Altars we see, meanings we do not know: material sustenance of lived religiosity

Reception: November 14, 2019

Acceptance: February 12, 2020


This work consists of a photographic essay on domestic altars that is accompanied by narratives of their owners and aims to address the Catholic religiosity that is practiced on a daily basis in non-ecclesial spaces. The ethnographic work (based on photographic records and interviews) focuses on the materiality of the altars (which make beliefs visible) and on the narratives that account for the symbolic meanings, appropriations and uses of Catholic images in ordinary life. of believers. We address three scenarios for assembling and practicing altars: domestic (they are generally private and individual and are found within homes); semi-private (in workplaces, such as offices, market stalls, canteens and workshops), that although they are cared for by a person, are not for exclusive use, are exposed and are sometimes the reason for practices of those who attend that place, and public (street or neighborhood), which are placed in open spaces (on a sidewalk, square or corner) and activate collective practices and are even protected by a community. We consider it to be a novel methodological proposal to approach the understanding of religious experiences and their non-ecclesial logic.

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We See Altars, but Their Meaning Is Unknown: The Material Support for Lived Religiosity

This work consists of a photographic essay about domestic altars accompanied by their owners' narratives. It aims to address the Catholic religiosity which is practiced on a daily basis in non-ecclesial spaces. This ethnographic work (based on photographic records and interviews) is focused on the altars 'materialism (which makes beliefs visible) and on narratives giving account of their symbolic meanings as well as appropriations and uses of Catholic images in the believers' daily lives. We deal with three scenarios for the assembly and practice of these shrines; domestic (they are usually private, individual and are located inside the homes). Semi-private (in workplaces such as offices, market stalls, bars and workshops), which even though they are cared for by only one person they are exposed to the public and used for religious practices by those who attend these places. Public ones (streets or neighborhoods) are placed in open spaces (a sidewalk, square or street corner), activate collective practices and are often protected by a community. We consider it a novel methodological proposal to approach the understanding of these religious experiences on their non-ecclesial logic.

Keywords: lived religiosity, altars, popular Catholicism, religious images, materiality, aesthetics.

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The series of images in the visual essay is the result of an ethnographic investigation that includes photography and informal interviews with the owners and caretakers of the altars. The photograph of the altars allows us to recognize (make visible) and record the existence of a religious practice (often ignored by anthropologists) through its physical presence in different places and the way in which it intervenes, generating territory. Photography allows us to attend to the relationship of the altar and the place. It also allows to recognize the elements (objects) that make up an altar. An important element of this record is the value of its materiality, the symbolic production of its aesthetics and the sensibilities it generates. Regarding the interviews (some were stories of the material life of the altar, others were brief talks directed to the owners, users or caretakers focused on the altar), they allowed to investigate aspects such as the pious objects that compose it, the history of the altar, the ways in which the power or value of the image is authenticated or charged to sanctify it, the miraculous agency of images, the performative capacity of the altar in space, 1 the meanings, feelings and emotions associated with the altar for the users, the daily rituals that take place around the altar (prayers, songs, meditations, cleaning of the images, offerings, care of the place).

We locate ethnography in the line and daily interaction that unites objects (altars) with subjects (Latour, 2012). The theoretical-methodological proposal takes up the concept of “lived religiosity” (Ammerman, 2007 and 2014; McGuire, 2008; Orsi, 2005) as an alternative to recognize the relevance of everyday and non-institutional religiosity. This shift of the Church to everyday spaces, from specialists to practitioners, seeks to circumvent the loads of meaning present in the use of the term popular religiosity, which operates as a label from which institutional specialists disqualify its practitioners as primitive and ignorant, as degraded religiosity or as practices linked to superstition.

