This database is divided into three main categories: representation, spaces, and objects. Through this structure, direct textual information can be obtained from the Lives of Castilian visionaries, specifically from episodes linked to their mystical experience, such as trances and ecstasies, visions, and processes of interaction between the nuns and supernatural beings (God, the Virgin Mary, angels, or demons). The selected fragments are taken from the editions contained in the Catalogue of Living Saints. The approach takes as its starting point the performative component 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, with 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?
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. 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. As Sanmartín Bastida (2016: 3, 5) argues when referring to the visionaries, these women showed a special care in the staging of their trances since, in the process of legitimising their authority in the religious, social, and cultural spheres, the visual and the auditory were of fundamental importance. We understand here representation as a performance of a pre-established role, in which supernatural experiences are considered in their performative sense.
What do we mean by representation?
The category “representation” delves into the performative dimension of trances and the repeated presentation of a previously fixed role before an audience, as lives are re-constructed following a paradigm, through the use of rituals and repeated acts (Sanmartín Bastida, 2016: 3) that usually include a visual and auditory demonstration of devotion to the divine before an audience (Sanmartín Bastida, 2012: 90). With that in mind, this theatricality is subcategorised 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?
Aspects linked to corporeality, such as stigmata, bodily discipline, and other somatic manifestations, are central elements in the construction of Castilian female sanctity (Sanmartín Bastida, 2012: 164). As García Suárez (2021: 488) indicates, female corporeality was a fundamental tool for the representation of sanctity of Castilian beatas and nuns of this period. Moreover, in the case of the visionaries, the bodily component became a key vehicle, and issues such as space, time, action, gestures, emotion, and the sensory dimensions of discourse were extremely relevant (Curto Hernández, 2022: 50).
What role does musical experience play?
Music and dance appear linked to multiple visionary experiences in some of the preserved Lives, and clearly underline their performative nature. This link is, moreover, an element that already appears in the narratives about European mystics of the Middle Ages (Curto Hernández, 2022: 536). Furthermore, as it is signalled by Curto Hernández (2002: 437, 536), singing is treated in female mystical texts as the most perfect form of worship, since it is the music that the human body produces naturally, as is the case with dance, linked from medieval European mysticism to visionary trances.
How are emotions represented and what role do they play in the visionary experience?
Emotion is expressed through gesturality and performativity, as it is one of the means of connection with the spectator who attends the trance. We thus understand the pathetic function of gestures as a way of transmitting emotions to move the audience (Pereira Domínguez, 2019: 125). The representation of the emotional also allows us to ask to what extent hagiographies expose relations of affectivity 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 shows the importance of the performative from the allegorical iconography incorporated in medieval literary and theatrical manifestations. In the case of mystical trances, the appearance of these figures also contributes to endow the visions with a certain visual spectacularity, demanded by the audience attending the representation (Paz Torres, 2020: 57); furthermore, these figures 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, as indicated by Curto Hernández (2022: 54). 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 with such without verbal communication, and spaces for the audition of supernatural music.
What objects awaken the supernatural experience?
As Sanmartín Bastida (2015) points out, there is a significant presence of visual arts 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; and 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, since, as García Suárez (2020: 5) points out, they serve to activate the power of connection with the divinity; in others, they are triggers or calls to the miracle or the supernatural.