Material Transformations: The Wieskirche's Culture of Devotional Objects
University of Missouri, Columbia, MO, USA
This paper explores the concept of Christian materiality, to borrow a term from Caroline Walker Bynum, as it pertains to the complex of artworks and spaces produced to foster devotion to a statue of the flagellated Christ near the south Bavarian town of Steingaden. The church built to house this statue has become one of the eighteenth-century's best-known religious edifices, the Wieskirche, designed by the Zimmermann brothers and erected between 1745 and 1754. Its rococo interior has long been acknowledged a high point of the century's ecclesiastical design. Less well known is the proliferation of images and objects made to complement the experience of worshipping there, and particularly understudied are the various relics, mementos, and portable devotional objects produced in the 1750s and 60s, when pilgrimages to Wies were at their apex. These objects range from what might be called "typical" devotional mementos such as small charms and crucifixes to more unusual products, which include illusionistically painted wooden fruit that open to reveal pictures of the Flagellated Christ, or wooden wine bottles that open to reveal images of Jesus and the Virgin Mary. My argument is that the creativity expended on such objects was not merely devotional or economic, but also material in the sense that the objects and the church worked together to create a sense of human spiritual transformation through material transformation. Both architecture and objects put into tension the antipodes of artificial and natural as they related to the divine, and I shall further assert that rococo forms visualized these tensions ideally. In sum, this paper proposes materiality as a key concept for linking the often divided realms of architecture and material culture.