while rejecting or discarding devilish malice, which has arisen to deceive men and damage the Christian faith. About this, you honorable men should know, and we testify to you by the word of truth, that this worthy sister Lucy of Narnia, a nun of the third Dominican order, whom we brought to our city of Ferrara two years ago, leads a life of exceeding modesty, redolent of virginity and nearly god-like holiness, and bears upon her body the wound marks of our Lord Jesus Christ, and has borne them for around five years down to the present day. And this we affirm, for we desired to see and touch them, and were advised in this by many doctors and other wise and experienced men, not just once but many times, and it was found to be true. All who live with her see openly at the time of the event that blood runs from those same wounds each Friday, and she is troubled by great pain and sometimes so tormented that she appears to be transposed out of her self. And for many days she eats only the Eucharistic wafer and is kept alive by it. During all of the last Advent season, she enjoyed no other food but lived only from the Holy Sacrament, which she received once each day. And it is surer than sure, and we would not confirm it unless we had seen it clearly, entirely, and beyond all doubt. (Ercole d’Este, Wunderperliche gschihten von gaystlichen Weybßpersonen [Wondrous stories of monastic women], Nuremberg, 1501 [VD16 E 3981], f. [2v].)

First, I should point out that translating Lucia von Narnia as “Lucy of Narnia” is tendentious. Also, I have no proof that C. S. Lewis knew about Lucia, but only the document translated above, the knowledge that Lewis both studied medieval and Renaissance literature and scattered bits of that literature in his books, and a skepticism about coincidences of this magnitude. For now, I’ll treat Lucia as some kind of a source for Lewis, but you don’t have to follow me in that. Finally, the Eucharist miracle, the sustaining of life solely by the sacramental wafer, which is fairly common in late medieval and early modern saint’s lives, is not all that different from what happens in Mormon chapels everywhere on Fast Sundays, don’t you think?

But since we’re talking about literature these days, the question remains: does knowing about Lucia of Narnia help us better understand what Lewis hoped to accomplish with Lucy Pevensie? Scholarly and (to be even more tendentious) devotional reading each have their own value, but does one promote the other, or are they all but independent of each other?

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14 Responses to The recycled image

  1. Anonymous on June 1, 2007 at 11:13 am

    Huh? My head hurts…

  2. Russell Arben Fox on June 1, 2007 at 11:51 am

    Some thoughts:

    1) So “Narnia” was an actual place or family name or title? Fascinating. Do you know what was its provenance?

    2) Lucy was always presented as the most innocent, most mystical, most devoted to Aslan of all the Pevensie children, so perhaps Lewis was in some way working from the historical record here. And so even if no one else knew of the parallel he was making, he would know of it, and it would color his own treatment of the character–and consequently, in discovering the possible connection, we can come to a somewhat different understanding of how Lewis was working her character out as well (some possibilities which jump to mind is the magic healing potion which Father Christmas gives to Lucy alone, with healing being of course one of the crucial powers which medievals attributed to those who were close to God, as well as the rapture-like experience Lucy undergoes in The Last Battle, where everyone else is talking about how amazing everything is and yet Lucy is unable to speak–very much a kind of “transposition” out of oneself, such as was attributed to Lucy of Narnia).

    3) Not to take away from the post, but the comparison between someone suffering weakness from stigmata and surviving on the Host alone, and some guy feeling his hunger staved off briefly by the arrival of the sacrament on Fast Sunday, is totally over the top. Please don’t tell me you’re serious.

  3. Pesach Chumitz on June 1, 2007 at 12:15 pm

    According to wikipedia, Lewis may have taken it from a village called Narni in Italy:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narni

    As far as Lucy Pevensie being derived from this historical Lucy of Narni, one would need a smoking gun to make a connection and declare it a source worthy of comparison. The general Christian context of the entire Chronicles of Narnia make virtually any religious reference seemingly plausible.

  4. Jim F. on June 1, 2007 at 12:44 pm

    Pesach Chumitz, I take it that the village of Narni in Italy is the same village, Narnia, mentioned by the Duke.

  5. Jonathan Green on June 1, 2007 at 2:13 pm

    It’s a JOKE, Russell, a joke. Sheesh. Didn’t you ever try to grab the big piece, crust or not crust?

  6. Coffinberry on June 1, 2007 at 2:25 pm

    Lembas, guys. Lembas.

  7. Adam Greenwood on June 1, 2007 at 2:30 pm

    It’s a JOKE, Russell, a joke. Sheesh.

    I think you emit some weird humor-suppressing ray. Its like your super-power.

  8. john f. on June 2, 2007 at 10:05 am

    Jonathan:

    Great find. The Lucy of Narnia thing is interesting but more fascinating, perhaps, is this attestation that the nun carried the wounds of Christ and that they bled continuously. What we seem to have is an anorexic, self-depriving nun who is mortifying the flesh, Da Vinci Code style. One wonders about the theological underpinnings for such extreme religious practices and whether they can actually conceivably fit into the religious system that Jesus of Nazareth had in mind in establishing his Church on the earth. (I don’t see them as analogous or even remotely similar to “what happens in Mormon chapels everywhere on Fast Sundays”, as you say — the LDS practices are closer to Muslim tenets of sacrifice and care for the poor than to mortification of the flesh and sustenance on communion wafers alone.)

