Back to Paradise: Sensual Experience of Fanales as a Tool of Virtual Pilgrimage

Fanales (glass bells) that encapsulate figurines of Christ child surrounded by miniatures of real-life furniture, plants and decorations are religious objects characteristic of the circles of South-American nuns of the 18th and 19th centuries. In spite of their large number, fanales and their sensory and devotional implications have not met with a wider interest among scholars. Our study analyses the appropriation of a Christian motive of long duration –Hortus Conclusus– and the nuns’ devotional practices and writings concerning those objects, related in particular with the concept of imaginary or virtual pilgrimage to the Garden of Eden. Through the practice of elaborating and embellishing those “enclosed gardens” with material elements and literary devotion, their owners and users experienced mental pilgrimage to the paradise. In that sense we consider fanales as cultural sensory objects of mnemonic character. This proposal is based on the contributions of Material Culture and Material Religion studies. From the first, we borrow the idea of departing from an object to make conjectures on the meanings and uses that devotees may have developed within a certain religious culture. From the second point of view, we understand religion as a set and network of ideas, beliefs and relations that manifest themselves through their materiality and would not be possible if that materialization did not occur. In conclusion, by closely examining forms of devotion related to fanales, this research brings new perspective on the subject of spiritual pilgrimage and its relation with material objects and the senses.

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