Visions: Mass Culture and the Lourdes Shrine.
University Press, 2005.
Suzanne K. Kaufman
frequent reaction from a sensitive visitor to the Marian shrine of
Lourdes in southwest France is a certain surprise, bordering on
repugnance, at the commercialism present, not in the sanctuary of
Lourdes, but in the surrounding environs. It is this connection between
the message of Lourdes and the apparently commercial way in which it is
promoted which is studied in this work.
Lourdes occurred at a period in history of great transformation. Those
who wished to make Lourdes known used all the advances available--railroads with
special cars to accommodate the sick and invalids, popular guide books,
religious newspapers, mass-produced picture postcards and religious art
which served as both souvenirs and advertisements, urban planning to
provide accommodations for great pilgrimages. In a way, it is a study of
how the Catholic believer has interacted with the material world in
promoting the religious message.
Modernization brought many new ways of making the Lourdes message
known. Lourdes--with its great national pilgrimages--revived the
Catholic concept of pilgrimage in the nineteenth century, making it available
to the emerging mass culture of urban France. Pilgrimage to Lourdes
strengthened Catholic devotion, but its
Amore-enduring impact would be to enable rural pilgrims, most of them women,
to find an important entrance into the world of mass society and consumer
This book points out many of the delicious ironies associated with Lourdes.
Lourdes, considered by the anti-clericals of France's
Third Republic as a remnant of past medievalism, employed superbly all the
advances of the consumer culture. Lourdes, a representative of traditional
devotion, becomes an area for engaging women--Parisian ladies
who cared for the sick on the pilgrimage trains (so well described by Ruth
Harris), correspondents who sent from Lourdes post cards far and wide,
participants in the processions, others who gave public testimony of favors
received at Lourdes. Those in the medical profession, who were suspicious of
the reports of cures at Lourdes, could become members of a medical board
examining such cures. In 1903, the anticlerical Combes governments wished to
close Lourdes, but was prevented doing so by the economic distress which
would be inflicted on the area. The ultimate irony is that this simple
was made known to millions by a world-famous film--The Song of Bernadette.
outstanding book deals with pilgrimage and devotion, but also with
political, economic and consumerist history. The research is most
impressive--from archival, periodical, and historiographical
literature--even excerpts from nineteenth-century postcards sent from Lourdes.
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