Even constantly from sociology, in the name of popular religiosity many of the extra-ecclesial practices are disqualified, reducing them to magic, witchcraft, idolatry or vile charlatanism or superstition (De la Torre and Martín, 2016). On the other hand, the perspective of lived religiosity does not privilege institutional and ecclesiocentric logic (where dogmatic, theological or normative orientations lie). Nor, as developed by Pierre Bourdieu's (1971) religious field theory, is it focused on institutional analysis or struggles for definition. Religion, understood as faith, is not only managed by monopolizing the secrets of salvation, nor does it acquire its symbolic efficacy through the struggle for the classification of legitimate religion, nor is it concerned if its practices and beliefs are sanctioned as heresy. It works with a much more pragmatic logic, in which the appropriation of Catholic ritual allows an adaptation of the faith to its daily and material expectations.

In the daily life of common believers (non-clergy) there is no sharp division between priests and practicing lay people. It is true that the ordained reserve the exclusive use of certain sacraments (such as the consecration of the Eucharist), but it is also true that the "para-ecclesial agents" (who organize the processions and pilgrimages of the popular festivals) are also experts in the management of the feast, of the veneration of the saints, the prayers. As Suárez (2008) points out, they are managers specialized in devotion around the saints with autonomy from the clerical power. In the case of the owners and users of altars, whom we will call “extra-ecclesial agents”, we can recognize that they design and carry out their practice autonomously from institutional specialists, and practice their faith with rituals dedicated to the Virgin and the saints. in non-ecclesiastical spaces. Therefore, we propose to consider them as specialized agents in the domestic cult of popular religiosity around devotional images: “They appropriate symbols and apply or reinterpret them in particular situations in order to help themselves (to resolve their financial situations or to be cured of some disease) ”(Rostas and Droogers, 1995: 87).

We present a photographic essay composed of images of different altars with Catholic images that we detected in different tours through different neighborhoods and neighborhoods of the city of Guadalajara and the population of Chapala (both in Jalisco) or implementing the snowball strategy, through which we could detect who had an altar in their house. In this way, the center of attention is placed on the agency of the materiality of images that are objects of faith and devotion. We will emphasize that these objects, which generally have human faces, are frequently experienced and treated as animated beings who are recognized as having their own will, with specific tastes, with sensitive and communicative capacities and with extraordinary skills to intervene in the lives of their faithful. Therefore, respect, cleanliness, communication and even protection are practiced around them.

We chose three scenarios for assembling and practicing altars: domestic altars (generally private and individual and found inside homes); altars in workplaces, such as offices, market stalls, canteens and workshops (these spaces are semi-private, because they are cared for by a person, but they are seen and sometimes the object of practices by those who attend that place) and street altars or neighborhoods (which are public spaces and generate collective practices, and are located on a sidewalk, square or corner).

Mexican Catholics and the tradition of altars at home

According to the data of inegi surveyed in the 2010 Census, the majority (82.7%) of Mexicans are Catholic. To know the ways of believing and practicing that Mexican Catholics have, we will review the data of believe 2016, which found that just over half of Catholics are highly practitioners of various rituals and ceremonies. Almost half (43.7%) of Catholics identify themselves as "believers by tradition", as they are very active in maintaining customs, festivals and devotions around sacred images that have a weight in the popular tradition of Catholicism to the Mexican (Hernández, Gutiérrez Zúñiga and De la Torre, 2016). It is surprising to note that more than two-thirds (63.6%) of Catholics confirm that they have an altar at home. This speaks to us of an "altarist" Catholicism, which gives the Catholic tradition to the Mexican one traits of a religiosity around the daily, domestic, family and extra-ecclesial images.

This practice is part of the baggage of customs, and many of its practitioners learned them through oral tradition. Although it represents an autonomy with respect to the Church and its specialized agents, we are not talking about a spirituality of the self or of a religious deinstitutionalization, as suggested by the theories of the new forms of contemporary religiosity. We can add that the practice of domestic altars encourages a religiosity "in my own way", based on the DIY material formula, with which users create their own space and narrative of the sacred with different objects that were selected (or that were gifted or inherited) to form a personalized altar where they perform a daily ritual practice.

