Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Dreams, Vision, and Spiritual Authority in Merovingian Gaul

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Dreams, Vision, and Spiritual Authority in Merovingian Gaul

Article excerpt

Dreams, Visions, and Spiritual Authority in Merovingian Gaul. By Isabel Moreira. (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press. 2000. Pp. xiii, 262. $49.95.)

"Your old men will dream dreams," according to the prophet Joel. But he had not said anything about bishops and clerics. As a result, in the Christian tradition dreams and visions were both liberating and dangerous. They promised healings and offered advice about the construction of shrines. They also bestowed prestige and influence, which might challenge the standing of bishops. Isabel Moreira's book is an excellent survey of the functions of visions in early medieval Gaul, and of their capacity to resolve the very tensions they created. One of her primary arguments is that Gallic clerics found a way "to permit a Christian culture of dreaming to develop and flourish, while maintaining episcopal authority" (p. 80).

The core of Moreira's book is early Merovingian society, as described especially in the writings of Gregory of Tours during the later sixth century. The introductory chapters discuss the different interpretations proposed by earlier Christian writers. Some had promoted fully open access to dreams for all believers, while others, like Augustine, preferred to restrict access. In Gregory's Gaul visions and dreams had become integral components of the religious rhetoric that shaped communities. Moreira's central chapters discuss bishops, pilgrims, and travelers to the imaginary otherworld. Gregory himself relied upon visions to resolve family crises and enhance his own episcopal standing. Dreaming was especially common at saints' shrines. If ill people could imagine themselves to be healthy, then often they were in fact healed. One crippled man dreamed that he had stretched out his foot, and awoke to find he could walk again. Some monks and clerics were privileged to receive visions of the afterlife. Sometimes that other world was terrifying, with rivers of fire, sometimes comforting, with a mansion of gold. …

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