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 WeybÃŸpersonen [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?