As Christian Parker (1993) rightly pointed out, Latin American religiosity develops through “another logic”, which is not resolved by the rationalist formulas with which Europeans try to understand religious change. In popular religiosity there is another way of feeling, of thinking, of operating; an alternative that constantly articulates dichotomies such as institutional / popular, dominant / dominated, elite / people, enlightened / ignorant, directing attention to the complex dynamics of popular religiosity (Parker, 1993: 192). In a similar way, Renée de la Torre proposes to understand popular religiosity not in the axis of official religion or in the proposal of new individualized forms of spirituality, but as a hinge or in-between space (in-between) where the practicality of religion redefines, updates and reinterprets tradition through continuous creative negotiations (De la Torre, 2013). On the other hand, the range of autonomy has always been present in popular Catholic religiosity; It is not about the emergence of an individualization derived from a process of secularization, but about the continuity of a tradition that is renewed, updated and maintained adequate to find symbolic answers in current circumstances. They are elements that researchers of religion scarcely study and value in order to understand the religiosity of Mexicans.

As expected, the ritual of the altars is closely related to the Guadalupana faith: almost two thirds (59.4%) of Catholics have dedicated their altar to the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, to images of Christ (18.2%), to other invocations of the Virgin Mary (8.3%), and the rest to other saints considered powerful (Hernández, Gutiérrez Zúñiga and De la Torre, 2016).

These data confirm that Catholicism practiced in Mexico is above all an iconophilic religion where, as stated by Víctor and Edith Turner (2008), there is a predominance of religious images. Continuing with these authors, these images impose their signifiers (that is, their materiality) as meanings of the sacred, of miraculous power and of the communicative experience.

Despite being the practice most frequented by Mexican Catholics, it has not received attention in anthropological and sociological studies, with the exception of Chicano studies that highlight altars as a feature of Mexican religiosity (Turner, 2008). Perhaps its lack of academic study is due to the fact that this practice has been severely stigmatized both within the Catholic Church and also by iconoclastic religions (such as the Evangelical, Protestant and Pentecostal movements) that reject devotion to images as idolatry.

Another aspect that can explain the lack of academic attention may be the Catholic-centric vision that maintained a lot of influence in the first sociological studies in Mexico and in the rest of Latin America (De la Torre and Martín, 2016), which because it comes from intellectuals Catholics, shows some discomfort with the baroque practices of popular Catholicism. In sum, the weight of the disqualification of Catholicism around the figures under the nomenclature of idolatry, which is considered a deviation from the faith, has diminished its importance as an object of study. Beyond the theological positions and the sermons of some priests who point out idolatry as a deviation from the message of Christ and who disqualify as superstitious many devotions that consider Christian symbols as talismans, in practice religious images and their specific worship they generate an idiosyncrasy that will allow us to understand the “lived religiosity” of Catholics.

Cristián Parker (1993) defined Latin American popular religiosity as the factor of generation of another logic, referring to the logic of popular Catholicism in Latin America, and on this he mentions that

in homes there are almost always portraits and "little saints" of the Virgin, crucifixes, images, engravings and medals of family devotions. The imperative rituals are numerous and multiform, either by means of gestures (crossing oneself, touching the images, placing the children before the images of the sanctuaries, etc.) or by means of prayers (Parker, 1993: 183).

As Ammerman mentioned, in everyday life, agents of faith endow any material object or artifact with sacredness (Ammerman, 2014). For this reason, the methodology of lived religiosity is correct, since it focuses its attention on the materiality of religious objects and attends to the way in which their practice connects with something sacred, taking an interest in the emotional and affective relationships that practitioners establish. with objects.


Altars and territories

The photographs show us that the altars placed in domestic settings, workplaces or public spaces allow decentralizing the devotional practices of the institutions and their temples. The altars constitute corners of sacredness that enable a domestic and daily religiosity. This is how several of the interviewees define it: "For me, making my personal prayer with him, every day, is that I have a dialogue with him."

