Accepted Paper:

The emigrated saint: a Sicilian cult in Germany as duplication of sacred space in the diaspora  


Emanuel Valentin (Free University of Bozen-Bolzano)

Paper short abstract:

The interpretation of a Sicilian saint cult among Sicilians in Germany as 'topographic' duplication of sacred space involves not only the consideration of material reconstruction, but also of the different discourse levels about an 'imaginary sacred space' moving between 'tradition' and 'change'.

Paper long abstract:

Space, place and identity, combined with notions like location and displacement, have become keyconcepts of postmodernist theoretical concern. In a seemingly increasing "deterritorialized epoch" migration, transnational cultural flows, hybrid identities have led to a global situation in which old localizing strategies - like the closed "community", the organic "culture", the "region", the dichotomy of "core and periphery" - had to come under increasing scrutiny. Space and place seemed to lose their conceptual value in anthropological research.

On this climax of theoretical erosion of localized social worlds there arised new approaches which argue against this idea: locality hasn't lost its importance; space and place keep being important points of reference for diasporas in spite of their ability to transcend borders. This approach has to revalue also the meaning of imaginary places, the myth of the place of origin, which adopts relevant functions as identity-anchor and point of reference and orientation for diasporic people. This functions can also be accomplished by religious beliefs and practices, which have been brought along the way by migrants. Although embodying different processes of change the enactment of this religious festivities still represent important tasks in the reappropriation of identity understood in terms of cultural difference.

During different periods between July 2003 and March 2006 I did fieldwork among Sicilian migrants in an industrial city in Southwestern Germany called Sindelfingen, which is well known as the main production site of one of the biggest car producers in Germany. This Sicilians all emigrated originally from Mirabella Imbaccari, an agrotown lying in the Eastern part of the island. Due to the initial labour migration in the mid 1950s and the rapidly increasing chain migration in the following decades almost one third of Mirabella's population (approximately 3.000 persons) is now living in Sindelfingen and its near surroundings.

The biggest religious festivities in honour of the two patron saints of Mirabella, namely the procession of the "Madonna delle Grazie" in August and the Saint Joseph festival in March, always acted as strong forces reunifying Mirabella with its migrants. Beginning in the 1970s, when the necessary social conditions where created through the arrival of entire families, there was a strong revitalisation of this festivals also in Germany. Considering especially one of this religious festivals (the festival of Saint Joseph) I will show how the reinvention of tradition in the host society can work through a - what I would call - "topographic" duplication of sacred space. The topographical notion here has to be understood in its original Greek meaning as "describing/sketching (grafein) a place (topos)." Thus the topographic duplication implicates for me not only the material reconstruction of sacred space (like erecting an altar, covering it with food and offering it to poor people in the name of the saint), but also works as model for different levels of discourse, in which my informants propose a discursive sketch of an "imaginary sacred space". In this sketch they reflect their ideas about what they think as the "original" festival in what they remember to be their "original" town.

Panel W067
Transnational religious networks and their European emplacement