Performing Medieval Narrative Today

A Video Showcase

Golden Legend: Virgin Mary rescues widow’s son from captivity

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About the scene and clip:
This story is a miracle of the Blessed Virgin Mary from The Golden Legend, where it is included under the feast of the Nativity of the Virgin on Sept. 8. The story – recited here by a solo performer – tells how a woman who wants the Virgin to rescue her son, a captive in a foreign land, takes a statue of Jesus hostage until Mary liberates her son.

About the work:
The work known as the Legenda Aurea (The Golden Legend) is a massive compilation of stories about the saints by an Italian Dominican, Jacobus of Voragine (or Varazze), Archbishop of Genoa, writing around 1260. Organized around the Catholic liturgical year, The Golden Legend tells the lives and stories of many important saints, as well as of Christ and the Virgin Mary. It was very widely known; preachers and storytellers often told stories from The Golden Legend, and it inspired much medieval art. The work as a whole and stories drawn from it were translated into many vernacular languages. About 900 manuscripts of the The Golden Legend survive, and at the end of the Middle Ages it was even more frequently printed than the Bible.

About the genre:
Stories about the saintly wisdom, heroism, or miracles of remarkable men and women exist in many religious traditions, such as Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Such stories are termed “hagiography.” In medieval Europe, the saint’s life or legend was an extremely popular type of work. A great many stories (and plays) about male and female Christian saints exist in Latin and in all the vernacular languages. These works may focus on the saint’s dramatic death by martyrdom, or recount the remarkable miracles performed by the saint, or may relate the entire life of the holy man or woman. Among the most important collections of saints’ lives and legends is The Golden Legend by Jacobus of Voragine. Chaucer’s “Prioress’s Tale” in The Canterbury Tales is a tale of martyrdom. Miracle and pious tales about the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, constitute a special, and highly important, category of saintly legends.

This story also belongs to the tale tradition. The tale, like the epic, is an ancient genre and one found everywhere in the world. Many tales are firmly rooted in oral tradition and are recited or told by amateur and professional storytellers and performers. Other tales are the work of literarily sophisticated authors and are often intended to be read aloud or silently from written texts. Some tales circulate separately, while others are part of collections, which may be set in complex frames (as in the case of Ovid’sMetamorphoses, Boccaccio’s Decameron and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales). There are many sub-groups of tales with specific characteristics; see for example the “lai” and the “fabliau.”

About the edition/translation:
From The Golden Legend of Jacobus de Voragine, translated by William G. Ryan and Helmut Ripperger, New York Press, 1969, pp.526-7. Latin: Iacopo da Varazze, Legenda Aurea, ed. Giovanni Paolo Maggioni, 2nd ed., Firenze, SISMEL, Edizioni del Galluzzo, 1998, 2 vols.

About the performer/ensemble:
Kate Stutzel is a student of Sociology at the College of Arts and Science at New York University. She participated in the course “Storytelling,” taught by Prof. Timmie (E.B.) Vitz at New York University in spring 2005.

About the production:
This performance was given at an event sponsored by the Medieval and Renaissance Center of New York University on “Mary: Mediterranean, European, Global,” held at St. Joseph’s Church in April 2005. Videography by NYU-TV.