This database is divided into three main categories: representation, spaces, and objects. With this structure, users can obtain direct textual information from the Lives of Castilian visionaries, specifically from episodes linked to their mystical experience such as trances and ecstasies, visions, and the processes of interaction between the nuns and supernatural beings (God, the Virgin Mary, angels, or demons). The selected fragments are chosen from the editions contained in the Catalogue of Living Saints. This approach takes as its starting point the performative components present in the narratives of visionary experiences. The categories do not function as watertight compartments but are related to each other. Thus, for example, the same apparition of angels linked to a specific space, that also has performative elements and an emotive response produced in the female saint, will appear in three different sections.
How is the representation of living saints configured?
Theatricality and various forms of performativity are fundamental aspects in the constitution of the identity of women with a reputation for sainthood in Castile between 1450 and 1550. We understand here representation as a performance of a pre-established role: The voice in dialogue, the staging of the body, gestures and spatial organisation can be understood as elements that construct the sanctity of the female living saints. These women showed a special care in the staging of their trances, since the visual and the auditory were of fundamental importance in legitimising their authority in religious, social, and cultural spheres.
What do we mean by representation?
The category “representation” enables database users to delve into the performative dimension of trances and the repeated presentations of standardized roles before audiences. The visionaries re-constructed their lives to follow a paradigm, through the use of rituals and repeated acts that usually included both visual and auditory demonstrations of devotion to the divine in front of an audience. With that in mind, the database provides subcategories for theatricality, divided according to the use of corporeality, emotion (manifested through gestures), and the presence of musical accompaniment.
What role does corporeality play in this performative and ritualised configuration?
Female corporeality was a fundamental tool for the representation of sanctity of Castilian beatas and nuns of this period, including such aspects as stigmata, bodily discipline, and other somatic manifestations. Moreover, visionaries particularly emphasized embodiment, and issues such as space, time, action, gestures, emotion, and the sensory dimensions of discourse were extremely relevant.
What role does musical experience play?
Music and dance appear linked to multiple visionary experiences in some of the preserved Lives, clearly underlining their performative nature. This link was already an element of narratives about European mystics of the Middle Ages. The Castilian visionary Lives treat both singing and dancing as the most perfect form of worship, since it is the music and the movement that the human body produces naturally.
How are emotions represented and what role do they play in the visionary experience?
In these Lives, emotion is expressed through gesturality and performativity as a means of connection with the spectator who attended the trance. We thus understand the pathos of gestures as a way of transmitting emotions to move an audience. The representation of the emotional also allows us to ask to what extent hagiographies expose affective relations between the visionary and the divinity.
What is the place of the appearance and representation of supernatural beings, such as angels and demons?
The appearance of supernatural figures such as saints, angels, and demons demonstrates the importance of the performative in the allegorical iconography incorporated in medieval literary and theatrical manifestations. In the case of mystical trances, the appearance of these figures also endows the visions with a certain visual spectacularity appealing to the audience attending the representation. Such figures also invested the Castilian visionaries with authority.
In which spaces do trances occur or revelations take place?
Regarding the performative question, it is relevant to ask what role space plays in visionary experiences. From this point of view, the database collects information on spaces, subcategorised according to the type of visionary experience that takes place in them. Thus, a distinction is made between spaces for mere visions, spaces for speech interactions with supernatural beings (divinity, Virgin, saints, deceased, angels and demons), spaces for interactions without such verbal communication, and spaces for hearing supernatural music.
What objects awaken the supernatural experience?
The visual arts had a significant presence in the lives of living saints. Religious iconography is closely linked to the performative insofar as it has a symbolic, visual, and catechetical character. We find numerous icons linked to visionary experiences, such as crosses, Christs, carvings of saints and virgins, and veronicas; within this group, relics occupy a singular role. Beyond the obvious importance of these objects, the database also includes the relationship of books with the supernatural experience: they either serve to activate the power of connection with the divinity, or they are triggers or calls to the miracle or the supernatural.