The Contours of Lay Religious Practice in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Chalma, Mexico

Friday, January 7, 2011: 2:50 PM
Fairfield Room (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
Leah Wotherspoon , Centre for the Study of Religion, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
In this paper, Wotherspoon contends that at the peripheries of the early modern Catholic world existed spaces for negotiating the boundaries between lay and official discourses about appropriate human interaction with the divine.  Through an examination of  approaches to religion taken by laypeople at the popular pilgrimage place Chalma, in 17th and 18th century New Spain, this study demonstrates that the contours of Catholic religiosity at this time were populated with people seeking personal experiences of the Divine that blurred the boundaries between Orthopraxy and Heteropraxy. Among these laypeople were the ermitaños, lay hermits, whose ascetic and mystical lives in the mountainous caves at Chalma occupied the spaces between sacred and profane, and distorted the divide between clergy and laypeople.  While these people were not members of approved religious orders, they practiced asceticism, occasionally communicated with souls in purgatory, participated in the sacraments, and developed intimate relationships with the saints. The hermetic and mystical practices of laypeople were both maligned as heretical and celebrated as valid and exemplary by the clergy, and as such represented valuable options in negotiating the religious repertoire of Early Modern Catholics in New Spain.
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