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  • The Routes of Intransigence:Mexico's 'Spiritual Pilgrimage' of 1874 and the Globalization of Ultramontane Catholicism
  • Brian Stauffer (bio)

In the fall of 1874, in the midst a particularly severe round of Church-state conflict, Mexico's archbishop, Pelagio Antonio Labastida y Dávalos, introduced a novel weapon in the Catholic Church's struggle against liberal anticlericalism. He had sought and obtained a special dispensation from Pope Pius IX for all Mexicans to participate in a "spiritual pilgrimage," a month-long exercise of mental travel, prayer, and contemplation that would figuratively transport the faithful out of Mexico's anticlerical milieu and into the purified air of Jerusalem, Rome, and other Old World holy sites, where they would pray for divine intercession on behalf of the embattled Church. The practice had been inaugurated a year earlier by lay Catholics in Bologna, as a response to the prohibition of mass pilgrimages in the flesh in the former Papal States. Labastida y Dávalos felt that spiritual pilgrimage could be especially effective in Mexico, where the anticlerical government of Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada had embarked on a radical program of secularization. In fact, the recently codified Laws of Reform had likewise prohibited acts of public religiosity in Mexico, attempting thus to suppress the myriad local processions and mass pilgrimages that helped to define Mexican Catholicism.

By adopting the Italian practice of spiritual pilgrimage, the archbishop hoped to rekindle the faith of Mexico's demoralized Catholics and enlist the laity in the spiritual struggle against lerdista anticlericalism.1 The practice [End Page 291] would also strengthen the religious bonds between Mexico and Catholic Europe, since it called on Mexicans to transport themselves mentally to places such as the Grotto of Lourdes in France and the Holy House of Loreto in Italy.2 In effect, the exercise would serve to alter the mental maps that structured Mexicans' religious worlds, adding sacred sites in France, Italy, and Spain to religious imaginations often oriented around local shrines and miraculous images.3 Guided spiritual travel to places such as Lourdes—site of a recent Marian apparition and a symbol of Catholic intransigence in the face of modern rationalism—would furthermore help to propagate the Ultramontane style of Catholicism associated with Pius IX's pontificate.

The exercise would not relegate Mexico's own locally rooted religiosity to the sidelines. Rather, the Papal Brief of 1874 specified that Mexican pilgrims undertaking the virtual journey during the 30-day period should travel first to holy sites in "other nations," then to the "most celebrated sanctuaries of the Mexican republic," and lastly to those sites associated with the life and death of Jesus in the Holy Land.4 That is, Mexican sacred places, including proto-national pilgrimage sites such as the Basilica of Guadalupe and regional and local hubs of devotion such as the shrine of the Virgin of San Juan de los Lagos (Jalisco), were to be placed symbolically in the company of the Basilica of St. Anthony of Padua, the cathedral at Santiago Compostela, and the Hill of Calvary itself. Spiritual pilgrimage would thus prompt Mexican believers to reimagine the place of their nation—and indeed their towns and villages—in a larger network of Catholic holy sites that transcended the Atlantic and united American and European believers in a single spiritual community. Further, it asked them to lend their spiritual energies to the Church's global struggle against liberalism, since Mexican lerdismo, Italian unification, and German Kulturkampf were considered symptoms of a common political malady that demanded a universal religious solution. [End Page 292] As such, the practice provides historians with a unique opportunity to reexamine Catholic globalization in the late nineteenth century. Specifically, an analysis of the spiritual pilgrimage underlines the importance of transnational currents to understanding religious change and Catholic political mobilization in Mexico. Recent scholarship has stressed the plural and local-centric nature of modern Mexican Catholicism—insights that have greatly enhanced our understanding of the cultural lenses ordinary people used to confront the great political transformations of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.5 Yet, fewer advances have been made in connecting local Catholicism to transnational processes and trends, especially in the sphere of religious...


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pp. 291-324
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