    Reports like this reveal Protestant and LDS arguments against the Roman Church to be robust of a Great Apostasy, as unfortunate as that reality is. These things (mortification of the flesh, self-starvation, carrying the stigmata of Christ in your own flesh, and other such practices) are artificial to Jesus’ religion.

    What a fascinating document though. I imagine it is great fun to poke around in these documents for your job.

  9. Jonathan Green on June 2, 2007 at 5:53 pm

    I dunno, John. I’m not a fan of naturalistic explanations for spiritual phenomena. Are starvation, and sneaking food under her habit, the only explanations? More importantly, do they help us understand how ascetics like Lucia experienced their world? (Sometimes they do, but in all caes?) And you have to admit that lengthy fasting, like for 40 days or so, has a certain precedent.

  10. Russell Arben Fox on June 2, 2007 at 7:51 pm

    “These things (mortification of the flesh, self-starvation, carrying the stigmata of Christ in your own flesh, and other such practices) are artificial to Jesus’ religion.”

    I will agree that self-starvation and mortification are incompatible with the Spirit (though I would argue that, Jonathan’s joke about Fast Sunday aside, there is a fine line here between genuine fasting and discipline and self-abuse). However, I completely disagree that we can know for certain that God would never make His presence or approval known through stigmata. The scriptures, old and new, abound with strange signs and miracles (disembodied hands writing on walls? multi-winged beasts speaking from beside the throne of God? Moses countenance shining like the sun when he descended Sinai?); to dismiss completely out of hand the possibility that that medieval saints might have had Christ’s wounds visited upon their body is to use “the apostasy” as a crutch, a way to avoid dealing with ways of God that we have been assured are not our own.

  11. Bruce Young on June 12, 2007 at 12:59 pm

    Though I’m well aware that parallels are no proof, I was excited to see the information about a possible source for Lucy. I teach a class on Lewis and saw this as something interesting I could share with students. But then I was concerned to see Jonathan say, “It’s a JOKE, Russell, a joke.” I assume that’s just in connection with Fast Sunday, but I started to wonder if this could be a hoax. The style and content are entirely plausible, though, so I did some Google searches to confirm the authenticity of the piece about St. Lucia von Narnia.

    The ONLY place on the Internet (apparently) that the German title comes up is on Times and Seasons, i.e., this very post. I have no idea what VD16 E 3981 means. (I do understand f. 2v–the back side of the second sheet or “folio.”)

    But I did find some interesting sites about Lucia and Narnia, confirming that both existed.

    A German site (http://www.narnia-forum.de/viewtopic.php?p=3374&sid=5d2214b5b46613b600af99d0f87c375b) tells us: “Es gibt eine italienische Stadt namens Narni oder so. Im Mittelalter hieß sie tatsächlich auch noch Narnia, und es gab eine Heilige aus Narnia, die Lucia ( also ähnl. wie Lucy) hieß. Das kann ja nun kein Zufall sein, weiß irgendwer genauer, wieso Lewis das in seine Bücher integriert hat? Wo er doch für seine Nichte(?) Lucy Barfield schrieb. Und wisst ihr genaueres über die gute St. Lucia von Narnia?” (Maybe Jim Faulconer could translate that for us.) Someone responding provided a picture of at least one St. Lucia: http://www.onlinekunst.de/weihnachten/1635_heilige_lucia.jpg. But then someone later noted that there are at least seven St. Lucias. (Nice number.)

    Another site (also in German) locates Narnia on a map: http://www.narnia.it/narni_de.htm.

    Back to the book by Ercole d’Este: Where can I find it? And what does VD16 E 3981 mean?

  12. Jonathan Green on June 12, 2007 at 4:46 pm

    Bruce, you understood correctly that only the comparison between Fast Sundays and feats of supernatural asceticism was not meant in complete seriousness. The rest is all quite accurate, although some people might quibble with my translation.

    VD16 refers to the “Verzeichnis der im deutschen Sprachbereich erschienenen Drucke des 16. Jahrhunderts.” Information about it is here: http://www.vd16.de/
    The easiest way to search the database is here: http://gateway-bayern.bib-bvb.de/aleph-cgi/bvb_suche?sid=VD16
    Plugging in “E 3981″ into the “VD16-Nummer” field will take you to the edition I’m citing, which is itself a translation from Latin. The database identifies copies of the book in Schweinfurt, Munich, and Nuremberg (which is the one I looked at).

  13. Jim F. on June 12, 2007 at 6:57 pm

    If anyone is going to transalte the material from the German site that Bruce cites, it should be Jonathan, not me, though the German is easy enough that anyone with a little German under his or her belt should be able to understand it reasonably well.

  14. Patrick on July 11, 2007 at 2:20 am

    This may be a bit late, but here’s a stab at the Bruce’s German citaion:

    “There is an Italian city named something like Narni. In fact, in the Middle Ages it was still known as Narnia, and there was a Saint from Narnia named Lucia (similar to Lucy). It should be clear to anyone that it cannot be a coincidence that Lewis included that in his books. Where he clearly wrote this for his niece (?) Lucy Barfield. And did they well know about the blessed Saint Lucia of Narnia?” (The last couple of lines are a bit tricky).

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