Chris Maunder. Our Lady of the Nations: Apparitions of Mary in Twentieth entury Catholic Europe. Oxford University Press, 2016.

This book traces the development of Marian apparitions across Europe from Fatima to the end of the Cold War. Its concern is less the phenomenal experience of the apparitions but their historical and cultural context. The apparitions appear in times of rapid cultural, political and social change and can perhaps be seen as responses to and rejections of modernity.

The apparitions at Fatima for example occured not only in the context of the Great War, but also in the chaotic nature of Portuguese politics of the era, and were re-envisaged in the 1930s and 1940s to suit the politics of the time. The Belgium apparitions at Beauring and Banneux in the 1930s reflect the traumas inflicted on Belgium by the German occupation of 1914-18 and fears, which turned out to be justified, of a resurgent Germany. Those at Garabandal occurred at a time in which Spain was beginning to modernise (and at the beginning of the period in which the tourist industry will lay it open to mass European cultural influences. Those at Medjugorje (in Bosnia and not as sometimes reported, in Croatia) presage the vast ethno-religious conflict that would erupt there; and the moving statues in Ireland occurred at the point in which the Catholic Church’s hold over the country was beginning to weaken.

The majority of the visionaries were women and children (often young girls) who were low down on the social and religious hierarchy. Maunder sees this as a means by which these subaltern groups can gain access to religious status. Needless to say the Catholic Church judges the apparitions as to how far they stick to the party line.

That these visions and the movements that they project a traditionalist rather than a liberating message is of some interest. They would appear to be a form of “conservative rebellion” in which the rebels assert that they stay true to the old ways, which the wider community is deserting. Young people often see things in moral absolutes more than their elders, and one can perhaps see parallels with the attraction of forms of conservative Islam with some young people, including a number not of Muslim heritage.

There is an extensive bibliography, though I was disappointed not to see Kevin McClure‘s The evidence for visions of the Virgin Mary included as this was perhaps the first study that was neither devotional nor an anti-clerical attack. -- Peter Rogerson.

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