Pierre Cabanne once asked Duchamp, “You have compared the readymade to a sort of rendezvous.” To which Duchamp answered, “Once, yes.” Pierre Cabanne, ed., Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp (London: Thames and Hudson, 1971), 49.
“And one saw then a unique spectacle, incredible for those who did not witness it. From the top of the road, where cars gather and many a hundred people, wary of the muddy land, assemble, one can see an immense crowd turn towards the sun, which shows itself free of clouds at its zenith. The star recalls a silver plate, murky enough for one to gaze at the disc without effort. It does not burn nor blind. One could almost say it were an eclipse. It is then that a colossal howl rises, which those closer spectators hear as—Miracle, miracle! Wonderful, wonderful!
“In the stunned eyes of the people, whose attitude transports us back to Biblical times, pallid with awe, with their heads upwards towards the blue sky, the sun shook, the sun never saw such movements, sudden and beyond all cosmic laws—according to the peasants’ expression, the sun ‘danced’.” Avelino de Almeida, “Em pleno sobrenatural…,” O Século, 13 October 1917, n/a. Translation ours.
The Religious Readymade Event
There is nothing singular about the miracle that made the Virgin Mary appear to three shepherds, aged seven, nine, and ten, in the outskirts of the then small and miserable town of Fátima, north of the Portuguese capital, Lisbon. The model came straight out of Lourdes in southern France. Even the three prophetic, and much mediatized secrets revealed by the Virgin Mary to young Lú cia, the older of the three shepherds, in the Portuguese miracle, parallel Mary’s mode of address to young Bernadette in Lourdes—numerically at least, for in Lourdes’s case their content has never been revealed by the Church.
In 1858 the Virgin Mary appeared inside the grotto of a mountainous cliff in the vicinity of the small rural town of Lourdes. In 1917 the Virgin Mary appeared again, this time in the pastures surrounding Fátima. In both instances the beholder was a young girl, accompanied by other children, close relatives. Lúcia, the girl to whom Mary appeared in Fátima, is ten. Bernadette Soubirous, in Lourdes, is fourteen. In Lourdes, only Bernadette saw and communicated with the Virgin Mary. Of the two younger cousins that accompanied Lúcia, however, one could see but not hear Her, while the other could hear but not see; only the older was able to see and hear the mother of Christ, thus passing on to the locals the dates when Mary would reappear throughout that long summer of 1917. In both instances, the apparitions reoccurred for six months and resulted in miracles, pilgrimage, and economic development.
The Grotto of Lourdes, 1914
Barely had the news of the miracle spread across Portugal, and the comparison with Lourdes was already made, either in defense or against the alleged apparition: “Does the Queen of Angels wish to make of this parish a second Lourdes?! … Ah! We deserve it!” “Real Aparição ou suposta… ilusão,” Ouriense, 29 July 1917, quoted in Luís Filipe Torgal, O sol bailou ao meio-dia: A criação de Fátima (Tinta da China: Lisbon, 2011), n/a. This and subsequent quote translations from this volume are ours. wrote a local priest, while the republican newspaper O Século immediately questioned the occurrence:
It is my conviction that this is a premeditated financial speculation, whose source of revenue can be found in the belly of the earth, in a random mineral spring found by an astute individual who, in the guise of religion, wishes to turn Serra de Aire into a miraculous resort such as old Lourdes. “Uma embaixada celestial … especulação financeira,” O Século, 23 July 1917, quoted in Luís Filipe Torgal, O sol bailou ao meio-dia, n/a.
These conflicting positions, the first ecclesiastic and devotional, the latter laic and financial, had defined Lourdes before, and came to mark the political role of the miraculous in the first decades following the Portuguese event.
Inviting a couple of non-religious Portuguese to write on the 1917 miracle of Fátima is a difficult matter: the miracle has occupied a singular yet often burlesque position in the psychological map of Portugal. We could write a fine report on its relation to the Portuguese fascist dictatorship—which we hope to have done, for there is perhaps no other way to go about it. Yet there are also other, more oblique connections to be made between the miraculous and the changes in the Church in recent times, not only its relation to politics, but also to science, economics—unrelated to the Holy Trinity—and certain reversals of the Church’s nineteenth-century modernist debate. We will close with that. But first the story as introduced by its secrets.
The Political Economy of Secrets
The First Secret
Considering the fact that we are speaking of a celestial being that was approaching its second millennium, the Virgin Mary was surprisingly aware of global politics.
