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Assistant Professor of Medieval French
University of California, Berkeley

Gautier de Coinci's Miracles de Nostre Dame and the Powers of Olfaction

In a 2024 article in New Medieval Literatures, I study references to olfaction in the poetic corpus of a thirteenth-century French monastic author, Gautier de Coinci. Gautier’s treatment of the sense of smell in his Marian miracle collection, I argue, has been overlooked. Olfactory references punctuate the Miracles and function in a variety of ways. In the article, I firstly argue that odors in the Miracles are a site onto which values are projected, but where smell’s viscerality—its apparent short-circuiting of linguistic mediation—is mobilized to connect dogma with affect. Next, I examine the miracle regarding the theft and recovery of Saint Leocadia’s relics, which is considered Gautier’s most personal and emotional miracle, and in which the topic of smell recurs at several points. I suggest that smell’s associative and memorial power—the way it joins up affect, memory, and an experience of space—works to bind Gautier’s community of listeners together in their shared relation to local spaces of devotion and the materiality of prior miraculous activity. An issue of broader methodological and theoretical concern, the relationship between olfaction (a term I use to focus more on how smell is processed), form, and aesthetics is considered in my article’s final section. I argue that smell’s modal specificity—its ontological doubling into both odor-source and odor-proper—give it a special place in Gautier’s devotional and aesthetic framework. Drawing on lines of enquiry in cognitive linguistics and olfactory aesthetics, and reacting against a latent tendency among modern scholars to ‘deodorize’ premodernity, I propose that we consider textual smell a fundamental part of the multisensory experience imparted by the Miracles.

Job, sa femme et ses amis (France, Reims, Bibliothèque de Reims, Ms. 40 f_edited.jpg

France, Reims, Bibliothèque de Reims, 40, 223v 

Job and his wife in a Latin Bible of c. 1300–10.

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