CESNUR - Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni diretto da Massimo Introvigne

WONDE(R). The fascination with the suffering body

An exhibition in Leuven


“I have seen the stigmatized wounds and the ecstasy and (…)
I was deeply moved by the suffering condition of Rosalie Put and found religious edification there.”
Theodor N. (May 1905)

Why would you go look at the suffering body of a young woman? Pain scares people away. You do not voluntarily approach it to stare at it from close by. And yet this is exactly what thousands of people did across Europe in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. They stood in line to see the twisted bodies of ecstatic ‘stigmatics’, the women who carried the wounds of Christ. The bloody scenes and the emphasis on the healing character of suffering remind us at first glance a remnant of medieval devotional culture. You would not think they belonged to an era when physicians gradually banned pain to the taboo sphere.
Surprisingly, this period is the golden age of the stigmatics (c. 1800-1950). The exhibit invites you to understand their popularity. Wonde(r) shows the varying and often intense reactions to the phenomenon, of the press and the Catholic Church, but also of their neighbours and physicians. We also hear the voices of more than two hundreds stigmatics. We tell their story via sources of national and international collections that now, for the first time, have been brought together to shed light on the wonder of their wounds.
The purpose of the exhibition – enabled by the support of KADOC KU Leuven, UCSIA, E. Peterson Centre for Religious Studies (University of Turin), Ruusbroec Institute (University of Antwerp), and benefited from the high patronage of the Pontifical Council for Culture – is to reflect on the material culture, iconographic sources and devotional practices developed around the cult of contemporary stigmatics.
With more than 250 objects including unpublished and hardly studied sources from different European countries and the collaboration of a plurality of museums and archives (including that of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) we intend to show the methodological benefits that researches conducted on material evidence can be made to the study of ‘lived religion’ and religious studies tout court. Through a thematic path, we guide visitors to discover the world of alter Chisti, made up of suffering, medical and ecclesiastical investigations, media celebrity, veneration and suspicion. Be fascinated by the suffering bodies of the stigmatics.

Tine Van Osselaer, Leonardo Rossi, Kristof Smeyers, Merlijn Gabel
Kadoc KU Leuven, 5 settembre – 31 ottobre
3000 Leuven – Vlamingenstraat 39