Successful Preaching of a Failed Campaign: from Events to Exempla
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Successful Preaching of a Failed Campaign: from Events to Exempla
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The article analyzes some events that occurred during the preaching ofthe Fifth Crusade (1217—1221) by Oliver of Padeborn, and namely themiraculous signs in the heaven, seen in Friesland in 1214. The Frisianvisions, interpreted as predicting success of the Crusade, quicklybecame popular, all the more so because Oliver himself mentioned themmany times in his letters, as well as in his Capture of Damietta. Lessthan ten years later, these events found their way in the mostprominent Cistercian collection of exempla - the Dialogue on miracles(1219—1223) by Caesarius of Heisterbach. Caesarius mentions Oliver'spreaching several times. He relates not only the Frisian visions, butalso other miracles that accompanied Oliver's activity as Pope'sLegate. In her analysis of the readers' response to these episodesfrom the Dialogue on miracles, Victoria Smirnova points out that in1223 (the terminus ad quem for Caesarius' book) the Fifth Crusade wasalready failed: two years before, crusaders had surrender Damietta.Was the campaign's miserable outcome known to the Dialogue's firstreaders? And if so, did the failure of the Fifth Crusade lessen thevalue of the Oliver's successful preaching? Was it possible, in theface of sharpening criticism of crusading, to convey the positiveaspects of crusade propaganda? According to Victoria Smirnova, a bookof exempla is probably one of the most convenient forms to performthis function. A collection of exempla, even having a clear historicalpurpose, tends to be heterogeneous. The succession of events fallsapart into isolated episodes, each of which doesn't refer directly tothe Crusade and its outcome. In a book of exempla, an event acquires auniversal significance and, in the same time, finds itself isolatedfrom other events that could cast a shadow on it. Medieval exemplum isable at once to narrow and to broaden the reader's perspective. It notonly serves as an efficacious instrument of didactic, but also helpsto overcome historical trauma.
exempla, sermons, the Fifth Crusade, Caesarius of Heisterbach, Oliver of Padeborn, miracles
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