Laughing at a saint? Miracle and irony in the Vita Gangulfi prima


  • I thank the participants in the ‘Tübinger Kolloquium Vormoderne’ for initial discussion of this text, Simon MacLean and Uli Nonn for their critiques and valuable suggestions, and Steven Robbie for his superior translation of my academic German.


This article examines the Vita Gangulfi prima, a text which was frequently copied and widely circulated in the Middle Ages. It argues that the text can be understood as an ironic discourse on miracle stories in hagiographical texts: the central message of the Vita is that meek and penitential living leads to sanctity, and not the enjoyment of stories about miracles. At the same time, the Vita presents the reader to some extent with a performance of this idea. The reader who sees through to the Vita's ironic intent is encouraged to laugh at the saint and thereby comes to comprehend the very sin for which the various characters in the Vita are punished, while the text simultaneously depicts penitence as the way out of this sinfulness. The Vita's critique of miracle stories made an eccentric contribution to a discourse which was also carried on in a number of other hagiographical texts of the early tenth century.