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Between saints and celebrities. The devotion and promotion of stigmatics in Europe, c.1800-1950

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - STIGMATICS (Between saints and celebrities. The devotion and promotion of stigmatics in Europe, c.1800-1950)

Reporting period: 2018-04-01 to 2019-03-31

This project studies the promotion and devotion of the hundreds of stigmatics reported in five European countries during the nineteenth and early twentieth century. The majority of the work on these women (and a few men) who carried Christ’s wounds, has focused primarily on the medical debates and religious treatises and examined the stigmatics in isolation. This project wants to move beyond the traditional historiographical emphasis in at least three ways.
First of all, it focuses on the popular perception of stigmatics and examine how they became symbolic figures of political and religious causes. Secondly, we study the interaction of the ‘victim souls’ with their communities and examine how they were turned into ‘living saints’ through religious practices and discourse, and how some of them were eventually even beatified and canonized. Thirdly, we address them as carefully constructed religious commodities (celebrities) and rebalance the research on the selling of religion that has adopted a top-down perspective and focused primarily on the popularization of authorized cults rather than on the impact of the commercialization from the bottom-up.
Combining these three aspects in studying the ‘golden age’ of the stigmatics, the project will enhance our understanding of the role of (new) media and consumption practices in religious change and the construction of religious identities. As each of these emphases calls for a study that takes into account chronological and geographical differences, we adopt a comparative approach and examine five of the countries where most of the (hundreds of) stigmatics have been attested (Italy, Spain, France, Germany and Belgium).
This allows us to trace larger trends as changes in the type of stigmatic (e.g. bedridden silent ‘sign’ or a socially engaged charismatic leader) and moments and locations of increased attention (e.g. political crises). However, since this was the era of an internationalized Catholicism the countries are not studied in isolation and special attention is given to transnational attraction (e.g. pilgrims) and the related differences in promotion and perception.
This project focuses on the popular response to stigmatics (the men and women who bore the wounds of Christ) and studies the ways and means via which these became mediatized, symbolic, figures and ‘living saints’. The focus is on the five countries where, as preliminary research indicated, most stigmatics were reported in the nineteenth and twentieth century: Belgium, France, Spain, Germany and Italy.
The project is carried out by three team members: Leonardo Rossi (PhD student) studies the Italian stigmatics; Andrea Graus (post-doc) examines the stigmatics in France and Spain and Tine Van Osselaer (PI) focuses on Belgium and Germany. The research of the PhDstudent started with a delay (on the 1st of September) as the Turkish candidate who was originally selected, did not manage to have his Master’s diploma (Divinity, Miami International Seminary) approved by the administration of the University of Antwerp and could thus not start as a doctoral student.(The Turkish government did not legalize his diploma.) The vacancy had to be opened a second time, this time there was no problem with the legalization of the diploma (History, University of Florence) and its approval by the University. The team has regular meetings and keeps in touch via Skype during the research stays abroad. The team has its own website: where information on our project, publications, presentations, upcoming events and a blog can be found.
As outlined in the research proposal, our first task was to track down the stigmatics who were reported in the five countries during centuries under discussion. We created a database with all the stigmatics we found and added biographical information to their files. The database is constructed by a third party: Zeticon (the company was selected in collaboration with the Purchasing office of the University, after an open procedure during which three companies were invited to send in an offer). We are using the Mediahaven-software that Zeticon reconfigured to fit our needs. As the selection procedure took up some months and the development of the databank is a gradual process, the team initially shared information via Dropbox until the database became available. We shared two types of documents: one was the file on the stigmatic, and the other a general list with all the names, data and countries. This way, it was easy for the team members to keep an overview of the names that had been tracked down and each could add to the file of a stigmatic. Zeticon was granted the commission in September 2015 and developed the software in dialogue with the team (meetings on 1/10, 22/10, 6/11 and 8/12/2015). As soon as the first versions of the database-software were available we added the information we had already compiled to the database. (The development of the database is currently in its final phase, the database has already been migrated to the University Server.) After the end of the project the database will be made publicly accessible.
This first, communal, phase of the project confirmed that the nineteenth and early twentieth century were indeed a ‘golden age’ for stigmatics in these five countries. The number of stigmatics was however, much higher than we expected: our overview currently counts 228 stigmatics (in comparison: Imbert-Gourbeyre counted 321 stigmatics throughout all the centuries all over the world). This is most probably not the final number as smaller, local and short-lived cases appear on the radar when we are working on other cases. Moreover, for the Italian case, 42 extra names have already been traced via general lists but as it is hard to find proof of their stigmata in the sources and they might be excluded in a second phase. If we compare the countries, Italy stands out (95): it has the double and even triple amount of numbers that other countries have (Belgium: 20; Germany: 37; France: 51 and Spain: 25). The names and biographical information on these stigmatics were traced via published sources, literature, archival documents and local informants. The database files include a small biography of the stigmatic, and information such as the location of birth, death, year and type of stigmata, other mystical phenomena, and can be easily accessed through a set of keywords. At this point, 162 biographies have already been completed (see the description of the subprojects, pp.7-8). Given the unexpectedly high number of Italian stigmatics and the workload each of the cases entails, only 75 biographies will be written; for the other Italian cases only the names and the data that can easily be traced will be entered into the database.
The database will include also information on the sources (books, songs images and so on) and “response” to the stigmatic as e.g. police intervention or ecclesiastical examinations (also referred to in the biographies) but also the cults they incited and museums that have been created. Some information has already been entered and will continue to be added throughout the following years. Focusing on different countries allows us to trace chronological and geographical clusters of stigmatics and the transnational interaction between their promoters and devotees. Working in a research team has the great benefit that you get an idea of the impact of stigmatics in other countries than the one you yourself are studying. (E.g. it is not exceptional to come across a file on a French stigmatic in a Belgian archive).

