Accepted paper:

The scars of the Madonna: the healing discourse in a post-abortion pilgrimage


Judith Samson (Radboud University)

Paper short abstract:

The healing discourse at the pilgrimage site of Częstochowa is closely tied up with the scars of the Black Madonna. In this paper a group of American post-abortion pilgrims which is concerned with spiritual healing through identifying in a specific way with these wounds will be studied.

Paper long abstract:

The healing discourse at the Polish pilgrimage site of Częstochowa is closely tied up with the icon of the Black Madonna that shows clearly visible scars on her cheek. Among the many different interpretations of the meaning of the scars a dominant one is that of pain and suffering: The scars are seen to express foremost the co-suffering of the Madonna with the Polish people during the various partitions and wars. However there are alternative interpretations. This paper focuses on a group of pilgrims participating in an American post-abortion pilgrimage to the Black Madonna. By concentrating on this group I aim to study when and how women identify with Mary's scars and the suffering they represent, as well as how they seek healing during this pilgrimage. This is done by studying the ritual from a gender perspective and giving attention to the multi-layeredness of religious healing processes. People's motivations to go on pilgrimage are manifold and often intersecting. They may seek simultaneously healing on an individual level for physical, psychological or addiction problems and on a collective level for the community and the society. The focus is on the 'biopsychosociospiritual' healing process during the post-abortion pilgrimage (Winkelman and Dubisch 2005: x). Winkelman and Dubisch describe this process as "an act of personal empowerment, the particularizing of individual suffering within broader frameworks that provide meaning, a sense of social solidarity from an active connection with a community of fellow pilgrims" (ibid).

panel P210
Ritual creativity, emotions and the body