This religiosity does not require theological knowledge, rather it is experienced as faith and leaves the temples to secular spaces to bring the religious closer to a daily experience: “I don't need to go to Mass with the priests. You bring the temple ”. Its practitioners are not governed by ecclesial or liturgical norms, but by the way in which they enable tradition with faith: “with my altar I continue the tradition of my hometown. There it was customary to take the saint and watch him all night, as if he were a dead man. I dedicate it to San Judas Tadeo, because he is the holiest of saints ”.

The photos show different locations where the altars are placed and practiced, which can be private, family, community or public. The decision that guides them to be mounted in a certain place depends on different aspects. There is no recipe or standard. In some cases, it is due to the need to maintain a family tradition in force: "in my house my entire family is Catholic, and since my childhood my parents taught me this faith and we have continued." In other cases it is due to a miraculous event: “a man came to build him that chapel because he crashed on the corner. It was a very strong shock, he managed to escape, he left. The whole block here was in darkness, and he, in gratitude for that, came to put up the chapel; he always came every year ”. In other cases they do it out of the need to transport their devotion to nearby space.

Figure 1. Photograph of Anel Salas. Guadalajara, June 25, 2018.

You bring the temple. José Luis, loader of the Mercado de Abastos, 52 years old.

One feature of Catholic images is that they have the capacity to be portable, which allows the sacred to be transferred and mounted anywhere: “he wanted to go to the Basilica to ask the Virgin for his health. So I thought that since I couldn't go out, it was better to bring the Virgin here and set up an altar for her ”. This makes it possible to create connections between the institutional, the parachurch practices and the family or individual devotional practices. The portability of the images also generates continuities between private, semi-public, public and ecclesial spaces. However, it articulates multiple logics.

As soon as the images are placed in any space, the image agency reconverts it into sacred territory, since the faithful begin to ritualize by placing offerings (on one occasion I saw how there was an exhibition of wooden sculptures at the Guadalajara airport, and one was the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. At the time it was mounted, the image was accompanied by several bouquets of roses left by the passengers). In this way, common believers appropriate symbols and are able to carry and consecrate them through different rituals, such as daily prayers that allow us to establish daily communication with sacred forces and beings: “Well, I am obliged to pray in the morning and at night. I get up, Thank God the Lord for letting me live ”. "I cross myself when I go out the door and say, my God, take care of me from the bad things that are in the street, protect me." "In the morning and at night I pray to go to sleep and I pray to my children, I bless them, I bless my house and I go to sleep, I thank God." “Making my personal prayer with him every day is about me having a dialogue with him. I tell him what I feel, what I bring, what hurts me, what doesn't hurt me, my hurries, and that is daily ”.

Figure 2. Photograph of Renée de la Torre, Colonia Tepeyac, Zapopan, August 19, 2019.

My God, take care of the bad things that are in the street, protect me. Lucia, tamale merchant, 67 years old. Originally from the Atemajac neighborhood.

Images, intimate communication and daily rituals

The daily encounter with the saints generates an interaction with aesthetics, which evokes feelings with a normative character (piety, suffering, pain, goodness, motherhood, tenderness, forgiveness), which have a pedagogical character in the sentimental education of Catholics that few sometimes it is studied.

This communication is above all emotional and sensitive. Catholic figures (Virgins, saints and images of Jesus) have an aesthetic that humanizes them and generates personal communication. The aesthetics of the images also generate feelings and communicative exchanges, as expressed in the following testimony: “I have the Christ Child and I worship him every day he is born, to say the least; We change her clothes, which is traditional ”. Sometimes they are fed, talked to, cleaned and bathed, dressed, sung to them, caressed, made happy, cared for. But in addition to establishing this semi-human bond, they are recognized supernatural powers (magical or miraculous) that act in life in favor of the faithful. For example, they are paid with offerings, and the offering is continually humanized by saying that flowers are placed to keep them happy. They allow the religious experience to be an intimate communication that connects the transcendental with the immediate.

Catholic images exercise communication with the world of spirits, of the dead, of the absent, with God. Its materiality is a support for what Pablo Semán has called the cosmological perspective, through which communication with the spirit world is established (Semán, 2008).

