Consuming Visions: Mass Culture and the Lourdes Shrine.
Cornell University Press, 2005.
Suzanne K. Kaufman

A 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 culture.

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 "peasant shrine" was made known to millions by a world-famous film--The Song of Bernadette.

This 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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