The Miracles of Sainte Foy, Bernard of Angers, c. 1013–1020
In 1013, Bernard of Angers visited the relics of Sainte Foy at the abbey of Conques, in southern France. Initially skeptical of the cult which had formed around this little girl martyr, Bernard nonetheless fell under her spell. His book recounts her miracles, many of which tell humorous stories of this mischievous Saint who wants nothing more than gold and jewels, and converts many in her actions to obtain them.
1.17: How Sainte Foy Collected Gold Everywhere for the Fashioning of an Altar
As I have said, many people had granted to Sainte Foy great farms and many possessions of manors, as many from the natives of the region as from religious pilgrims. They also made innumerable, lavish contributions of gold or silver, and also of precious stones. And for this reason the abundant accumulation of gold inspired the senior monks with the idea of building a new frontal for the high altar. But because such a great quantity of materials was required for the large size of the frontal that they planned, what they had on hand did not suffice. The gold was all used up first. There was a need for a greater supplement of gold and of precious stones. And this is the reason that few people are left in this whole region who have a precious ring or brooch or armbands or hairpins, or anything of this kind, because Sainte Foy, either with a simple entreaty or with bold threats, wrested away these same things for the work of the frontal. She appeared to each one of them in a dream just as if she were a beggar, in the form of a very beautiful not yet adult girl. She demanded no less from the pilgrims who pour in from every direction.
And so a frontal so beautiful and so large was produced with the gold and the stones that I've seldom been able to see a better elsewhere. But I've not yet passed the Jovian heights, and in heaven there may be many things made with greater skill. A great quantity of gold was left over, which was later adapted to sacred uses.
Heidi Catherine Gearhart is Assistant Professor of Art History at George Mason University. Gearhart specializes in the art of Medieval Europe. Her research focuses on sacred arts and manuscripts, artists, and medieval art theory, and she is especially interested in issues of memory, craft, and manufacture.