Nino Chakunashvili                                                                                                                                                                    # 1


A general review of miracles in hagiographic and chivalry literature

	Keywords: Hagiography; Miracles; Medieval Literature.


Miracles are the most important part of hagiographic literature. We could say that it is the decisive part, because it is always connected with the saint. A hagiographic work is a description of the “life” or “martyrdom” of a saint. A miracle or a whole chain of miracles connected with the saint makes him or her special.

            There are two main literary sources to describe miracles in Georgian hagiography: the Bible (the heliographs, mostly metaphrastic translators often quote the miracles of the Old Testament) and other hagiographic works (miracles described in them often became the source for other hagiographic works). We should also take into account oral and written tradition of story-telling. Those stories were created and developed in monasteries; also pure folk legends, which appeared in hagiographic literature after certain literary revision.

A miracle itself contains things and events existing in this world, as well as in the spiritual world. By this definition there can only be one source of miracles in Christianity – God. A miracle depends only on God’s will (creating the world, the saints realise the miracles with power given by God).

            In religious understanding, a miracle is connected with supernatural appearance. This is a natural event which happens by God’s will to reach the important religious aim of saving the soul. (Concise Theological Encyclopaedic Dictionary: 1992).

In the development of Christian teaching the word “miracle” came to have two different meanings. Miracles realised by Saints were divided into two main groups: miracles realised during the saint’s life (signs before the saint was born,  prophetic dreams, healing) and the miracles after the saint’s death (appearance in front of the pupils, miraculous holy relics).

This trend is realised in different ways in Western and Eastern cultures. In particular, Western culture shows the whole life of the saint as the certain road that the saint followed to gain the name of saint. The proof of the is the miracles happening on his(her) grave. The idea of the power of miracles of the deceased saint was very popular in West.  Miracles taking place on the grave of the saint are very powerful compared to the miracles of the living saint.  (Porion Danile 1995: 11) Eastern literature has a similar idea about holy relics and the graves of the saints; they have the same miraculous power. But the difference is that the hagiographical hero is already a saint. The proof of this is the saint’s exceptional childhood and the miracles he (she) realised in his or her life.

            This idea is reflected in western iconography, where the saint is shown as a traveller on the way of God. In the Byzantium iconography a saint is shown already in heaven. (Ribakov 1984: 74 ).

             It is interesting that the miracles in literature are the equivalent of real historical facts from the religious point of view. Miracles were the general ideal of hagiographical literature (Siradze R.1975: 169).

            In the following centuries, Georgian medieval literature was based on the tradition of the Georgian hagiographical literature. The creative hyperbola, creatively invented miracles the miraculous situations which the protagonist of medieval literature experience, are more or less sourced from hagiographical literature.

             In XII-XIII centuries there are some changes in the understanding of the meaning of “miracle”.

 In the imaginary world of medieval period significant place is given to the miracle. This is the significant theme and it has its reflection in the human world, nature, fiction and art. Though, it should be noted that the people of medieval period were different, with their mentality, as well as their behavior, thinking, response to the external world, irrespective of how developed was one or another individual, the external factor of the epoch had significant impact on him. Perhaps, this conditioned that the miracle, whether revealed in the art or fiction, was acceptable and trustworthy for the people of this period.

 Umberto Eco mentioned that in the medieval fiction the fantasy was divided as special type of art; revival of the fantastic is related to the re-processing of the esthetics of miracle, the separation takes place: the heroic tale and tale about the cultural hero transforms into the heroic epos – rich with the miraculous elements. Though, each miracle us perceived as a common phenomenon, included into the adventures and voyages of the heroes. (Eco Umberto 1997: 16)

             By the medieval centuries a different perception of the miracle had already been formed. In the classical period of Georgian literature there are some miracles which differ from the miracles realised by the protagonists of hagiographical literature, but in some way they are quite similar too.

             In heroic story of “Amirandarejaniani”  the protagonist causes a miracle to occur only using his physical strength. The protagonists of this story fight with fantastic creatures, win the fight and those battles give the story a fairy-tale appearance.

             Later the Georgian chivalrous novel got rid of this fairy tale or fantastic element, so strong reflected in “Amirandarejaniani”. Instead, it created a different model of the human being which is very well shown in “The Knight in the Panther’s Skin”,  but still it did not ignore the miracle completely.

             The protagonists in “Knight in the Panther’s Skin” realise the miracles not only by their wish, but y their minds and rational thinking. They understand very well that they can’t win the battle against the opponent with only physical strength. Because of this they make certain military strategy and using their mind and physical strength, and with God’s help they win the battle against the sorcerers.  Rustaveli describes the sorcerers as the unconquerable, but for the protagonists there is no barrier in the battle for the kindness and love; and the evil is always defeated.