While in the spring of 1917 the Bolshevik Revolution was unraveling in Russia, at the opposite end of the continent the recently established liberal democracy of the First Republic of Portugal was struggling for autonomy. In contrast to the 1974 Carnation Revolution—perhaps the only bloodless revolution of the 1970s—the implementation of the First Republic was a particularly bloody one: in the years after the 1908 regicide that ended the monarchy, bombings in Lisbon happened on a weekly basis, with presidential assassinations and massacre-led regime changes part of the Republic’s short-lived history. When the Virgin Mary appeared, secularization of the nation-state was barely a decade old, and the miracle predictably became a battleground in the confrontation between the republicans and the Church, placing the location north of Lisbon at the center of national politics.
After the Marian apparitions, the shepherds, and young Lúcia in particular, are interrogated by local clerics. What is registered in this first interrogation, made during those miraculous months of 1917, is symptomatically more detailed than what Sister Lúcia would write in her 1935 memoirs. In 1935, the first secret revealed by the Virgin Mary is a banal portrait of the Inferno, with “great seas of fire,” “great clouds of smoke,” “shrieks and groans of pain and despair,” and “frightful and unknown animals.” In the 1917 account, however, there is little in matters of hell. The secret is a bargain: either Catholic faith and devotion or the perpetuation of the war and moral degradation (to which one should add the Virgin Mary’s request for a chapel to be built on site). More a holy expression of goodwill than an actual secret, for the Church the prophecy would become simply a premonition, or perhaps a lag of some sort between earthly and divine temporalities—perhaps this is also the logic behind Mary’s confusion in Her whisper to young Lúcia about how the war had ended, when it would take another year for historical time to catch up to the divine.
Newspaper O Século, Lisbon, morning edition, October 15, 1917
Given the historical circumstances, the words of the Virgin Mary were quickly interpreted as anti-liberal, and moral degradation understood both by the local church and the republicans in reference to the feverous anticlerical ideals of the First Republic. The liberals only aided the Church’s counterrevolutionary ideology by bombing the new, albeit small, chapel built on site in 1922. The event only helped the Church to brandish Mother Mary’s ideology.
Again, the Virgin Mary’s arrival in 1917 echoes her appearance in 1858. In both instances the Catholic Church was grappling with the mounting pressure of liberal democracies, and was thus fomenting the political role played by religious sentiments in rural areas: in 1858 the apparition of the Virgin Mary came amidst upheaval in France, between the 1848 revolution a decade earlier, and the 1871 Paris Commune. After much debate by the authorities and the local church in Lourdes, it was the emperor himself, Louis Napoleon III, who came from Paris to authorize the religiosity of the site.
Repetition is a strategy of the miraculous, and more often than not multiplication is as well. Different geographies, similar stories: and, more importantly, the same religious model, transferred and implemented in places of religious struggle as if it were a readymade. It is not only the details of the apparition, the virginity suggested by the innocence of preadolescent girls, miraculous cures, and the erection of chapels that reappear, but also the causal effects of the apparition in the specific terrain of conflict; a political landscape, in this case, quite familiar to the Church. The apparition model—what we could call the readymade religious event—is a preemptive instrument, descended from heaven with blinding light and under weird weather onto zones of conflict, conflicts with the Church one should add. No surprise then that the Virgin of Guadalupe, as many others across the Americas, decided to make its appearance precisely in 1531, ten years after the fall of the Aztec Empire; and originally in Spain during the last stage of the fourteenth-century Reconquista against the Moors. Let us not forget that it was at Guadalupe’s monastery in Extremadura that the king and queen of Spain, Fernando II and Isabel I, signed the decree authorizing Columbus’s voyage to the Americas.
The Second Secret
It is commonplace to state the instrumental role of the Marian apparitions in the counterrevolutionary pact between Portuguese fascism and the Church—an alliance also found in Italy and Spain. Thus, the rise of the military dictatorship in 1926—which saw the republicans finally defeated, disperse underground, or enter into a slow spiritual conversion into the fascist dictatorship through a combination of ‘reason’, the new man, Catholic faith, historical nationalism, and overseas imperialism—began with a Marian Catholic congress approving the military march on Lisbon. By the time of the fascist state’s highpoint, the Estado Novo period, which lasted from 1933 to 1974, the Church had managed to fully establish the formerly desolate Fátima into a European pilgrimage site, weaving the narrative of the country’s spiritual reawakening with the miraculous event. In fact, by 1929, António de Oliveira Salazar, the dictator-to-be who was then the minister of finance, was already present in Fátima, piously celebrating a power plant ready to supply energy to the new sanctuary.
