Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Consuming Visions: Mass Culture and the Lourdes Shrine

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Consuming Visions: Mass Culture and the Lourdes Shrine

Article excerpt

Consuming Visions: Mass Culture and the Lourdes Shrine. By Suzanne K. Kaufman. (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press. 2005. Pp. viii, 255. $34.95.)

Suzanne Kaufman's Consuming Visions challenges two ways of looking at the history of France and French Catholicism: The first maintains that there were "two Frances," one Catholic and antlmodern, the other Republican, anti-clerical and in tune with the modern world of science and commerce. The second contends that French Catholicism became "feminized" in the nineteenth century, and, as a consequence, "privatized," its practices and rituals removed from the public sphere. When historians of Lourdes complicate these dichotomies, they assert that the promoters of the shrine used the instruments of modernity-the railroads, the press, and "medical proofs"-to bolster an essentially reactionary political agenda and devotional practice.

Kaufman presents a brilliant, well-researched, clearly written argument that the development and practices of the Lourdes shrine are modern. Medieval pilgrimages, of course, had their share of buying, selling, and profit-mongering. But Lourdes had more: a proliferation of standardized commodities, modern transportation, and urban renewal, a panoply of developments that made Lourdes not only a tourist site, but a crucial regional economic asset. The shrine, Kaufman also contends, introduced the largely rural female influx to the modern wonders of consumption and spectacle. Lourdes was a spectacle both by design and because of the controversies it evoked. Organizers (the religious and lay orders) standardized the rituals surrounding the sick who came to the shrine hoping for a miraculous recovery: the stretchers at the train; the baths; the Procession of the Blessed Sacrament, during which the multitudes chanted for a cure; and the crowds around the Bureau of Medical Verification awaiting the declaration that a miracle had been scientifically validated. …

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