Seeing the light? Blindness and sanctity in later medieval England

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The fifteenth-century collection of miracles attributed to Henry VI and collated as evidence for his canonization proceedings includes the tale of John Robbins of Worcestershire, who, it is reported, ‘rashly insulted the blessed King Henry, heaping many rebukes upon him’. The late king punished the irreverent Robbins, striking him blind. When Robbins repented, and ‘vowed with many tears to visit [Henry’s] holy tomb, he recovered his faculty of sight’. Robbins appears to have been understandably embarrassed about the event: when he later made his pilgrimage to Windsor, he failed to reveal the whole story to the shrine official. In late medieval England, a common moral justification for disease was that God and his saints inflicted infirmity on sinners as a punishment for their transgressions, providing the opportunity for repentance and atonement. However, blindness could also be regarded as a divine gift, offering protection from worldly distractions and allowing holy individuals to communicate more easily with God. Indeed, a lack of earthly sight allowed potential saints to demonstrate that they possessed the intrinsic values of humility and patience deemed necessary to achieve sanctity. This paper examines these two different theological explanations for blindness.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)148-158
Number of pages11
JournalStudies in Church History
Publication statusPublished - 2011

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