Sociology of Miracles: Holy Images

  • Darius Liutikas
Keywords: miracles, miraculous images, sociology of mircales, crowning of images, religious souvenirs


The article analyses the social expressions of miraculous images. The focus is on the social interactions and functional interfaces of these images. The article also discusses the sociological concept of miracles, the tradition of crowning images, and the importance of religious souvenirs with copies of images. The author uses narratives and examples related to miraculous images in Lithuania. Miraculous and holy images are an important part of the social life of believers. In this article, images are analysed as social actors. They help to create miracles, as well as various social connections and networks. They define daily and festive times and encourage commercial activities that ensure the spread of their power and influence. Their celebrations of honour and exaltation (for example, coronation rites) become important social events, and their stories (biographies) become a field of research for historians and art critics. The person interacts with the social construct of the image, the representation they have created. Such a relationship with a miraculous image can last temporarily or permanently and manifests itself in reciprocal exchanges (requests, promises, and votive offerings versus miracles and graces). Religious souvenirs and devotionalias become spiritual and social mediators between the believer and the image, between the believer and the community. Socially empowered miraculous images manifest themselves in national culture and take root in the collective memory. The maintained connections between the image and the believers inevitably create various rituals and devotional practices, which the Catholic Church also seeks to control. Along with the narratives being created and disseminated, devotional practices help to empower the image. The abundance of narratives increases the popularity of the image until it is finally officially recognised as miraculous and usually crowned by the Catholic Church. While, on the one hand, such recognition also implies increased official control, on the other hand, the image consolidates its power and becomes part of a communal (regional or national) identity. The Catholic Church also appreciates the geographical space of the miraculous image: the churches become basilicas, as if increasing the significance of the place. The world of miracles is multi-layered and open to various interpretations. Theologians, psychologists, anthropologists, or philosophers have different ideas and theories on how to explain the phenomenon of miracles. Most importantly, despite scientific advances and technological development, the miracles continue to exist in modern society. For the believer, they are signs of God that affect their lives, and for the unbeliever, the phenomena of miracles are explained by various theories. In any case, miracles are a social fact that gives rise to social phenomena, which require further and deeper research.

Visual Art