Marpingen Visions

David Blackbourn. The Marpingen Visions: Rationalism, Religion and the Rise of Modern Germany. Fontana Press, 1995.

An extremely impressive and detailed study of a Marian vision in mid nineteenth century Germany, setting the visionaries in their historical and cultural context. Blackburn makes many important points, such as the visionaries being recruited from the ranks of the poor, distressed, victims of abuse or unsettled households, etc, who are likely to see the Virgin Mary as a surrogate mother.

The Marpingen visionaries gave equivocal confessions (shades of the Fox sisters), and their narratives grew with new - and to the Church authorities, unwelcome - beliefs being added, and the Virgin being integrated into their games, The similarity with other child and teenage visionaries and paranormal experients are obvious. There were even 'waves' of BVM reports, as various imitators appeared on the scene, both in Marpingen and in other areas, mixing the approved cultural traditions with their own imaginations.

These events took place at the height of the Bismarkian Reich's kulturkampf against the Catholic Church, a struggle supported by many liberals as part of the war against peasant backwardness and superstition, Polemicists such as Rudolph Virchow used arguments very similar to those used today by groups like CSICOP, This assault forced many otherwise sceptical Catholics to "support their team".

Marian Visions are now beginning to follow witchcraft into the nimbus of academic respectability - how long before today's visions and beliefs follow? Only when the subjects covered by this magazine are made the subject of studies of this quality will we begin to make some progress. Highly recommended. -- Peter Rogerson, from Magonia 57, September 1995

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