Awakened cult can’t see religion should trigger
I love a tough saint. One of my favorites is Saint Rita of Cascia, who died in 1457, and whose sanctuary I visited a few years ago, where her intact, but somewhat shriveled body is on display. According to the stories about her, she was a woman of great holiness, whose holiness manifested itself through the miraculous healings of people’s ailments, and her own suffering, with a constantly bleeding wound on her head.
The medieval world was filled with holy men and women like Rita who inspired generations with their faith, suffering and miracles. So far. Apparently, students at Manchester Metropolitan University may be so distressed by such holy miracle workers that its professors have issued a health warning. Going forward, history students in the ‘Pilgrimages and Shrines in Medieval Europe’ module will be warned that the course could be a trigger for distress and anxiety.
The chief villain, according to Manchester Metropolitan, is a medieval chronicle of divine healings known as the Miracles by the hand of Saint James, which is full of graphic details of miracle cures apparently worked by the saint’s hand, written by a 13th-century monk. He describes bursting stomachs, bursting intestines and withered limbs. Now the university has warned that “some of the Miracles can be quite graphic and may be off-putting to some”.
Indeed, they could – much like the accounts in the Gospels of Jesus’ many miracles, often healing the lame and the blind. Perhaps the Bible too will soon need a triggering warning. But triggering is what religion is all about: the reading of a life well lived or a miraculous healing can inspire an emotional response and even faith itself. Isaac Watts, the great hymnwriter, knew it; that’s why he wrote When I walk the marvelous cross. It is about the emotions felt by believers when they contemplate the cruelty of the crucifixion.
The same answer can be inspired by great art. At the National Gallery’s Raphael exhibition last week, I stood before a crucifixion first painted in the 16th century as an altarpiece for an Umbrian church. Generations have gazed upon Christ on the cross in this masterpiece: should the woke professors of Manchester now urge us to avoid it, as it might cause an anxiety attack?
Christianity, though Richard Dawkins may disagree, uses reasoning, but it also depends, like all religions, on feelings. It speaks of our capacity for sympathy, our need for consolation, our desire for peace. But it is also often shocking. Saint Bernadette, whose relics are currently on tour in Britain, was petrified when she saw a vision of the Virgin Mary, but rather than return home to cure her anxiety, she stayed put. From this vision were born the springs of Lourdes and countless people who bathed in their waters, obtaining spiritual relief.
What saints and martyrs have in common is an openness to God and to experience. They do not hesitate. They certainly don’t depart from what seems like a 21st century standard: should I be offended by that? We now have a growing rigidity that affects not only our reading of the past but also our experience of religion. Blood, guts and miracles are as much a part of Christianity as love of neighbor. That is why the waking warnings about them are not so much protective of young people, but anti-religious.