History students warned that accounts of religious miracles could disturb them

History students warned that accounts of religious miracles could disturb them

The relic believed to be the mummified hand of the Apostle James - Hulton Archives

The relic believed to be the mummified hand of the Apostle James – Hulton Archives

Miracles have been given trigger warnings as academics draw students’ attention to the “illustrative” content in religious stories.

A medieval chronicle of divine healings known as the “Miracles of the Hand of St. James” is taught as part of a history module at Manchester Metropolitan University, where staff have raised concerns about the Christian narratives.

Professors have saved students’ feelings by issuing a trigger warning on the 800-year-old religious text, warning them that miracles can be “graphic”.

The miracles in the records are attributed to the preserved hand of St James that drew pilgrims to Reading Abbey and the chronicle, probably written by a local monk, details a variety of afflictions that afflicted the medieval population and how these were healed.

Students who wish to study the historical text are first told, “Warning. Some of the wonders can be quite graphic and daunting to some.”

The written note was developed for students taking the Pilgrimages And Shrines In Medieval Europe module at Manchester Metropolitan, taught by the Faculty of History, Politics and Philosophy, as sacred intercession is the latest subject to enter the academic trend of the Warnings may include disturbing content.

The wondrous stories brought to the students’ attention are written in a garish style of 13 ‘her stomach burst out’ and the ‘floodgates of her bowels were opened’, allowing the suffering to be removed.

The Chronicle of 28 Numbered Miracles adds that another woman had a foot “unable to behave like a foot,” with toes and heels reversed, but after visiting Reading Abbey and “coughing up much blood ‘ she was healed and left the city ‘glorified’. St.James”.

Other entries in the medieval book of wonders describe fever, “withered” limbs, sudden blindness, vomiting poison, encounters with demons, and the Count of Boulougne being fatally shot in the knee with an arrow as punishment “for the dreadful boldness of his pride”. .

A report also mentions more relatable and potentially troubling content from a mother losing her child during a difficult birth, which Manchester Metropolitan’s warnings “could upset some people in particular”.

The synopsis also notes that Prof Brian Kemp’s 1970 translation of the original medieval text into modern English contains language “now considered objectionable” in relation to “mental and physical health.”

The note is among a series of warnings issued across departments at Manchester Metropolitan covering issues such as racial laws and “apocalyptic violence” aimed at preventing students from becoming upset by reading and teaching material.

Warnings are “an invitation to frailty”

But there are concerns about the automatic use of these alerts within academia, with Prof Frank Furedi of the University of Kent saying: “They are an invitation to frailty.

“Young people are invited to feel more like patients than students. This warning is now automatic, but it fundamentally changes the perception of reading and learning.

“Rather than something done to entertain or enlighten, they are viewed as something traumatizing and harmful to mental health.”

The supposed hand of St James the Apostle was brought to England by Queen Matilda and given to Reading Abbey in 1133, where its healing properties were attested by the monks in a written Miracula, or miracle book.

It would have been to the abbey community’s advantage to encourage pilgrims to visit the saint’s shrine, and an account of a girl’s healing at Reading makes it clear that miraculous help was bestowed on her at the rival shrine in Canterbury.

The Hand of St James was hidden and saved during the dissolution of the monasteries and was recently on display in Reading.

Manchester Metropolitan has been contacted for comment.

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