Late Medieval People Speaking in Tongues

Introduction to the late-Medieval accounts of Christians speaking in tongues.

Medieval Hagiographa accounts are an important part of the christian narrative and have a special section in the Gift of Tongues Project. The Medieval doctrine of speaking in tongues demonstrate this practice has progressed from the fourth-century. However, Medieval literature is steeped in christian mysticism and often saturated with excessive miracles and witnesses of the supernatural. Many works are good, some bad, and others in between. One has to be conscious of discerning between what is real and myth within these documents. This is not an easy thing to separate. Even if a certain story is indeed myth, it plays an important role of story telling and teaching, reflecting the perceptions of that time. It should not be easily discounted. The stress here is to investigate with a sympathetic and cautious attitude.

The Christian Hagiography section in the Gift of Tongues Project is dependent on a number of sources. Two of them are by far the most prominent. The first one, The Legenda Sanctorum, was originally compiled from earlier sources around 1260 by Jacobus de Voragine. He was an Italian chronicler and archbishop of Genoa.1 This book soon evolved and settled into the name Legenda Aurea “because the people of those times considered it worth its weight in gold”.2

Jacob de Voragine attempted to make short biographies of hand-selected Christian Saints and attached these personalities with a specific day in the year for remembrance. His biographies portrayed these Christian heroes in mythical proportions with sensational miracles and epic supernatural tales. These descriptions are a fanciful read, but these accounts cannot be taken as factual historical documents. Neither is it easy to discover where these perceptions were first established and how far back these thoughts go in history. However, it does reflect the theological, mystical and intellectual perceptions of the late-Medieval period. This is very helpful for the Gift of Tongues Project. Portions of their stories demonstrate how the late-Medieval Church and society understood the christian doctrine of tongues. Perceptions do not necessarily need to be right or real. They simply are what they are.

For a full history and debates about Legenda Aurea’s credibility, see the Catholic based New Advent website article: Legenda Aurea.

Legenda Aurea was constantly being updated, translated and distributed throughout Christendom. By 1450, with the aid of the printing press, the Legenda Aurea began to outnumber the Bible in editions. Fordham University claims it was the most printed book in Europe between 1470 to 1530 and over 900 manuscripts are available today.3

An English edition, called the Golden Legend, has its own unique history and is described at Fordham University’s website;

There have been numerous translations, into English and other languages. The Golden Legend was one of the first works produced by the English printer William Caxton. This was reproduced and “modernized” frequently. Now, the standard English version is the 1993 translation by William Granger Ryan. The 1993 version is a full translation, unlike his earlier 1941 translations, which summarized many of the stories.

The English references used at the Gift of Tongues Project will be the 1931 edition edited by F.S. Ellis and found housed at Fordham University’s Golden Legend website.

Some Saints listed under Christian Hagiographa section may overlap with earlier mentions in the Gift of Tongues Project outline, but the Hagiographa stories will not be integrated with them. They will remain separate. This is because these hagiographa are late-Medieval perceptions. They are stories that do not fit in the earlier narratives. These works align with the religious experiences, perceptions, and expectations found in the thirteenth to nineteenth centuries. It is a reflection of these times and little to do with anything earlier.

The Acta Sanctorum is another work similar to Legenda Aurea and plays an important part for late-Medieval studies. ProQuest has digitally captured the entire 68 volume work and describes it as;

“. . .a principal source for research into the societies and cultures of early Christian and medieval Europe. Our knowledge of this period relies heavily on Hagiographa literature, and specifically on this monumental collection of texts, published over a period of 300 years by the Société des Bollandistes.”

The resurgence of interest in Hagiographa materials in recent years reflects the growing recognition of their value to historical research of many kinds—social and ecclesiastical history, art and architecture, literature, folklore, and ethnology. Acta Sanctorum records every detail of domestic and public life. It’s an inexhaustible fund of information on every aspect of life from the beginning of the Christian era to the end of the 16th century.4

The Christian Hagiographa section of the Gift of Tongues Project wishes to thank Christine F. Cooper-Rompato’s excellent book, The Gift of Tongues: Women’s Xenoglossia in the Later Middle Ages for bringing to light such important sources from the late-Medieval period. It is the best book on the christian doctrine of tongues published so far.

I had thought that the genre of tongues speakers in the late-Medieval Church was small and careful attention, except for one or two persons, was not necessary for this period. Cooper-Rompato dispelled this notion.

This author makes an important assertion about Medieval tongues being ubiquitous during this period.

. . .descriptions of the xenoglossic gift became more popular in the later Middle Ages because there occurred an “expectation of tongues”; once the miracle entered the horizon of expectation of audiences, the miracle propagated itself. The miracle also became an important proof of sanctity. . . . To call attention to the lack of xenoglossia in the life of a popular holy preacher would seem to indicate that by this period the gift of tongues was almost expected in the vitae of famous preacher, and that if a prominent preacher perceived as blessed did not receive it, an explanation was deemed necessary.”5

As per the mandate of the Gift of Tongues Project, a digital copy of the pertinent texts will be available in the original language, along with an English translation, and some commentary.

There are a number of Christian Saints who spoke in tongues according to the Medieval accounts and they will be added on a person by person basis. This will happen on a weekly or bi-weekly basis until complete. The best way to keep up with the latest additions is to become a subscriber. This can be done by clicking the subscribe button found on the right sidebar.

The following Saints will be documented. If completed, a link will be available in a bold font:

There are also women who spoke in tongues according to Christine F. Cooper-Rompato that needs documenting. These are a bit harder to cover. Cooper-Rompata described that female accounts of speaking in tongues are different from male accounts. They are accidental, semi-private, temporal, and convey a lack or limit of control. They are also frustratingly brief accounts.6

This genre is in development and will be included later on.

  5. The Gift of Tongues: Women’s Xenoglossia in the Later Middle Ages Pg. 14
  6. The Gift of Tongues: Women’s Xenoglossia in the Later Middle Ages Pg. 40

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