With the digestion of the liberals and following a successful state-led hunt against the nascent Portuguese Communist Party, the second secret explicitly opposed the Virgin Mary with communism at the other end of the continent and, just as importantly, with Spain on the verge of its civil war, right across the border. By then Lúcia had voluntarily joined an order where nuns follow a vow of silence, and Fátima had become an ideological machine of the state. It is said that the Virgin Mary appeared to Sister Lúcia again in 1929, and that it was only then that the second secret was explicitly revealed to her.
You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace. The war is going to end: but if people do not cease offending God, a worse one will break out during the Pontificate of Pope Pius XI. When you see a night illumined by an unknown light, know that this is the great sign given you by God that he is about to punish the world for its crimes, by means of war, famine, and persecutions of the Church and of the Holy Father. To prevent this, I shall come to ask for the Consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, and the Communion of reparation on the First Saturdays. If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace; if not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred; the Holy Father will have much to suffer; various nations will be annihilated. In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, and she shall be converted, and a period of peace will be granted to the world. For transcripts of the secrets see: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20000626_message-fatima_en.html (accessed 15 June 2015).
The Portuguese Communist Party was founded in 1921 as the Portuguese section of the Communist International. With a strong anarcho-syndicalist composition, the party reacted to the economic crisis that followed World War I, navigating the turbulent days of the First Republic, until it was suppressed by the 1926 military coup. Most of its leaders would be arrested throughout the 1930s, with the party only resurrecting in the early 1940s at the height of the nationalist dictatorship. Clandestine, it would find most of its support base in the southern, agrarian regions, from where it would greatly influence the fall of the dictatorship in 1974. In 1937, one year into the Spanish Civil War, the party’s central committee wrote:
A victory of international fascism in Spain would consolidate the position of Portuguese fascism and reinforce the offensive of capital over the working classes, it would provoke a rise in repression […] The victory of the Spanish Republic represents, on the contrary, a hard blow against international fascism and a great triumph of the advance of the Popular Front across the world. Domingos Abrantes, “O PCP e a Guerra de Espanha (1936–1939),” O Militante, 314 (September–October 2011), available at: http://www.omilitante.pcp.pt/pt/314/Historia/629/O-PCP-e-a-Guerra-de-Espanha-(1936-1939).htm (accessed 15 June 2015). The translation is ours.
The party was well aware of the impact a fascist victory would have in Portugal. And despite the repression it nonetheless managed not only to fundraise and support the participation of comrades in the Popular Front—in border crossing, for example—but also to sabotage oil facilities and transportation, as well as the metallurgic industry that supplied energy and armament to the fascists, not to speak of the 1936 military Revolta dos Marinheiros, in Lisbon, in solidarity with Spanish comrades, which would actually be the last military resistance to the dictatorship until its fall forty years later.
Much like in Spain, the Church was explicit about its allegiance with state power against the ‘satanic’ communist threat, in a teleological war between the Holy Spirit and Marx’s materialist dogma stressed by Pope Pious XI in 1937. See the encyclical promulgated by Pope Pious XI on 19 March 1937: http://www.ewtn.com/library/ENCYC/P11DIVIN.HTM (accessed 15 June 2015). This is the first moment when the revelations are clearly aimed at international audiences, and where a certain peacekeeping universal religiosity is pitted against communism.