Catholic religious images not only evoke meanings (like natural symbols), but are revered as artifacts with miraculous agency: "He has done many miracles for me." They also convey pleasant sensations: “Then I wake up at ease, happy, happy.” “Well, I think I have a lot of peace, that is, tranquility, like this; I turn around, I see it, and I say: how nice. ”. They have agency to intervene in the destiny of people, be it to alleviate sorrows, to encourage joys, to direct prayers, to accompany afflictions or to protect and provide security in the day to day and in the private sphere. Images are assigned a role of protector of the family and home.

As Gilberto Giménez pointed out, an exchange interaction is established with the images:

Sacred beings are always faithful, by definition, to the rules that govern their relationship with humans, and they never fail to comply with their devotees according to the terms of the contract that morally obliges them to protect and help them ... That is why they performances of the sacred recipients are always considered victorious and can only be subject to positive sanctions such as social recognition and "tests of glorification". Here the world of festivals, village apotheoses and latrutic celebrations that constitute the other face of popular ceremoniality finds its natural insertion (Giménez, 2013: 249).

The photos highlight the humanized features that evoke the faces and bodies of these figures and paintings with which the faithful relate. They express a form of human representation, embodied in the image (bulk or painted). These aesthetic features of the saints, Virgins and Christs were not only made to be admired, but also to generate feelings and communicative exchanges (Turner, 2008). The interaction with these figures is not only contemplative, but above all it is communicative, sensorial and sensitive: “Every year, on February 2, I invite friends to dress the Child. In fact, she has her godmother in a dress and we do all the ritual as it was customary before. Well, we make something to eat, I put a little sheet to give the child to the comadre. We clean the Child with a little oil like a baby's, and then we dress him. He has shoes, he has underwear, he has long shorts. All those super anti-religion, anti-priest people, everything, but nobody resists something so beautiful, it is irresistible, right?

Figure 3. Photograph of Renée de la Torre. Guadalajara, April 2, 2019.

Nobody resists something so beautiful, it is irresistible, right? Elena Mendez de la Peña, stylist and ghostwriter.

Symbolic efficacy

This devotion does not require more than the mediation of the believer and his habitual practice with his images. But the symbolic efficacy of the saints depends on several aspects, among which we can list: 1) the gift. In many cases the saints are special because they were inherited or received (gifted) and not purchased directly. This transforms the object that, when received as a gift, ceases to be a simple merchandise and acquires life and ceases to be an inert or disposable artifact, as Marcel Mauss (1979) describes the symbolic efficiency of the gift. 2) The self-managed use of consecration rituals. Another process of authenticating the power of the consecrated image resides in its ritualization by means of which it is transformed from an artifact or merchandise to a blessed or sacred image that even takes on the life of a creature: “if it is not baptized it is not yet a creature, but it is already He is baptized and God recognizes him as his son. ”. These rituals can be varied including their contact with holy water: "before it was just a photograph, now (after sprinkling it with holy water) it is the Virgin of Guadalupe", or having been blessed by an ecclesiastical authority, or whoever has been acquired in a Shrine: "they bring them to me to give as gifts and I place them there, because these images are blessed and thus they bless my little shop." 3) The agency of the images. They are given an agency or will of their own to choose their sanctuary, the place where their guardian should already be. Many times these objects have agency to decide where they are (for example, the case of San Miguel Arcángel, or the case of the Virgin of Zapopan that they gave to Captain Chendo), to appear suddenly (this is the case of the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared on the trunk of the Constitución colony and the case of the Virgin of the Well stamp).

Figure 4. Photograph of Renée de la Torre. Zapopan, March 7, 2018.

If you are already baptized, God already recognizes you as his son. Donato Hernández, 35 years old, originally from Hidalgo, cashier in Oxxo.

Figure 5. Photograph of Renée de la Torre, June 15, 2017.

These images are blessed and thus bless my little shop. Grocery store in Chapala.

