Miraculous visions: Apparitio in the Vitae of Mediaeval Venetian saints and beati


Miraculous visions have played a critical role in reinforcing Venice’s self-perceived identity as God’s favoured locus sanctus from as early as the 10th century. Divine appearances from a cast of hallowed individuals characterises the earliest foundational legends of the city. Indeed, accounts of Mark the Evangelist’s association with Venice are replete with visions from on high, most famously his own apparitio, the miraculous reappearance of his lost relics, dated to June 25, 1094. Thereafter, accounts of apparitio figure prominently in the pictorial narratives of St. Mark’s life in the basilica of San Marco, they pepper the Venetian liturgical calendar, they feature in chronicles recounting Venice’s political conquests, especially that written by Andrea Dandolo in the mid-14th century, and they appear often in the Vitae of Venice’s saints and beati. Although saintly apparitio are not unique to Venice, the prominence of the motif there deserves attention. This paper will specifically focus on the apparitio motif as it is expressed in the written and visual narratives of Venice’s local contingent of saints and beati. Firstly, the paper argues that apparitio visions were consistently used in the Venetian Vitae to confirm the city’s status as God’s pre-eminent locus sanctus. Secondly, it suggests that the documentary-style reporting used in both visual and written texts heightened the tangibility of the ritually-charged spaces associated with apparitions, lending credence to the ‘fact’ of the events and placing the stories firmly within the communal memory. Lastly, it proposes that the vision-motif was replicated often in the Lives of local holy men and women in order to boost the reputation and authenticity of less-distinguished local cults while presenting them within the carefully-prescribed parameters of Mark’s dominant cult. More generally, the paper reflects on the way Venetians interpreted and reinterpreted their local religious cults through the mythogenesis of Mark.


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The Author:

Dr Karen McCluskey