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Divine Presence in Spain and Western Europe 1500-1960

William A. Christian


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1In addition to sensitivity, joy and commitment, Natalie Davis brought to early modern European religious history the serene pluralism of the new field of religious studies. This approach, following William James, did not work out from a given theology and did not take sides, but rather looked at religion sympathetically and objectively as human behavior. Davis early on applied this approach to the early modern period, through historical documents as well as sacred texts. And over the years she has periodically encouraged my attempt to work backwards in time from the study of religion in twentieth-century rural France and Spain, searching for the voices in documents and the documents in voices.

  • 1 . Anna Fedele, “Mary Magdalene, Menstrual Blood and Mother Earth: An Anthropology of Spiritual Femi (...)

2The continuities between the present and the past are especially striking in matters religious, where some institutions are over a thousand years old. Some practices, like the use of votive offerings or sacrifices, and some classes of holy sites, like springs, caves, prominent trees and mountain tops, even antedate the particular religions in which they are presently used. The latter continuities in pattern have variously served as an excuse to dismiss or relativize faith, posit a universal transcultural spirituality, or provide an “eternal” pedigree for new, ersatz rituals.1 In some religions there are particular holy places, shrine images, relics, and sacred manuscripts that have been in use longer than any present-day nation-state has existed. Other practices, like rain processions and exorcisms, continue strikingly similarly for hundreds of years.

3These chapters will address three strands of continuities, discontinuities, and re significations having to do with the divine presence: a vision to a grandmother in her garden in 1931 introduces the long tradition of mysterious strangers bearing information and instruction of which it was a late example; the rise and decline of images seemingly exuding blood, sweat and tears in early modern Spain and the revival of the phenomenon in twentieth-century Europe; and a pictorial examination of how photographic postcards addressed the depiction of saints, the absent, and the dead alongside the living.

4I am grateful to Natalie Davis, to Gábor Klaniczay, and to the Central European University Medieval Studies and History Departments for making these essays and the forum of discussion that has enriched them possible. Each essay had a trial run: the first in the Departamento de Historia Moderna of the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, kindly organized by María José del Río (who also read chapters and supplied sources and advice), the second at a Graduate Student Medieval Workshop at Harvard University that included a number of art historians, coordinated by Shirin A. Fozi and Marco Antonio Viniegra, and the third at a workshop on religious visions at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behaviorial Sciences at Stanford organized by Robert Scott and Linda Jack. I thank Marilina Maroto, Marisol Llamas García, and Diego Ramón Martínez in Casas de Benítez, el Rvdo. Miguel Ruíz Orozco, párroco de Vara del Rey, and Mercedes Gómez and Elena del Castillo in Bur-guillos de Toledo. Miguel Ángel Muñoz Torres and especially Pascual Martínez Martínez provided invaluable assistance with sources in and about Casas de Benítez, and Mónica Cornejo Valle and Vanesa Blanco Gallardo guided me to Burguillos. All chapters have been enriched by the ongoing study group, The Vision Thing, and individual chapters from readings by James Amelang, María José del Río, Lisa Godson, Jacqueline Jung, Amira Mittermaier, Vlad Naumescu, Felipe Pereda (who also provided one of the illustrations and supplied me with many sources), Katrina Olds, Anthony Shenoda, Ann Taves, María Tausiet, William Taylor, and Daniel Wojcik. Others helping with sources include Lisa Bitel, Deirdre de la Cruz, Anna Fedele, Ildikó Kristóf, Piroska Nagy, Dorothy Noyes, Jose Manuel Pedrosa, Eva Pócs, Joan Prat, Katerina Seraïdari, and György Endre Szőnyi. Those who helped with illustrations, advice or logistics include Silvia Marina Arrom, Peter Bokody, Caterina Cap-devil a Werning, Palma Christian, Christian Caujolle, María Cruz de Carlos Varona, Delia Davila Quintana, Cristina Garcia Rodero, Beatriz Gonzalez Valcarcel, Nathaniel Jones, Josef a Martínez Berriel, Mitchell Merback, Kenneth Mills, Sara Ryu, Monique Scheer, Sara Víg, and Rafael Vicente, as well as persons acknowledged in the footnotes. I thank especially Ronda Kasl, the initial impetus for chapter two, and Suso Mourelo, who tracked down several of its illustrations; the friendly collector communities of and that provided most of the illustrations; Csilla Dobos for her kind attention to the logistics of the talks; Michelle Bonnice for her skilled advice on layout; Richard Minear for copyediting in extremis; Péter Tóth for the cover design and layout, and Nóra Vörös of CEU Press for guiding me through the process of publication.


1 . Anna Fedele, “Mary Magdalene, Menstrual Blood and Mother Earth: An Anthropology of Spiritual Feminist Pilgrimages in Contemporary France and Catalonia,” unpublished PhD thesis, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, 2007, and her Looking for Mary Magdalene (Oxford University Press, forthcoming).

© Central European University Press, 2012

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