Self-managing character of rituals

These rituals of sacralization are self-managed, there is a traditional knowledge of rituals loaded with a host of representations and a habitus acquired: "I have the Virgin because she is the same one they have in my house." This know-how that is instrumented through learned common sense allows modifying an object (as the stories in the photographic essay refer to), it can be a calendar sheet, an image acquired in the market or a painting that suddenly appeared in the place of mysterious way, and that by mounting it on an altar and ritualizing it through offerings and devotional behaviors (prayers, communication, special care), it becomes an object to be revered on a daily basis.

These objects are capable of reclassifying ordinary time and everyday space into a sacred time and space (Durkheim, 1995). The placement of an altar prescribes a new way of relating to the place where it was placed: "I pray now to fall asleep and I pray to my children, I bless them, I bless my house and I go to bed to sleep, I thank God"; "I venerate him every day he is born, to say the least, we change his clothes, which is traditional."

Ordinary believers are not apostates or deny the institution, but are linked to religion individually or communally through their appropriation of tradition (a knowledge that is acquired through oral tradition from generation to generation). This possibility of achieving an autonomous practice of faith is sometimes done out of necessity (for example, when a sick person is unable to attend the temple), or even allows individualized religiosity outside the churches, but in continuity with the Catholic tradition. In other cases it reinforces their commitment to the Catholic faith, since it becomes something complementary when attending mass or pilgrimage to the sanctuaries. What we find in several of the testimonies that accompany the photographs is that there is a permanent negotiation between the individual, the family tradition and the institutionalized religion.

It is important to emphasize that there is no prescribed model of what a domestic altar should contain; the photos show the variety of his compositions. But we can affirm that the altars are a material concretion of the faith of each one (in it there may be a main saint and other images or objects that accompany it). In some cases there is a central figure and others of a company. Also through the images a symbolic communication is established between heaven and earth with the family (for example, when Mrs. Lucía places the family photographs there and even the urn with the remains of her granddaughter and her toys). In this way, the altars connect a communication between the present and the absent, the living and the dead, humans and divine beings. They represent a bridge of visibility with the invisible. It also represents in a symbolic way the relationship of the saints with personal biography, since objects are placed on the altar that refer to important moments that they wish to remember or personal objects of family beings or they even seek to present those who are absent by placing photographs of family members, such as those of deceased ancestors or children or grandchildren who live abroad.

Figure 6. Photograph of Renée de la Torre, Colonia Tepeyac, Zapopan, August 19, 2019.

I don't allow any toys to be taken from me because they are hers. Lucia, tamale merchant, 67 years old. Originally from the Atemajac neighborhood.

It is, as defined by Turner (2008), an instrument for the perpetuation of productive relationships, since it not only symbolizes the representations of their faith, but is the place where communication between deities and humans takes place (ibid.). There they pray: "I pray now to fall asleep and I pray to my children, I bless them, I bless my house and I go to sleep, I thank God." There, problem solving is requested and pleaded: "He has done many miracles for me." Or just to feel better: "Then I wake up comfortable, happy, happy." Well, I think I have a lot of peace, that is, tranquility, like this; I turn around, I see it, and I say: how nice. ”. Images are assigned the role of protectors of the family and home.

Performative character of the territory

It is pertinent to point out the performative character of the altars in the public space. Rita Segato (2007) invites us to think about the effects that iconicity has on the contemporary restructuring of the territory, and in this sense the photographs and testimonies show that where an altar is placed, the space is transformed into a religious place, with identity, memory and ability to be differentiated from the rest of the profane spaces. The images in the public spaces in some neighborhoods that we visited modify the relationship of the neighbors with the places where altars have been set up. They manage to transform a dark space into a lighted place, an abandoned space into a practiced place, a garbage dump into a clean place, an unsafe place into a convivial place, a vandalized place into a respected and revered space. The images of the Virgin in the streets enable a community appropriation of public space. The impact that the altar generates on its inhabitants is generally of a positive and harmonious nature, since given the social context of violence that currently exists throughout Mexico, there are neighborhoods and neighborhoods that are damaged by the presence of drug dealers or by different criminal activities . These cases show the reappropriation and symbolic recomposition of the territory oriented towards a religious sense, capable of establishing other logics of coexistence, well-being and community harmony among the inhabitants.

