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Making Sense out of Individual Crisis: Votive Offerings and Narratives

Panel Chair: Antón Alvar Nuño | Friday, August 28, 3:30-5:30 p.m.| Venue

This panel will focus on the importance of social and institutional mediation in the transfer of individual experience (i.e. a concrete personal event that needs an account) to a collective narrative that is shared and fixed through pre-established cultural codes. The study case for this panel will be the use of votive offerings in the Mediterranean Basin from the graeco-roman period to modern times. Institutional behaviour guarantees coherence when individuals have to cope with the infinite variety of personal daily events. Individual experience that may seem extraordinary, unexpected or unusual can be translated and classified into collectively shared narratives. Social pressure plays a determinant rôle in the negotiation of such narratives that make sense out of individual experience, especially in crisis situations, and stimulates the personal choice of institutionalised dispositives such as votive offerings. In order to encourage comparative methodology, the participants will present as study cases: 1- a new analysis of the so-called orphic tablets; 2- the change of collective patterns of behaviour regarding votive offerings in the Sanctuary of Athena in Roman Athens; 3- and fresh ethnographic evidence with regard to votive offerings in the modern sanctuary of Saint Matthew in Gargano (Apulia, Italy).

Paolo Scarpi

From the expectation of beatitude to the research of immortality: Reflections on the so-called “Orphic Tablets”

A limited number of thin, gold-leaf tablets from Ancient Greek tombs of Crete and Thessaly, have long been ascribed to the Orphic tradition – they are the so-called Orphic gold leaves or Orphic gold tablets. These documents have a funerary character and come from all areas on the fringes of the Greek world, almost defining its borders. The tablets are engraved with formulas – sometimes instructions – guiding the deceased on the journey to the underworld. The texts are not consistent with each other in that, in some groups we report the expectation for a destiny of beatitude in the afterlife; in others the overcoming of death through the "rebirth"; yet in others, the promise of deification or the deification itself.

Elena Muñiz Grijalvo

Votive Offerings as a Way to Approach Religious Change

Basing on the central idea of the panel –that personal experience is socially mediated, both when being experienced and when put into words-, this paper will focus on votives in ancient Greece. To make sense out of personal experience, one needs to assume that it partly deals with common human feelings, but also partly with the general framework of meaning in which that personal experience was embedded. My aim will be to study Greek votives from a historical perspective, in an attempt to show how changes in votives (in their frequency, in the type of gods who received them etc.) may be related to changes in the more general religious framework. Within the panel, this study will try to provide a case study against the all too frequent definition of religious feelings as universal.

Chiara Cremonesi

Crisis, Narratives and Sacred Spaces. The Votive Tablets of Saint Matthew’s Sanctuary (Gargano, Apulia) as a Case Study

During the twentieth century the reflection on the sacred and on sacred space has been in many ways a reflection on: being human; what it took in certain historical moments to make some places denser than others, making those places capable of tying lives back together; proposing new beginnings or on the contrary destroying them; on questioning and challenging relational systems. The sanctuaries of Gargano constitute an extraordinary example of sacred network as the possible horizon for building relational systems producing individual and collective identities. Here, we focus especially on Saint Matthew’s sanctuary and its collection of votive tablets (19th-20th) as a case study from an historical-religious perspective. Indeed, they provide exceptional glimpses into the lives of individuals and communities, showing the role of religious dispositive tempering the impact force of the crisis that the individual periodically experiences, as an entity taking decisions and making choices.

Laura Carnevale

Pilgrims, sanctuaries, objects: the case-study of the St. Matthew’s sanctuary

A sanctuary is a sacred place where the memory of a persistent past is celebrated, often linked with specific objects of veneration, such as relics. This memory, as an identity feature of the sanctuary, is preserved, narrated, sometimes re-shaped – in a word, mediated – by the pilgrims. Travelling to/from a single sanctuary, in fact, pilgrims carry not only a “material” luggage but also an “ideal” one: they mediate cultural, historical, social and economical stimuli. A dynamic relationship can be thus established between pilgrims’ itineraries (territory), narratives (hagiographical legends, accounts of pilgrimage), sacred objects and the history of the sanctuaries. Many of the above-mentioned patterns are recognizable in the case-study of St. Matthew sanctuary in Gargano (Apulia), a former Benedictine abbey located on the Southern branch of the via Francigena leading to the famous St. Michael’s sanctuary where, since the 16th Century, “St. Matthew’s molar tooth” has been worshipped by pilgrims.


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