Divine Presence in Spain and Western Europe 1500–1960

Divine Presence in Spain and Western Europe 1500–1960: Visions, Religious Images and Photographs

William A. Christian
Volume: 5
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Pages: 329
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  • Book Info
    Divine Presence in Spain and Western Europe 1500–1960
    Book Description:

    This study addresses the relation of people to divine beings in contemporary and historical communities, as exemplified in three strands. One is a long tradition of visions of mysterious wayfarers in rural Spain who bring otherworldly news and help, including recent examples. Another treats the seeming vivification of religious images—statues, paintings, engravings, and photographs apparently exuding blood, sweat and tears in Spanish homes and churches  in the early modern period and the revival of the phenomenon throughout Europe in the twentieth century.  Of special interest is the third strand of the book: the transposition of medieval and early modern representations of the relations between humans and the divine into the modern art of photography. Christian presents a pictorial examination of the phenomenon with a large number of religious images, commercial postcards and family photographs from the first half of past century Europe.

    eISBN: 978-615-5053-38-2
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. ix-xviii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. 1-4)
  5. Chapter 1 Toribia del Val and the Mysterious Wayfarer of Casas de Benítez
    (pp. 5-44)

    For several years the medievalist Lisa Bitel and the photographer Matt Gainer attended the monthly visions of María Paula Acuña, a mother of six in her fifties, in the Mojave Desert of California. I went twice, taking students. Typically, hundreds of Latino-American pilgrims would be waiting when María Paula and her female acolytes arrived in a van. A procession on foot would pause when María Paula had her vision of Our Lady of the Rocks and people took pictures of the sky. Then later at the cult site the seer would report the Virgin’s message and deliver a more general...

  6. Chapter 2 Images as Beings: Blood, Sweat, and Tears
    (pp. 45-96)

    Toribia del Val introduced one of the ways of connecting with the divine: the visit of a supernatural with counsel and instructions for a specific purpose, in her case to end a drought in 1931. Because Toribia saw the visitor and no one else did, we call this a vision, or, from the point of view of a believer, an apparition.

    Her vision introduced new information into the constellation of grace in the zone around Casas de Benítez. If all had gone well and rain had fallen as predicted, it would have enhanced local devotion to San Isidro and the...

  7. Chapter 3 Presence, Absence and the Supernatural in Postcard and Family Photographs, Europe 1895–1920
    (pp. 97-101)

    Illustrating the two previous chapters about visits by pilgrim strangers and images that seemed to come alive were statues, paintings, engravings, and photographs. This chapter deals with the passage of art to photography in the representation of visions. Its brief text is a guide to what is essentially a visual argument for the transposition of medieval and early modern representations of the relations between humans and the divine to the art of photography, and the profound change in the nature of the self that photography facilitated. The chapter is arranged in pools of images connected by introductions.

    When preparing these...

  8. Visions Depicted
    (pp. 102-131)

    Photography brought an immediacy to the depiction of visions, but at the same time presented a basic problem, one that has always been present for people seeing others have visions: by definition one cannot see what only seers see (Fig. 47).

    For documentary photos of visionaries, the proof and the attraction of the photos, like that of many mystical paintings and sculptures of the baroque period, was the transformation of the seer’s faces and their bodies by what they saw looking upwards (Fig. 48). The artistic conventions involved in pose and gesture were absorbed by both seer and photographer. We...

  9. Connecting with the Absent and the Supernaturals
    (pp. 132-161)

    Composite images, whether by photomontage, multiple exposure, sandwiched negatives, or other techniques, provided other solutions to the depiction of visions.14 Since the earliest days of their craft, photographers had experimented with combinations.15 The postcard trade encouraged the notion of absence combined with fondness, and combining images was a good way to picture the virtual reunion created by the card when sent. The period of 1895 to the end of World War I, which included massive migration and then the separation of soldiers from families, was its heyday (Figs. 75–81). The absence involved could also be the absent dead (Figs....

  10. Supernaturals and the Absent in World War I postcards
    (pp. 162-201)

    In France, as the prospect of conflict with Germany increased, starting June 30, 1913, first two girls, then scores of adults, began to have visions in the village of Alzonne, 10 kilometers from Carcassonne. The visions started in poplars on the bank of the River Fresquel, then spread to the sky above the highway that passed through the town and also to the cemetery. In all there were over a hundred seers (some from Carcassonne and Bordeaux), until, in March 1914, the diocese decided the whole thing was diabolical. What people were seeing on the trees and in the sky...

  11. Absence and presence in family photographs around World War I
    (pp. 202-231)

    Photomontage was used in real, studio portraits as well (the examples I have are Spanish, French, Belgian, Dutch, Russian and Italian) to unite couples and families separated by emigration, military service, imprisonment or death. For separation is an intimation of death, death once removed.

    In the composite photographs we see an emulation, whether on the part of the studio photographers, their clients, or both, of the commercial cards centering on presence and absence. Indeed, in the case of the refined Dutch and Belgian prisoner of war photomontages, the personal cards are at times hard to tell apart from commercial ones....

  12. Summing up
    (pp. 232-234)

    If one conclusion from these three chapters would be that very little religious gets permanently thrown away, another would be that people embody history, literature, images. History is important, because what happened to our families, our towns, our nations, our peoples in the past—our wars, our defeats, our prosperity, our hunger, our enslavement, our enslaving, our persecution—is hammered into our way of being as surely as a genetic code, affecting the way we are raised and the way we raise, what we are taught in schools and churches and the way we are taught it. Toribia and the...

  13. Endnotes
    (pp. 235-266)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 267-286)
  15. Index
    (pp. 287-310)