Tine Van Osselaer: Between Hope and Resignation: the ‘Patient’ in Catholic Devotional Culture, Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries
Tine Van Osselaer is research professor in the history spirituality, devotion and mysticism at the Ruusbroec Institute of the University of Antwerp. Her research focuses on religion and gender, religion and medicine, the history of emotions and, more recently, the mediatisation of religion, celebrity culture and the history of pain. She was the principal investigator of “Between saints and celebrities. The devotion and promotion of stigmatics in Europe, c.1800-1950”, a project sponsored by the European Research Council (Starting Grant) and currently supervises projects on Catholic perceptions of pain in nineteenth-century Austria (FWO/FWF) and on the religious lives of corpses (FWO/SNF).
Between hope and resignation: the ‘patient’ in Catholic devotional culture, 19th and 20th centuries
University of Antwerp, Belgium
The Emmerick Gedenkstätte in the German town Dülmen, a small museum in honor of the beatified Anna Katharina Emmerick (1774-1824), has the crutch of the famous bedridden mystic on display since the late nineteenth century. The stick is not the only one exhibited at a religiously meaningful location. At several pilgrimage sites,the crutches of those who were healed formed a material sign post of the power of the site. In both instances, the crutches are emotionally loaded objects and whilst they evoke patients at both locations, they narrate quite different Catholic stories of illness and injury. The crutch in Emmerick’s case fits a narrative of resignation to God’s will and heroic suffering, the crutches at the pilgrimage sites tell a story of hope and trust in divine intervention. One is a symbol of the idealization of patiently suffering through illness and injury, the other of the triumphant victory obtained with the help of divine beings.
What both have in common however is that they give us an insight into how devotional culture has integrated the stories and objects of the sick and suffering. Catholics presented themselves as ‘patients’ or were presented as such for various reasons. This presentation looks into these different contexts, explores the ways in which this (self-) styling happened, and what this tells us about the Catholic patient of the nineteenth and twentieth century and his/her relationship with medicine. By exploring both story lines (of hope and of resignation), we will see that references to medical expertise were not only ways to strengthen the credibility of a miraculous cure (the ‘medicalization of the miracle’, as others have shown), but could also become part of the hagiographic and the self-reflective accounts that idealized the Catholic patient and his/her trust in God and medicine.