The team organized two meetings. The first one, in March 2016 was an expert meeting for which we invited two eminent scholars in the field of the history and anthropology of religion, mysticism and popular devotion: Gábor Klaniczay (Collegium Budapest) and William Christian Jr. (Las Palmas). The goal of this expert meeting was to receive feedback on the project as a whole, and on the individual sub-projects. At this meeting we also discussed the first drafts of: an article by Van Osselaer, one by Graus and the preliminary outline of the presentation for the June-workshop (see below) by Rossi. In addition, we discussed the preliminary table of contents for the monography that Graus and Van Osselaer will write together. The second meeting was a workshop held in June 2016 (in Antwerp) called “On commotions and commodities. Catholic celebrities in 19th- and 20th-century Europe”. Most participants were historians (Alana Harris, Sophia Deboick, Alexander Maurits, Suzanne Kaufman and William Christian), but we also invited one scholar, Katja Rakow, from religious studies department at Utrecht University to introduce us to their take on ‘celebrities’ and religion. Two themes dominated the discussion: the commercialization and promotion of religious ‘celebrities’ and their use as symbolic figures and the commotion they could stir. We contacted the Journal of Religious History and its editors are interested in turning the workshop into a themed issue (if sufficient articles make it through the peer review after 1 December 2016).
At this and other occasions, the team members have given 10 presentations on their research and written 5 articles on it. Four articles have already been accepted and will be open access and included in the repository of the University of Antwerp. For the article of Andrea Graus in Cultural and Social History it needs to be mentioned that even though the article can already be downloaded via a link on the website of the journal, it can only be included in the repository after its official publication, i.e. when the volume and issue number are known.
The articles study stigmatics in general but also focus on specific cases and their comparison. Particular attention has gone to the media through which the stigmatics were promoted (photographs, poems and visit accounts). The following paragraphs give a short overview of the subprojects and the way the articles fit in:
Andrea Graus, post-doctoral researcher at STIGMATICS, follows the general bottom-up methodological approach of the project. She is charged with the study of the Spanish and French context. Her main goal is to examine the popular perception of stigmatics as “living saints,” and the ways in which people turned them into symbolic figures of politico-religious causes. To study such issues, she has been collecting archival material in diocesan, national and personal archives in a dozen different places in France and Spain. The principal objective has so far unfolded into three levels of analysis.

