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Religiöse ‚Wearables‘

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  • project duration : February 2019 to January 2022
  • project leader : Thomas Kühtreiber
  • project team members : Sarah Pichlkastner (historian) started April 2019 and Karin Kühtreiber (archaelogist) starting January 2020

Religious 'wearables' as material witnesses of early modern mobility (17th/18th century)

By religious "wearables" in this project we mean mainly pendants and medals with religious motifs and texts. Within the diversity of the material legacy of religious practices, they are particularly suitable for tracking down mobility as a catalyst of religious currents and ideas.



Religious small objects as mobile things

The subject of the religious “wearables" forms a thematic area within the project “Mobile things, people and ideas. A moving history of Lower Austria", which is financed by the FTI strategy of the Province of Lower Austria. The IMAREAL cooperates with other research institutions in the humanities, cultural sciences and social sciences located in Lower Austria: https://www.mobiledinge.at/.

Starting from religious wearables, i.e. pendants and medals, questions of early modern mobility and its impact on the spread of religious movements can be examined. For example, people who brought such objects home from pilgrimages as proof of their pilgrim journey and used them for various purposes – from clothing accessories and rosary pendants to building sacrifices – are mobile. Religious pendants and medals, however, could also be distributed via travelling merchants or religious corporations such as brotherhoods and congregations. By copying motifs from other places of pilgrimage, it was possible to build on their success stories both religiously and economically. In this case the objects are “local", but the ideas and concepts associated with them are mobile.

Picture pendant, 17./18. c. (NÖ Landessammlungen, excavation Michelberg)

Cooperation partners:

Pilgrimage medal from Mariazell, 17./18. c. (NÖ Landessammlungen, excavation Michelberg)

St. Pölten and Lower Austria as study regions

The subject area uses this object group to research these three connotations of mobility in a comparative and complementary historical-archaeological way for today’s Lower Austria. Since the exceptional excavation results at the cathedral square in St. Pölten form the linchpin, the research concentrates on the area around today’s provincial capital. In addition to the city of St. Pölten, it is planned to examine the two large pilgrimage sites Sonntagberg and Maria Taferl as well as the two smaller pilgrimage sites Maria Langegg and Mank. Based on the literature available so far on the subject, questions will also be asked about the pilgrimage flows in and through Lower Austria and about the transfers of ideas associated with pilgrimages.

While there is considerable literature on the history of modern piety in general and on pilgrimages in particular, knowledge of regional and social differentiations is still very limited. Within the diversity of material legacies of religious practices, they are particularly suited to trace mobility as a catalyst of religious trends and ideas. The topic is also located in the field of tension between religious norms and social practice. While older research saw evidence of confessionalisation in these objects, more recent approaches show that the acquisition and carrying of mobile religious beliefs reached beyond confessional boundaries and also survived the Enlightenment. The subject area dealt with at IMAREAL can contribute to closing a research gap and at the same time offers basic research for questions of religious dynamics in the field of Lower Austria in the early modern period.

Detail of an inventory from the pilgrimage venue Maria Langegg mentioning a model „Zeichen“, beginning of the 17. c. (Diözesanarchiv St. Pölten, Klosterarchiv Maria Langegg)