Saints and Cultural Trans/Mission – Colloquium (May 2010)



University of Stirling, School of Arts and Humanities

14 May 2010

Saints and Cultural Trans-/Mission, Michael Marten & Katja Neumann (eds.). (Collectanea Instituti Anthropos 45). Sankt Augustin: Academia Verlag 2013.

Summary of the colloquium

The second colloquium in the framework of Translating Christianities, dedicated to the discussion of “Saints and Cultural Trans/Mission” covered a broad field of approaches: artistic, historical, anthropological, and feminist. Despite their apparent multiplicity, a key theme crystallised which became visible in the first presentation of artist and academic Lindy Richardson, whose images, in this case, are multi-layered paper or bone manifestations of Saint Ursula, interpreted through a personal reading of the legends and artwork which surround the Saint.

This layering resonated in the other participants’ papers, which all parted from written or oral as well as visual views of Saints. Brian Murdoch showed the many faces of Gregorius, a Saint which has literary and folk traditions spread all over Europe, but lacks a cult. In theological terms, he is considered to be an apocryphal Saint. In this sense he is typical of many Saints in still recognisably hybrid, colonialised cultures where Saints are fusions of native and imported concepts of the divine and the sacred, each of those already based on more ancient fusions. This became evident in the presentations on Voudou rituals in Haiti (Chloe Erdmann), Pachamama and the Virgin in the Andes (Sabine Dedenbach-Salazar), and, in the same culture area, the Roman soldiers of Jesus’s crucifixion who have become Saints in their own right (Aristoteles Barcelos Neto). In this sense, Saints are created and shaped by the people, and the example of biographies of  Protestant missionaries in Africa shows that this is not a Catholic phenomenon alone (Michael Marten). Also beyond the ‘traditional’ worship of Saints, they can mirror how individuals in our contemporary society shape them according to their own ‘gendered’ understanding, be it a feminist or queer embodiment of a Saint (Alison Jasper).

The contributions showed in very different and original ways that Saints are an excellent example of culture contact, accommodation and change. They gave a first understanding as to how and why these fusions take place, which are the cultural contexts, and the manifold ways they are used to make sense of life and the world.


Aristoteles Barcelos Neto: Heroic saints, immanent images: Caboclos and Romans in South American religious communities.

Sabine Dedenbach-Salazar: Pacha Tierra, Pacha Ñusta, Pacha Virgen: The complex relationship of the Virgin and Pachamama in the Andes.

Chloe Erdmann: Being possessed by Saints: Maya Deren’s experiences of Vodou in Haiti.

Alison Jasper: Wilgefortis/Saint Liberata.

Michael Marten: “The loneliest woman in Africa” – missionary biography as Protestant beatification.

Brian Murdoch: Gregorius – a much-travelled but apocryphal Saint.

Lindy Richardson: Is it the duty of artists to reflect the culture they inhabit, and if so, how do the responsibilities of 21st century knowledge and understanding weigh on contemporary interpretation of, for example, Saint Ursula’s story?

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