The Third Secret
The third secret cannot but come as a bit of a disappointment. Released only in 2000 after Pope John Paul II’s visit to Fátima for the canonization of the two younger shepherds and after Sister Lúcia had put it in writing to the pope, the Church interpreted Lúcia’s vision as the failed 1981 assassination attempt on John Paul II, the Polish, capitalist-friendly pope. The third secret reads, in its coded form:
After the two parts which I have already explained, at the left of Our Lady and a little above, we saw an Angel with a flaming sword in his left hand; flashing, it gave out flames that looked as though they would set the world on fire; but they died out in contact with the splendor that Our Lady radiated towards him from her right hand: pointing to the earth with his right hand, the Angel cried out in a loud voice: “Penance, Penance, Penance!” And we saw in an immense light that is God: “something similar to how people appear in a mirror when they pass in front of it” a Bishop dressed in White “we had the impression that it was the Holy Father.” Other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious going up a steep mountain, at the top of which there was a big Cross of rough-hewn trunks as of a cork-tree with the bark; before reaching there the Holy Father passed through a big city half in ruins and half trembling with halting step, afflicted with pain and sorrow, he prayed for the souls of the corpses he met on his way; having reached the top of the mountain, on his knees at the foot of the big Cross he was killed by a group of soldiers who fired bullets and arrows at him, and in the same way there died one after another the other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious, and various lay people of different ranks and positions. Beneath the two arms of the Cross there were two Angels each with a crystal aspersorium in his hand, in which they gathered up the blood of the Martyrs and with it sprinkled the souls that were making their way to God. See: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20000626_message-fatima_en.html (accessed 15 June 2015).
The hit man in the pope’s assassination attempt was Mehmet Ali Ağca, a conservative Turk who was also associated with the earlier assassination of a journalist actively involved in a cooperation initiative with Greece in the contested territory of Cyprus. Pope John Paul II was supposedly spared from death for having turned, at the precise moment he was targeted by Ağca, toward a young girl holding a portrait of Fátima, thus escaping the assassination. In recognition of John Paul II’s rescue by the Virgin Mary, the pope dedicated a shrine to Our Lady of Fátima in Krzeptowki, on the border of Poland and Slovakia. The Vatican claims that the pope’s interest in the three little shepherds was instigated by this personal event, yet in so doing he revived the public message of the previous secret, actualizing the anti-communist premonition of the 1930s in the context of the Perestroika.
The apparition’s politics are actualized by the timely release of each secret, with the third secret legitimizing, roughly a decade after the fall of the Iron Curtain, a prophecy from sixty years before. The economy of secrets allows for the longevity of the event, repurposed at each conflict.
And yet, geopolitically, the third secret does not seem to offer much else to the Church, and the prophecy feels rather menial. Even Cardinal Ratzinger, not yet pope, felt the need to justify it with theological commentary: “A careful reading of the text of the so-called third ‘secret’ of Fátima […] will probably prove disappointing or surprising after all the speculation it has stirred. No great mystery is revealed; nor is the future unveiled.” See: http://nypost.com/2000/06/27/final-secret-of-fatima-revealed/ (accessed 15 June 2015).
Does the geostrategic incapacity of the third secret signal the exhaustion of Fátima? And, if so, is it therefore simply revealing of a post-communist, global capital world taken over by the economy? Under such circumstances it would make sense that the Church would allow Fátima—much like Lourdes—to run its ‘natural’ economic course, with the city already developed into a highly touristic destination with a gigantic cathedral, neon crosses, plastic Virgin statuettes, and plenty of hotels with welcoming names like the Aleluia, positioned right next to the local bus terminal. Travelers to Lourdes spend up to 280 million euros a year in accomodations and souvenirs. “Miracles Under the Microscope,” The Economist, 10 April 2000, http://www.economist.com/node/304212 (accessed 16 June 2015). While we could not find the average numbers for Fátima, it is not without irony that the Church and the secular state continue to join forces: since 2010 religious tourism was not only included in the governmental budget for tourism but also promoted to one of the country’s ten products in the National Strategic Plan for Tourism. It is now focused on tourists from Eastern Europe (Poland and the Czech Republic), Canada, the United States, and Brazil, and hopes to increase, if not double, the average length of stay in Fátima from three days, roughly half the time that is spent in Lourdes. “Fátima, um destino à procura de novos turistas,” Público, 12 May 2010, http://static.publico.pt/papaemportugal/Noticia/fatima-um-destino-a-procura-de-novos-turistas_1436754 (accessed 16 June 2015). Evidently, the separation between Church and state is not the same as between the Church and the economy.
Accelerations and Decelerations of the Miraculous
It may come as a surprise that Fátima was not the only apparition to be registered in Portugal during World War I, and as unsurprising that it was the same in France in the period between the 1848 revolution, Lourdes’s apparition, and the Paris Commune. News of apparitions were rampant from north to south; small variations notwithstanding, visits by a glowing woman in white to groups of children were noted again and again. While such an abundance of apparitions was discredited by the Church as machinations of republicans, the republicans for their part questioned the singularity of Fátima in comparison to all other apparitions: If there were so many apparitions everywhere, what made this particular one so special? Put differently, while the Church was busy debunking, denying, or simply not acknowledging the many apparitions, the republicans’ critique was the deployment of multiplicity: instead of denying the divine truth of the event, accelerate it. For the republicans the strategy was to mass mediatize the event, to the scale allowed by the existing media, to escalate it insomuch as to obliterate it by quantity.
