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  • Katholische Aufklärung, Volksfrömmigkeit und "Religionspolicey": Das rheinische Wallfahrtswesen von 1816 bis 1826 und die Entstehungsgeschichte des Wallfahrtsverbots von 1826. Ein Beitrag zur aufklärerischen Volksfrömmigkeitsreform
  • Eric Yonke
Katholische Aufklärung, Volksfrömmigkeit und "Religionspolicey": Das rheinische Wallfahrtswesen von 1816 bis 1826 und die Entstehungsgeschichte des Wallfahrtsverbots von 1826. Ein Beitrag zur aufklärerischen Volksfrömmigkeitsreform. By Volker Speth. [Europäische Wallfahrtsstudien, Band 5.] (New York: Peter Lang. 2008. Pp. xii, 555. $124.95 paperback. ISBN 978-3-631-58009-7.)

This volume studies a pivotal moment in the social history of modern German Catholicism, when church and state officials joined efforts to bring order and reason to popular religion. But history did not pivot as the reformers intended. Volker Speth's book details the ten years of administrative machinations leading up to the official 1826 ban on pilgrimages in the Prussian Rhine Province, an event that set the stage for a massive religious revival. Speth focuses on the Rhineland pilgrimages as the clearest indicator of a growing social and cultural confrontation among popular religious identity, statist social discipline, and local communal autonomy.

Prussia was just beginning to assert authority over the Rhine Province, part of the post-Napoleonic conservative Restoration, and Rhenish Catholics viewed Prussian rule as foreign. In truth, Prussia had reason to question the loyalty and political stability of the new province. Public assemblies such as pilgrimages, involving the orchestrated movement of large or small groups of people through villages and towns en route to a mass gathering, were a security concern. Some of the popular pilgrim destinations such as Kevelaer and Neuss involved sizable numbers of people crossing district territorial borders.

Pilgrimages were a unique problem for the contemporary Catholic hierarchy as well. From the perspective of church leaders whose careers advanced during the Enlightenment, Revolutionary, and Napoleonic periods, pilgrimages were part of an outdated folk culture. The destinations were deemed [End Page 830] sacred through long-established folk tradition. Whereas the participants saw pilgrimages as an act of piety—and an excellent opportunity to get away from home for a brief time—officials reported instances of public drunkenness and carousing as well as pointing up the moral dangers for young women and men trekking across the countryside and sleeping in barns or the open air. For churchmen advancing a more enlightened faith, these pilgrimages were a cultural accretion at best.

In the interest of compromise, church and state officials first hammered out schemes for regulating pilgrimages. As Speth shows, however, these attempts only led to frustration as local communities, district administrators, and diocesan clerics could not agree on the pilgrimages to permit or the rules to enforce. Ultimately, the authoritarian state's interest in controlling public assemblies was more pressing than church efforts at convincing peasants to abandon their pre-modern rituals. The study thus culminates with the pilgrimage Verbot in 1826 by Baron Ferdinand August Spiegel, archbishop of Cologne. At first glance, it was an overwhelming victory for modern reformers. But, as Speth argues, the 1826 ban was only a temporary victory for the state administration and a failure for the Enlightened religious reform movement. As an expression of popular piety and local identity, the pilgrimage remained important in the small towns and farming communities. The official ban only deepened the chasm between Catholic Rhinelanders and the Prussian government.

What makes this volume particularly important is its exhaustive research on church and state practices as well as its detailed social analysis of the pilgrims. Speth thoroughly covers the historiography of early-nineteenth-century German Catholicism, and his work deepens our understanding of the face-off between popular religion and the Prussian state. Officials interpreted Volk pilgrimages as an expression of an unruly and superstitious culture. Speth's research provides the detailed and nuanced analysis of precisely how the bureaucracies attempted to hem in popular Catholicism.

Eric Yonke
University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point


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