Drinking Holy Water: Action and Materiality in the Sacred Histories of the Virgin of Chiquinquirá

Saturday, January 7, 2017: 1:30 PM
Room 201 (Colorado Convention Center)
Karen S. Cousins, University of Toronto
The New Kingdom of Granada (modern-day Colombia and parts of Venezuela) has long been marginalized or ignored by historians of Spanish America. Instead, scholars have focused on the spectacular riches of New Spain and Peru, mining their colonial sources to develop robust historiographies of social and spiritual “conquest.” Recent additions to the literature, however, hint at a burgeoning new interest in the New Kingdom. Little used archives in Colombia contain treasures of their own, not least, Spanish-language documents alluding to religious change and adaptations of Catholic Christianity in this region, especially in the province of Tunja following the reportedly miraculous activation of a Marian image in 1586. Stirred by the apparent signs of God’s favor and sensitive to the decrees of the Council of Trent, several sacred historians in the late sixteenth- and seventeenth-century New Kingdom set out to memorialize reports of prodigious events and growing devotion to Our Lady of the Rosary of Chiquinquirá. In this paper, I consider one of the richest and least-traversed of these memorias: a collection of more than 200 miracle stories penned between 1651 and 1654. Day after day, prior fray Juan de Pereyra interviewed declarants in the pilgrimage church in Chiquinquirá. After placing them under oath, he wrote down their testimonies of marvelous intercession by the Virgin, including healings from smallpox or snakebite, rescues from raging bulls and alligators, deliverance in difficult childbirths, and foiled honor killings. The stories reveal that devotees participated in their miraculous experiences, as divine favors granted were linked to their own actions and often to holy materiality, especially in supplications or promises uttered, and water and earth consumed. This paper examines ways in which fray Pereyra’s sacred history illuminates everyday intersections of the natural and supernatural in the early modern New Kingdom of Granada.
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