But what about more recent accelerations within the Church? Coincidence or not, 1917 also marks the date of ecclesiastical reforms on holiness, standardized into the Catholic Church’s first single code of canon law, the Pio-Benedictine Code. In time, this would lead to Pope John Paul II’s promulgation of the second reform of ecclesiastical law in 1983. This permitted the beatification of the two little shepherd cousins of Sister Lúcia, Francisco and Jacinta. It is obvious that Pope John Paul II understood the role of media, but within the inner modalities of the miraculous he also understood multiplication: John Paul II was the most prolific canonizer in the history of the papacy, with 1,340 men and women beatified and almost 500 canonized—more than all his predecessors combined since the canonization procedures were introduced in 1588. On 13 February 2008, Pope Benedict XVI sped up the process even further by announcing that he would waive the usual five-year wait period for canonization after a prospective saint’s death as established by ecclesiastical law. Sister Lúcia, who died in 2005, would be one of the first three cases, along with Juan Diego, the Aztec peasant to whom Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared, and even Pope John Paul II himself. The claim to Sister Lúcia’s sanctity was precisely her intervention in the 1981 assassination attempt.
Sister Lucia loved computers
While early canonizations in the twelfth century tended to focus on martyrs of faith, in time other valuation models of sanctity and miracles have been taken into account. Lourdes has played a central role in this process: in 1883 the Church established a medical bureau in Lourdes, meant to examine if the cures voiced by the many sickly pilgrims were fraudulent or veritable miracles. In recent years this process has resulted in a radical deceleration of miraculous cures as a result of the rigorous examinations of the sick and their cures against medicinal science’s latest technologies and examinations. “Miracles Under the Microscope,” The Economist. In integrating modern science into the verification of saintly processes, is the Church denying itself the reemergence of the miraculous readymade event?
Overall, this acceleration did not pass without controversy within the Church, yet it is in synchrony with the times of global capital and imposed anti-bureaucratic efficiency—the latest example of which exemplified by the operations of the Troika in Southern Europe, including Italy, and to a certain extent in the Vatican, given all the controversies surrounding the Institute for the Works of Religion, commonly known as the Vatican Bank. The bank, which should only accept deposits from Church officials and institutions, allowed international finance to use the Holy See’s tax-exemption status as an offshore tax haven, while also being involved in money laundering through transfers amounting to $30 million between Italian bank accounts and JP Morgan Chase in Frankfurt. It has also been found buying prime real estate in London and other European capitals through a secret offshore company. Among many news articles of reference, see: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/22/world/europe/22vatican.html?_r=1&ref=business; http://www.bbc.com/news/business-23289297; and http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jan/21/vatican-secret-property-empire-mussolini (all accessed 16 June 2015). It is not by chance that the Vatican Bank scandal exploded during the euro crisis. If one is to follow the “Vatileaks” one can only imagine the acceleration of money flows passing through the Vatican just when Europe entered into a recession. Nothing to see here except for the traditional logic of offshore capital, the velocity of finance, its obscure, unchecked, and non-earthbound flows. Unbound from state power, the Church complies and propagates elite financial alliances, which, reforms in the Vatican Bank notwithstanding, have implications well beyond matters of corruption: the investigated former president of the bank, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, combined his presidency with that of Banco Santander in Milan; his position has been recently occupied by Jean-Baptiste de Franssu, former head of the Bermuda incorporated investment company Invesco Ltd.
The politics of the religious readymade event, as it reappears instrumentally in time, is anchored not only in placement and displacement, object and context, but also in propagation, the liberal use of the event’s formatting and reformatting. It is a mater of the Church’s evolution in time and of the political conflicts and financial power with which it is confronted in its evolution. The readymade religious event is a strategic model. Its success comes from the fact that while it may be historical it does not pertain to history. It penetrates history from another plane, the plane of divine time. It can be historicized, as we have done, but it cannot really be the target of a straightforward cultural (or religious) critique, or, rather, perhaps only from within its own logic of strategy and instrumentality.