Mrs Mattingly’s Miracle: The prince, the widow, and the cure that shocked Washington City
Nancy Lusignan Schultz
Yale University Press £20
Church Times Bookshop £18
IN 1824, Ann Mattingly, member of an old Maryland Roman Catholic family and sister of Washington’s mayor, was on her death-bed. Friends who had heard of miraculous healings in Europe by a German priest and aristocrat, Alexander Hohenlohe, appealed to him, and launched a novena of intercession. It concluded with a mass in Washington in the early hours of the morning, timed to coincide with that of the prince in Bamberg. Having, with difficulty, received the sacrament, Mrs Mattingly was visibly restored to health.
Americans were largely unprepared to deal with such an occurrence. Protestant and Enlightenment influences made them sceptical of modern miracles. Even for Roman Catholics, it was startling (the phenomenon of Lourdes was still decades away), and the Church’s leadership (mostly drawn from English families that had arrived before the Revolution) was nervous about public reaction. While some saw the miracle as a vindication of the Church, others feared that it only made it seem foreign — a problematic quality in an era of newfound American assertiveness on the world scene.
Professor Schultz has retrieved a forgotten story through energetic archival work, and she connects the event well with important currents of its time. Unfortunately, her desire to produce a full-blooded narrative from sketchy sources has encouraged a certain amount of historical over-reaching, from admittedly fictive “adumbrations” introducing each chapter to a rather free hand at filling in the thoughts and feelings of her characters.
As a result, she has not quite produced either the good story some readers will want or the cautious history others look for. Still, patient readers will encounter here an intriguing event, recounted in the context of the very different world in which it was played out.
The Revd Dr William Countryman is Sherman E. Johnson Professor in Biblical Studies at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific and the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California, USA.
GEORGE COURTAULD has compiled The Pocket Book of What, When and Who on Earth: Fascinating facts about Christianity (Bene Factum, £9.99 (£9); 978-1-903071-37-3): a gift hardback to dip into.