My recently completed dissertation, “The Life and Afterlife of Anna Katharina Emmerick: Re-imagining Catholicism in Modern Germany,” concerns the life and subsequent cult of a Westphalian woman discovered to exhibit stigmata during the Napoleonic occupation and secularization of German Europe. Emmerick’s wounds and ecstatic visions stirred controversy across Europe and the United States, becoming symbols manipulated in debates over the boundary between religion and superstition, natural and supernatural. Her life thus provides an entrée into the state of German Catholicism at the moment of its supposed transition from Enlightenment austerity to post-Revolutionary fervor. Her afterlife in the popular imagination, furthermore, can serve as a red thread through the labyrinth of German Catholic culture. From the bestselling publications of her Passion visions by Romantic poet Clemens Brentano, to the 21st-century reiteration of these visions in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, from the pious veneration of her grave by German villagers to her beatification by John Paul II, Emmerick has remained a public touchstone.
My book manuscript will greatly expand the scope of my dissertation, which focused primarily on Emmerick’s lifetime. By examining the twists and turns of her long afterlife up to the present day, it will reveal how Catholics have continually sustained and re-imagined their inherited faith traditions to meet the evolving challenges they faced as modern Germans; to determine who was able to participate in this process; and to track how this changed over time. Taking into account the interplay between the conditions that made possible modern “imagined communities” with the deep history of the Church’s ever-evolving tradition, it will explore how generations of German Catholics have fashioned a usable past from their religious heritage to assert belonging and to address their present-day needs and desires.