             The miracle in “Knight in the Panther’s Skin” is represent as the monsters, sorcerers, magician slave and wonder armour. They lack that fairy tale appearance, which is more clearly reflected in the western literature of the same period.   In the “Knight in the Panther’s Skin” the miracle can be considered as a precondition to show the strength of the protagonists. They establish their knighthood by defeating monsters and sorcerers. They make the magician a slave to help them, and wearing wondrous armour they go to battle against unconquerable sorcerers and defeat them.

  In Georgian chivalry novels (“Amirandarejaniani”, Knight in the Panther’s Skin”), similar to the western literature of the same period, the miracle takes significant place in implementation of the hero’s adventure, being either source of the entire venture, or accompanies it for the entire period of its development. Though, it should be also noted that “Knight in the Panther’s Skin” shows the attitude towards the miracle in the context of human reality. For Rustaveli, the main thing is not the contents of miracle, rather driving towards the ideal, which, in the end of his poem, would end with the victory of good over the evil.

 It is not a casual thing that the miracle plays such a significant role in the medieval novels. Miracles become the necessary part of the hero’s adventure. The trial of knight along his dangerous way is accompanied with the number of miracles, they either assist the knight (magic things), or participate in destruction of the monster or other anthropomorphous creatures. It allowed Kohler to state that the adventure of the knight realized by him to prove his identity in the courtly world is is realization of the miracle (une merveille). (Kohler E. 1974: 87)

             Authors of the medieval period (Rustaveli, as well as his contemporary writer Chrétien de Troyes), unlike the hagiographic writers, seek the ideal not by the sign of the historical hero, the specific person, but they create the ideal in the fantasies.

 The miracle in medieval centuries was changed, widening its area: there are giants, monsters, sorcerers, copper lions and physically strong human beings. They are not usual creatures, but the medieval world and the human being of this period are ready to expect such miracles.

We have tried to give an overview of the miracle in hagiographical literature and medieval works; to show how significant this subject was in the chivalric and ecclesiastical works; how certain models of miracle in hagiographical works moved into country novels and how they were transformed.

             It should be taken into account also that the medieval miracle was transformed according to the human being’s attitude towards the world and God.


Despite some contrast, I notice the following points in the understanding of miracle in country and ecclesiastical works:


  1. The miracle is an event which is received as a real story. It has the function of abolishing reality and indicating the supernatural, God, from whom comes the miracle.

  2. In Christianity the main purpose of miracle is to be useful to human beings, like healing the sick, restoring sight to the blind, showing the true way to go etc. In the medieval novel the miracle helps the protagonists, is useful in the battle against the evil (wondrous armour, magician slaves, the wonder sword, the sorcerer’s potion etc.)

  3. The miracle does not break the laws of the nature. In Christianity everything has a sign of the miraculous. The animals obey the saints just as in the original paradise. The protagonists of medieval novels try to reach this harmony. In the world of Rustaveli’s protagonists “the goat and the wolf” live together in harmony.

  4. The saints acts in the name of God and win the battle against evil spirits. The protagonist of the medieval novel relies on God but he relies on his own strength too.

There are the following differences interpreting miracle in hagiographic and country novels: 

  1. A saint has the privilege to announce the word of God. The protagonist of the chivalry novel does not have this ability.

  2. A Saint has the skill of healing the sick, but the protagonist of the country novel sometimes needs to be healed.

  3. Saints can make miracle happen even after death, but the field of activity of the knight is limited as this world.

  4. The miracle is already transformed in the chivalry novels. The action of the protagonist is justified, and he is ready to overcome every barrier to go on an adventure, it does not matter if there is a sign of miracle or not.


  1. Eco Umberto., Art et beauté dans l'esthétique médiévale, Grasset, 1997
  2. Concise Theological Encyclopaedic Dictionary, St Petersburg: 1992.
  3. Kohler E., L’aventure chevaleresque , Ideal et realite dans le roman courtois, Paris, Gallimard, 1974.
  1. Porion Danile 1995: “Le Merveilleux dans la literature francaise au Moyen Age”, Paris: 1995, p. 11.
  2. Ribakov B.A. 1984:  The World of History. Moscow: 1984, p.74.
  3. Rustaveli 1966: Shota Rustaveli, The Man in the Panther's Skin, A Close Rendering    from the Georgian Attempted by Marjory Scott Wardrop, Tbilisi, 1966
  4. Siradze R.1975: The Issues of Old Georgian Theoretical-Literary Thinking, Tbilisi: 1975,  p.169.



Volume 4, Issue 1


Rustaveli Institute of Georgian Literature

Georgian Electronic Journal of Literature