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Divine Presence in Spain and Western Europe 1500–1960

Visions, Religious Images and Photographs

By William A. Christian, Jr.

Publication Year: 2012

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.

Published by: Central European University Press

Series: The Natalie Zemon Davis Annual Lecture Ser

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-v

Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

List of Figures

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pp. ix-xvii

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pp. 1-4

In 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...

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Chapter 1. Toribia del Val and the Mysterious Wayfarer of Casas de Benítez

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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...

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Chapter 2. Images as Beings: Blood, Sweat, and Tears1

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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...

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Chapter 3. Presence, Absence and the Supernatural in Postcard and Family Photographs, Europe 1895–19201

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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. ...

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Visions depicted [with Images]

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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). ...

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Connecting with the Absent and the Supernaturals [with Images]

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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 ...

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Supernaturals and the Absent in World War I postcards [with Images]

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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...

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Absence in family photographs around World War I [with Images]

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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. ...

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Summing up

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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...


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pp. 235-265


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pp. 267-286


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pp. 287-310

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9786155053382
Print-ISBN-13: 9786155053375

Page Count: 330
Illustrations: 174 B&W illustrations
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: The Natalie Zemon Davis Annual Lecture Ser