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The Miracle of Saint Odilia

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The Miracle of Saint Odilia
Original titleIl miracolo di santa Odilia
TranslatorSarah E. Christopher and Colleen Regalbuto
GenreHistorical novel
PublisherEinaudi (Italy)
Troubador (UK)
Publication date
Published in English
Media typePrint (paperback)
Pages216 pp
ISBN1-89-929354-X Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png.

The Miracle of Saint Odilia (Italian: Il miracolo di santa Odilia) is an historical novel by Laura Mancinelli published in 1989.

Translation in English - Sarah E. Christopher, Colleen Regalbuto

Plot summary[edit]

The story takes place among the hills of Monferrato, in the early Middle Ages. The beautiful Odilia, of the noble family of the Counts of Agliano, from a very young age is destined by her relatives to the convent, so that she can follow in the footsteps of her aunt of the same name, an abbess who died in the odor of sanctity but without having been able to perform, either alive or dead, a miracle, so as to give her relatives the glory of having a saint in the family.

Before saying her vows, Odilia attends a tournament of knights leaving for a Crusade to the Holy Land. A young man with blue eyes and a turquoise cloak stops in front of the stage where she is sitting, waiting to receive a sign of homage and goodwill from her. Odilia threw the little crown of flowers she wore on her head on her white novice's veil. Years go by. The young woman, not yet twenty years old, is already abbess and demonstrates that she knows how to wisely administer the revenues of the convent as well as how to be faithful to all the sacred duties of a nun. To counteract the melancholy and loneliness that assail her in the long evenings without activity, she embroiders with her sisters a magnificent tapestry that, with threads of precious colored silks, depicts a Lady with a Unicorn. When the tapestry is finished, Odilia realizes that the lady has her own face and the eyes of the liocorn are those of the knight she has never forgotten. One day, pilgrims come knocking at the door of the convent: among them is him, the knight who, in turn, has never forgotten Odilia: he is tired, gray and sad. The Crusade was not an adventure of glory but only an enterprise of robbery and infamy. From that day on, at the request of the abbess, the knight will remain a permanent guest in the convent, making himself useful to the community in many ways. This will also allow him to remain close to his beloved and protect her, with a chaste, platonic love made up of friendly evening walks hand in hand and sweet glances that are as silent as they are eloquent. Other characters become part of the story: Ser Francesco, the neighbouring nobleman who supplies the abbess' cellars with fine wine, but who also proposes to Odilia that she herself should cultivate vines in the excellent land surrounding her. The convent soon becomes a building site where agricultural and hydraulic work is carried out, with the active collaboration of the knight and above all of Gerardo Biondo, Ser Francesco's servant, a young man with a good character and a mysterious past. But also a swarm of children from the nearby village arrived to fill the monastery's days: a small school was set up where the children, clothed and fed, learned to read and write, to carry out useful trades, to sing in a choir and play flutes and flutes. Even Bishop Zeno, a somewhat diffident but good-natured man, came to visit the convent to see and admire its cheerful fervour: it was a world of happiness, purity of purpose, productivity and even good food. The cook, Sister Buccia, is one of the most characteristic characters: simple and grumpy, she works every day, among pots and pans, to bake bread and cakes, meat and vegetables, always fearing that the excessive generosity of the abbess, towards the poor but also towards her guests, will one day lead to a shortage of provisions and destitution. In such industrious joy, in such care for the goods given to mankind by the earth, in the end, with a mysterious ringing of the whole valley, on the tomb of the old aunt abbess the hoped-for "miracle of Saint Odilia" takes place: the doubt remains whether by divine will or only by passionate human perseverance.


  • Abbess Odilia is very beautiful, amiable and sensitive. Granddaughter of the elder Odilia, she was chosen from among the girls of the family because, despite herself, she was named after her. So at the age of only sixteen she was made a nun and at eighteen an abbess. At first, her life did not change much: she continued to frequent her fellow students and playmates who, like her, were educated in the convent. But she realised how much her life had changed on the day of the gathering of the knights who were leaving for the crusade to the Holy Land: unlike all the other girls, she was wearing a black dress and could not tear off one of her sleeves and give it to a knight. Nevertheless, she took off the garland of flowers on her head and put it on the pole of a knight with whom she fell in love. As abbess she is diligent and attentive in the government of her small feud, making the convent so rich that she deserves the praise of the bishop. With the arrival of the knight her soul awakens from a sleep that had lasted too long and her life becomes better, until the miracle happens.
  • the knight;

He is the second most important character. He has no name, but is always called 'the knight', which suggests that he is more important for his title than for his name. He is a man who loves women and war, but has realised that the latter is not (always) fair. All he has left of it is a bad memory, apart from his grey hair and eyes that have lost their former smile. As soon as he arrives at the convent, he gives Odilia the two seeds he had taken in Arabia in a very prosperous valley that had been ruined by the crusaders, and tells her to sow them and, when the seedlings grow, to plant them. During his stay at the convent, he helped the nuns with the heaviest jobs and became a teacher of the children of the neighbouring villages to justify his presence in that religious place to the bishop. For this last reason, Odilia invents the story of the werewolves and leprechauns, monsters that would attack the virtue of the nuns.

  • Sister Buccia;
  • Ser Francesco;

When he first appears in the story, Ser Francesco is described as a very tall, thin, bare-headed man, wrapped in a large travelling cloak that came down to the brim of his boots. He is the owner of some land on the west-facing hills, in particular a large vineyard, and supplies the monastery with wine for the guests and also for the nuns. In addition to wine, after the flood, he also supplies wheat and a new legume from Arabia.

  • The young Gerardo;

This is not his real name, nor is his hair blond. In reality he is the cadet son of a noble family from the Vercelli plain. He had run away from home because he did not want to enter the convent, to which he had been destined by his family, and had become a bandit, and had entered into a partnership with another, also a bandit, named Biondo Gerardo. In one of the many assaults the latter died, so his friend decided to become a farmer in order to redeem in some way the soul of the dead man, and put himself at the service of Ser Francesco. He often did work in the garden of the convent.

  • Bishop Zenone;
  • A flagellant;
  • the cat Sybil;
  • the dog Musone;
  • boys and girls of the village.

See also[edit]

  • Monferrato
  • Agliano

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  • Mancinelli, Laura (2003). The Twelve Abbots of Challant and The Miracle of Saint Odilia. Troubador. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png

External links[edit]

Category:1989 novels Category:Novels by Laura Mancinelli Category:Novels set in Italy Category:Novels set in the Middle Ages Category:Postmodern novels Category:20th-century Italian novels

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