When considering religion as the ultimate denial of significance of earthly distinctions, pilgrimages should by definition be oriented to the ‘other world’ instead of the ‘here and now’. Earthly matters and distinctions ought, in other words, to be insignificant during these journeys to invoke divine intervention. Indeed, in the late Middle Ages – the heyday of European pilgrimage – pilgrims often obtained special privileges that exempted them from earthly obligations (e.g. paying taxes), and sometimes a pilgrim was even granted access to the afterlife in the form of indulgences. Pilgrimages were, to put it differently, passports to a wondrous hereafter. Yet a pilgrimage not only serves to seek the intercession of God or a saint, but is also a social construction and therefore inevitably embedded in a cultural, social and political context as well. It is in this context that some shrines have in the course of their history become expressive vehicles of national preoccupations and their interpretation in religious terms. These sanctuaries not only serve to venerate the supernatural, but are also closely interwoven with cultural histories and national myths of origin. They thereby give those in power a powerful means to legitimate their rule and/or socialize individuals into the culture of a nation or state.

This study started from the assumption that despite the transnational or non-territorial nature of Roman Catholicism and the secular features of nationalism and ‘statism’, some Catholic traditions and beliefs about the sacred have in the course of history also become part of national iconographies. By studying the meaning and significance of three ‘national shrines’ over a longer time period, this study offered the opportunity to gain insight into the strength and significance of religion as a binding force for communities under varying politico-territorial circumstances. It thereby analyzes the effects of territorialization, deterritorialization and reterritorialization on the functioning and significance of three shrines from the beginning of their existence until present times: Santiago de Compostela in Spain, Jasna Góra in Poland and Altötting in Bavaria. Special attention has been paid to resent times, since the current rise of transnational, supranational and subnational social spaces directly touches upon the raison d’être of these national shrines: people now assert loyalties on different territorial scales (multiple and ‘nested identities’) and at the same time also want to share in global and transnational values. Does the weakening of territorial sovereignty open the door to a revival of the habit of infusing some communities with territorial meaning (reterritorialization) by tapping a source of religious power from these shrines? Or will the decreasing territorial factor (deterritorialization) lead to the end of this symbiosis and strengthen the transnational features of these shrines? And what is the effect of those two processes that intrinsically affect territorially-based national religions: the growth of religious pluralism and secularization?  The three shrines also face or have faced some case-specific challenges, such as Spain’s difficult heritage of Franco’s repressive usage of the concepts of nation and patriotism (Santiago de Compostela), the century-long domination of Poland by foreign, mostly non-Catholic powers (Jasna Góra), or the nineteenth-century merger between Catholic ‘Old Bavaria’ and multiconfessional ‘New Bavaria’ (Altötting).

By using a variety of sources (primary and secondary data, interviews and conversations, and surveys amongst visitors to each of the three shrines), the study first describes the different functions of the label ‘national shrine’ and explains these functions by the complex interactions between state and nation. It thereby argues that the meaning of Santiago de Compostela and Altötting for Spaniards and Bavarians in defining who they are, should for most of Spanish and Bavarian history not be overestimated, since both shrines mainly served the official state rulers and only to a lesser extent the inhabitants of these states. Jasna Góra, on the other hand, developed into the opposite type of national shrine, by explicitly serving the Polish nation only and excluding the state that the Poles were living in. The study then discusses the effect of more recent politico-territorial and religious challenges that seem to touch directly upon the raison d’être of these shrines. It mainly comes to the conclusion that none of the three shrines seems to have definitely abandoned its ‘natural’ territory in representing its cultural identity. Instead, all three have in some way remained part of the national iconography. They thereby illustrate the paradox between on the one hand a changing territorial and religious order and on the other hand the enduring relevance of religious representations from the past for territorial allegiances. This study argues that deterritorialization and reterritorialization do not automatically lead to the disappearance of religious representations of territorial identities, but that it may also develop awareness of the ‘other’ and therefore provide a reason to review (Spain), renegotiate (Poland) or preserve (Bavaria) self identity. It would nevertheless be wrong to interpret the meaning and expressiveness of these national shrines in the same way. Instead, as in the past when the label of ‘national shrine’ came to serve a variety of purposes, the supply of the religious tradition needs to meet a corresponding demand. Hence, since the changing meaning of territoriality and religion in each of the ‘natural’ territories of these three shrines is perceived differently, they each contribute in rather different ways to the cultural geographies of Spain, Poland and Bavaria: while the present perception of Spain’s past has reawoken the image of Santiago Peregrino, who symbolizes the Spanish ecumenical call for unity in Spain, Europe and abroad, the case study of Jasna Góra rather mirrors the duality in Polish society regarding both the definition of Polishness and Poland’s aspired position within the European Union. Altötting, on the other hand, continues to form part of the cultural identity of the modern Bavarian state, by representing the old Bavarian contribution to the modern Bavarian ‘integral Bavarian state identity’, although it has to be admitted that this ‘white-blue patriotism’ of Catholic Old Bavaria seems less and less immune to the current process of secularization.

Hence, none of the three shrines has been submerged entirely into the values of new territorial or non-territorial identities. Instead, they offer their ‘natural’ territories a means to support the new Spanish secular and European course (Santiago de Compostela), to renegotiate the Polish identity in view of Poland’s duty abroad (Jasna Góra) or to care for those values that historically belonged to Bavaria (Altötting).

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