chapter  III
5 Pages

III.19 Devotional objects


Early modern preachers were well aware of the power of material culture to arouse the emotions of their audiences. Two Jesuit missionaries delivering a sermon to the people of Rothenberg in the Upper Palatinate – a community whose allegiance to the true Catholic faith was in doubt – made confident use of their props. While one brandished a large crucifix before the congregation, the other, who wore a noose around his neck and held a skull in his hand, prostrated himself before the crucifix, asking his listeners if they wanted ‘to wound again such a loving God’. The performance was irresistible and the villagers shouted back in unison ‘No!’ According to the Jesuit account, the people ‘began to sigh and wail so loudly and furiously that the patres had to stop speaking’.1 The power of objects to arouse sympathy, sorrow, pain and compassion was likewise regularly attested during processions. When a confraternity carried a life-size crucifix through the streets of Seville during the plague year of 1570, accounts celebrated the fact that ‘there was not man nor woman old or young who did not weep and cry out for mercy’.2 On the other hand, statues of saints or reliquaries that had long been revered aroused new feelings of anger and revulsion among certain brands of Protestant. Depending on which side of the theological divide one stood, the breaking up of holy remains, church furnishings or representations of the saints could provoke euphoria or grief.3 We can therefore see the key role that devotional objects played in the creation and maintenance of ‘emotional communities’.4