Miracle Cultures. Processional Theatre and the Cult of Images as Global Network Phenomena in the Early Modern Era

The early modern festival and show culture connected distant cultural spaces. Sacralizing urban spaces, it included theater and processions with vivid, seemingly alive portraits. With the expansion of the Spanish empire from the 15th century onwards, the Christological idea of incarnation and the bodily veneration of images that came with it reached as far as Latin America and Asia: They are evident in the Mexican allegory plays of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz as well as in the Philippine re-enactments of the crucifixion motif, the theatricalized miracles of Peruvian relics or the performance of mystery plays in Japan. Starting from Hispanic sacred theater, the project examines these ritualized forms for their global implementations of the Christian miracle complex. The project asks specifically how the religious theatrical genres performatively observe and negotiate the practices of viewing and cultural techniques of cultures of the miracle that remain to be defined.

The wide range of material, iconic, kinetic, and linguistic forms of representation that have come to bear on the development of processional theater and the cult of images reveal a notorious desire for the animation and realistic reproduction of the afterlife. An extraordinary variety of perceptual dispositives for the embodiment of the invisible can be seen in the groups of colored wooden sculptures on their processional carriages, the clothed imágenes de vestir (clothed figures of saints), the tableaux vivants of silent and motionless performers, the mute dancers and mimics of the interludes, or the moving, spoken, and sung sacramental play with its flying actors and transforming objects. For the Spanish Siglo de Oro (1550–1700), that which is to be rendered present in vision painting and liturgical drama can be ‘deemed as miracle’ (Belting/Stoichita). Understanding miracles as a form of religion allows for descriptions of “narrative genre” and “social fact” in their respective historical context and contemporary functions. They can thus be understood in their diversity of perception (Auffahrt).

By reappraising the cross-spatial genre history of the Spanish Corpus Christi play (auto sacramental), the project elucidates the global circulation of Hispanic patterns of miracle. In the process, the strategies of representation inherent in miracle cultures, always teetering on the animistic, become an important component of the cultural demarcation of Europe from its colonial heterotopias. The project will examine the reflection of the mechanisms of repression associated with this demarcation in the early modern spiritual play of the Hispanicized world, in particular through the synchronous networking of the practices of performance in Latin American, Southeast Asian, and Spanish sacramental plays.



Fig. above:
Title page sacrament play, Lope de Vega: La Margarita Preciosa. Auto Sacramental (about 1601), manuscript of the National Library of Spain, p. 1 [left]
Corpus Christi Procession Lima, Peru (anonymous, 1674–1680, Parroquia del Hospital de los Naturales), source: Peirano Falconi, Luis/Castro de Trelles, Lucila (eds.) (2008): Teatro y Fe: Los autos sacramentales en el Peru, Lima: Pontífica Universidad Católica del Perú, p. 147 [right]

funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) 2020–2026
Head researcher(s): Johanna Abel