There were tens of thousands of miracles recorded in the Middle Ages. A study of St.Bernardino of Siena found that at least 2447 miracles were attributed to him alone! These miracles could be to heal various ailments, protect a person from danger, punish a wrong-doer, provide a vision, or even help someone escape a prison.
The reason we know of so many miracles is that church officials needed to record them when deciding if someone was to deemed a saint – you needed to have performed some miracles, during or after your lifetime. Some popular saints would see pilgrims flocking to their shrines, hoping for a cure, and the churches were very happy to promote the healing abilities of their saints.
While most miracles were typical stories of healing or assistance, there were many unusual ones as well. Here is our list of the top 10 strangest miracles of the Middle Ages.
1. Saint Guthlac’s belt
St Guthlac (675-714) once came across a madman named Ecgga. He wrapped around his belt around Ecgga and squeezed until a demon flew out of his mouth. The grateful Ecgga never took off the belt and his madness never returned.
2. The bird who asked for a saint’s help
There was a woman who kept a bird. When she was in pain, she would cry out for the help of St. Thomas Becket, saying “Holy Thomas, help me!” One day, while her bird was outside its cage, a Kite swooped down and grabbed it. As the bird was being taken away it peeped “Holy Thomas, help me!” Immediately the Kite dropped the bird and crashed to the ground dead. Meanwhile the little bird flew back to its owner “with great joy.”
3. Milk of the Virgin Mary
During the Middle Ages it was believed that even the milk of Mary, mother of Jesus, was holy. In this scene a sick monk calls out for the Virgin’s help, whereupon she appears, exposes her breast and anoints him with her milk, curing the monk instantly.
4. Learning his lesson the hard way
Every July 23rd it was the Feast-day of St Apollinaris – people in the town of Gorinchem were not supposed to work. However, a farmer named John Haver disregarded the prohibition and went to harvest his crops. While he was in the fields he accidentally struck his foot with his sickle, forcing him to take the day off. John told everyone this was just an accident and was not caused by “God or his saint,” and the following year he went back to work on the same day. This time he hit himself on the hand. He still told everyone that it was just chance that caused the injury, but then as he jumped over a ditch his dagger slipped from its sheath and stabbed him in the thigh. He finally gave up and said he would never work on St Apollinaris’ feast day again.
5. The Beggars who didn’t want to be healed
Jacques de Vitry tells how the relics of St Martin were being moved in a procession through a town, healing those people that were there. Two beggars, one blind and the other lame, saw this and they said “if it catches us we shall be healed immediately, and no one in the future will give us any alms, but we shall have to work and labor with our own hands.” Then the blind man said to the lame, “Get up on my shoulders because I am strong, and you who see well can guide me.” They tried to escape, but were not able to get away from the crowd, and they were healed against their will.
6. Starting early
Some saints showed off their holiness early. It was said that the 4th century St.Nicholas (aka Santa Claus) could already stand on the day he was born, and while an infant refused to drink his mother’s milk on fast days.
7. Hair cures eye
In Bede’s The Life of St Cuthbert a single strand of the saint’s hair is used to heal this person’s swollen eye.
8. A ‘joy and mirth’ miracle
A child named Beatrice and her younger brother were told to take care of a large piece of cheese. They went out playing and forgot where they had hid the cheese. They prayed to St.Thomas Becket, who came to them in a dream and told the siblings where they had left the cheese. The person who recorded the event added, “This miracle aroused as much joy and mirth as admiration.”
9. St Kevin and the Nest
Saint Kevin was an Irish monk said to have lived until he was 120 years. One morning he was stretching out his arms through the window when a Blackbird landed on his hand and laid eggs on his palm. Kevin kept his hand open and allowed the nest to continue, “without wearying” until the eggs had hatched.
10. The Knight and the Hare
From the ‘Miracles of St.Bavo’: A knight chasing a young hare trampled the growing crops. A servant of the saint grieved at this and said, “Alas, St.Bavo, why do you not defend your field?” As soon as he said this, the knight fell and broke and his hip. The young hare stumbled and broke its neck.
To learn more about medieval miracles, read these articles:
Childbirth Miracles in Swedish Medieval Miracle Collections
The hanging of William Cragh: anatomy of a miracle
Miracle or Magic? The Problematic Status of Christian Amulet
The Miracles of Saints Cosmas and Damian: Characteristics of Dream Healing
Weeping Statues and Bleeding Bread: Miracles in the Later Middle Ages