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Blackbourn shifts his analysis to the transformation taking place in German villages, blending the larger trends across region with details specific to Marpingen. He describes the changes in village demographics and the significance of industrialization, modernization, emigration, capitalism and the centralization of state power to prove that Marpingen was a “community fundamentally transformed in the nineteenth century.” Social hierarchies were disrupted, collective land use was restricted and popular religion was standardized, marginalized or politicized. The Kulturkampf institutionalized the struggle between the Catholic Church and the state, while a religious revival among Catholic increasingly emphasized Marian devotion. Blackbourn argues that Marpingen was especially vulnerable to these social, political and economic forces as it was located on the boarder, had been “caught up in a dizzy reel of territorial exchanges and treaties” had rapidly become a mining community in the wake of the Industrial Revolution, and had recently welcomed a new priest, Jakob Neurenther, himself a devotee to Mary and indicative of a “large-scale religious revival.”
Blackbourn then steps back from Marpingen to examine the larger forces at play in greater detail. He explains the scope and impact of the depression of 1873, the implications of the German unification and the tensions between agriculture and industry, between the Catholic Church and the state, between liberals and the state and between liberals and the Catholic Church. He provides tables showing migration statistics and the convictions of priests who were caught performing mass illegally. Seeming almost perfunctory, this section of the book is less impressive then his more personal analysis of the visionaries and their community, and Sperber gives a much deeper analysis of this subject that will be discussed later in this paper.
The “red thread”of modernity and the problematic interactions between the forces of change and the proponents of tradition acquire new depth and complexity in Blackbourn’s analysis of the apparitions at Marpingen. The failure of the Catholic Church to subdue or absorb popular religious movements and the inability of the Prussian state to repress and punish such movements demonstrate the diverse and contradictory currents of modernity and popular sentiment in Marpingen during the 1870s, but also speak to the underpinnings of Marian devotion in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Visions of the Virgin Mary have continued in Germany, between the two World Wars, during the 1930s and the Cold War, supporting Blackbourn’s argument that apparitions occur during “times of political and social stress” , yet his caution that these material trends do not suffice when analyzing Marian apparitions is significant because the personal lives and experiences of the visionaries themselves, and the communities in which they live, are crucial pieces of the story.
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