This essay is a parable that delivers a message of epistemological significance for teachers and students in historically based disciplines and religious studies. Bynum writes, anecdotally, of standing “for a long time” and “rejoicing” before Vermeer’s painting The Woman with the Pearl Necklace at an exhibit in 2001 at the Metropolitan Museum. Later she discovers that the painting had not left Berlin for inclusion in the New York exhibit. “I can only hypothesize,” she reflects, “that I must have deeply needed a moment out of ordinary time” and so “saw” a work of importance to herself that she had visited often at its home in Berlin. “The medieval people I study,” she writes, “‘saw things’, as my students put it. And those same students frequently ask me what I think they saw.” Bynum then proceeds to explicate Augustine’s three categories of vision and to comment on other medieval theories about and incidents of inexplicable or miraculous seeing on the part of the “spiritually gifted.” Her conclusion is that students who ask what such people do see must be told that they have indeed seen what they have claimed to see, just “as I saw The Woman with the Pearl Necklace.”

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