1) “Visiting stigmatics” or the social interaction between stigmatics and laypeople.
In this level of analysis, Andrea Graus has been mainly concerned with examining the type of relationships established between stigmatics and their visitors/devotees. She has studied how people turned stigmatics into living saints and used different means to spread their cult: from the media to oral culture. She has argued that achieving “living saint” status is equivalent of obtaining celebrity status; hence, she has incorporated the recent field of celebrity studies into her analysis.
Presentation: “Stigmata and celebrity in at the turn of the twentieth century in France and Spain”, Joint conference ESHHS-CHEIRON, Barcelona 27 June-1 July 2016
Articles: “A visit to remember. Stigmata and celebrity at the turn of the twentieth century”, Cultural and social history, Early online view October 2016.

2) “The politics of the supernatural” or the ways in which stigmatics were transformed into politico-religious symbols at times of national crisis.
Here Andrea Graus has argued that the manifestation of the supernatural—in this case: stigmata—is, namely, an ideological manifestation. The different interpretation and uses of the supernatural reveal different political agendas. Her analysis has been mainly concerned with the ways in which stigmatized religious women achieved political power, and the role played by their charisma in this process.
“Wonder nuns. Sor Patrocinio, the politics of the supernatural and religious cartoons”, On commotion and commodities. Catholic celebrities in 19th- and 20th- Century Europe, Antwerp 22 June 2016.
“Entre santos y celebridades. La devoción de los estigmatizados en Europa, 1800-1950,” Seminario de Epistemología Histórica, CCHS-CSIC, Madrid 19 September 2016.
Articles: “Wonder nuns. Sor Patrocinio, the politics of the supernatural and republican caricature”, Journal of Religious History (submission by 1 December 2016)

3) “Mysticism in the courtroom” or the discourses and ideologies that sustained lawsuits against stigmatics.
Following her political analysis of stigmata, Andrea Graus will examine the reasons why some stigmatics were called into court, and the discourses (medical, political, popular) for and against them. She will take into account the charges set against them, and look into how the “stigmatics’ trial” fit into the general history of judging miracles.
Andrea Graus has also been working in the Database of the STIGMATICS project. She has to complete 76 stigmatics files for Spain and France. So far, she has finished almost all the short biographies and has completed several other aspects of the Database for each stigmatic (photos, general information…).
Andrea Graus also contributed to the article on stigmatic women and catholic ideals of motherhood (see below).

Leonardo Rossi, is the doctoral student of the project and studies the Vatican response to the Italian stigmatics (its disinterest, promotion of cults or damnatio memoriae). To understand the Church’s position he places the Italian cases against the backdrop of the Italian political context (e.g. unification process). He studies the official files of the beatification and canonization processes but retraces also the previous steps: the creation of the fama sanctitatis and the investigations that were carried out (medical, clerical, inquisitorial). Both the ‘bottom-up’ and ‘top-down’ perspective are of central importance and thus Rossi examines the relationship between local communities and stigmatic (letters, chronicles on their Friday passion, ex votos), between the mystic and the diocesan clergy (parish and episcopal archives) and the high ecclesiastical offices (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Congregation for the Causes of Saints, privileged relationship with the cardinal-bishops-popes).
Of the hundred cases that were traced, the majority (75-80) will be analyzed in detail by creating special biographies to be included in the collective database (more than twenty have already written and the material for the others has been collected.) As it is impossible to study them all, the final dissertation will focus on six cases (two per fifty years timespan, each chronological section will include one stigmatic that was approved by the Church and the other controversial or condemned). Leonardo Rossi has presented his research on two occasions:
Leonardo Rossi, “Between saints and celebrities. The devotion and promotion of stigmatics in Europe, c.1800-1950“, Colloque BABEL des doctorants, Liège, Belgium, 15 April 2016.
Leonardo Rossi, “The debate about stigmata on the pages of «La Civiltà Cattolica», ca. 1850-1950,” On commotions and commodities. Catholic celebrities in 19th- and 20th- century Europe, Antwerp, Belgium, 22 June 2016. (On the Jesuit journal that was the semi-official voice of the Vatican)
Leonardo Rossi, “The debate about stigmata on the pages of «La Civiltà Cattolica», ca. 1850-1950,” Journal of Religious History (submission by 1 December 2016).
Leonardo Rossi also contributed to the article on stigmatic women and catholic ideals of motherhood (see below).

Tine Van Osselaer, is the principal investigator of the STIGMATICS project. She studies the stigmatics in Belgium and Germany and primarily focuses on the transnational appeal of stigmatics, the (international) promotion of their cult, their commodification and the means that were adopted for these ends.
1. She has produced two, more general, introductions on stigmatics and their catholic context. Van Osselaer thereby placed the stigmatics, who were mostly women, within the gender ideology of their times and emphasized the importance of the historical context in our evaluation of them. (The two other team members also contributed to the second article.)
Tine Van Osselaer, “Virgin mothers and alteri Christi: stigmatic women and the cult of motherhood in Europe,” La Sainte Famille. Sexualité, filiation et parentalité dans l’Église catholique, Rome, Italy, 20 May 2016.
Tine Van Osselaer, “Stigmatic women in modern Europe. An exploratory note on gender, corporeality and Catholic culture,” in M. Mazoyer, ed., Femmes chrétiennes (forthcoming).
Tine Van Osselaer, Leonardo Rossi and Andrea Graus, “Virgin mothers and alteri Christi: stigmatic women and the cult of motherhood in Europe,” in: Cecile Vanderpelen-Diagre and Caroline Sägesser, La Sainte Famille. Sexualité, filiation et parentalité dans l’Église catholique (submitted).

2. Tine Van Osselaer has studied the means that the supporters of the stigmatics had at their disposal to promote the cult of the stigmatics. She has worked on the reports on the visits to the stigmatics that were published during their lifetime and indicated how these fit in with Catholic ideas on ‘productive’ pain (e.g. compassion). Apart from textual promotional material, Van Osselaer has also studied the role of the photographs and the attempts of the clerical authorities to control this new medium. She indicated how the visual construction of a ‘living saint’ were influenced by images that were produced within the medical setting.
Tine Van Osselaer, “Pain, passion and compassion. Writin
"By examining the ways in which the stigmatics were constructed and appropriated as cult figures, we are able to study how promotional campaigns, commercialization, instrumentalization and devotion could interact and influence 'official' religion. Vice versa, we are able to trace the impact of this official sanctioning on the grassroots cults. The project will thus contribute to religious history and balance the research that has primarily addressed these issues from a top-down perspective and help to understand the impact of lay initiatives on Catholic devotional culture. Moreover, by explicitly addressing religious media produced in the context of grassroots devotions, the research contributes to a better understanding of 'religion as practiced' and the production, consumption and regulation of its media. Consequently, it also fits into the scholarship on media and religion, ""an emerging field"" (Stout, 2012). The project will not only contribute to our understanding of popular religious culture in the modern era but also offer interesting perspectives for other disciplines such as consumer research where ideas on the 'sacralization' of celebrities have grown more popular in the last years. By addressing the stigmatics as cult figures, we might argue that such sacralizations are not new and that cultic celebrity following has its roots in religion like so much of society's behavioral learning, phenomena and movements. Finally, as modern stigmatics were primarily women, the project will help to write women back into religious history, and give them back the voice and authority that their contemporaries gave to them."