The images placed in public spaces transform corners, sidewalks or fences into public altars and even generate community practices. The space changes its use; It is no longer graffiti, it is not the place of the garbage, it is illuminated, it is cleaned and even the people who pass by stop to cross themselves or pray to the image. The place is transformed into a sacred site. Many times these places were vandalized or unsafe sites, and they become spaces valued by the community. Public rituals generate practices that do not imply a rupture or deinstitutionalization of lived religiosity and that are frequently complementary to ecclesial liturgies: “This chapel is well known by the settlers, when they come here to mass at the nearby temple, they also say mass here at the on the other hand, because they bring the pilgrim Virgin from the temple, and mass is said, a meeting is held, dinner is held, but the pilgrims come to bring something ”. But we have also seen that they can be heterodox, open to syncretism and the renewal of cults (for example, when other images are introduced, such as Santa Muerte) that can even depart from the norms established by the congregations, but remain linked with them by tradition (Hervieu-Léger, 1996) and not necessarily with specialists in the sacred.

Figure 7. Photograph of Renée de la Torre. San Miguel neighborhood, Chapala, March 26, 2018.

In you we put all our hope. You are our life and comfort. Mrs. Ortiz. 53 years. Housewife and mother of the deceased.


This essay has shown the materialization of individual and collective beliefs that are inscribed within the daily religiosity of Catholic believers. Photography allows us to show the relevance of the “material turn” in the study of religiosity, to capture the strength of aesthetics with the symbolic articulations that give shape and meaning to religious experience in everyday life. However, to understand the meanings and appropriations they generate, it is necessary to inscribe them in the narratives of their users. These allow us to understand the meanings, uses and effects that religious materialities have on the daily life of believers.

This project on sacred materiality includes more religious expressions; However, we have presented a limited part that allows us to reveal the richness as an object of study and change of paradigm that the concept of lived religiosity offers. At the same time, through photographic analysis, the performative and agency capacity that transforms spaces, daily behaviors, individual and social practices has been exposed, which in turn are the same ones that legitimize the presence of these material manifestations of the sacred.

The perspective of lived religiosity allows us to enter into the understanding of the weight and value of faith in everyday life. More than dogmas, norms or theological elaborations from the institutions, what gives meaning to extra-ecclesial religiosity is intimate communication with the supernatural and its proximity to the interlocking of affections, family or neighborhood experiences and the search for comfort and solution to felt needs. The lived religiosity allows us to weigh the agency of the subjects not as mere consumers of religion, but in a constant negotiation and creative recreation of the sacred.

Extra-ecclesial agents act by putting into practice a habitus Catholic acquired via oral transmission and via the circulation of images. The recognition of their powers does not require the authorization of the parish priest or the Church, since they have their own criteria for the authentication and sanctification of religious images. Nor do they require resorting to a manual, but rather it is knowledge acquired through tradition, which is re-signified and updated with expectations and personal experiences.

The photographs and testimonies show that wherever an altar is placed, a religious experience is established based on a symbolic know-how that establishes communication between the physical world and the supernatural world, between secular time and sacred time. The altars and the images that populate them constitute the material and symbolic mediation of the religious experience lived in everyday life. A religiosity in between the Catholic tradition and the subjectivity of believers in non-institutionalized spaces. The setting of altars turns religious practice into a kind of hallway (intermediate space to enter and exit that is located between the entrance to the houses and the exit to the street in the old houses and neighborhoods of Mexico). The “religiosity hallway” is materialized in the altars and generates daily logics of mediation of the sacred between private faith and public religiosity, between personal religiosity and religious tradition, between the continuity of the custom and its updating to confront new situations of the present. We can consider altars as hinges that articulate the private space (of the house) in which they coexist with the religious images present in the chapels and temples, to extend religious practice and devotion to the domestic and family environment; the semi-private space is colonized by personal faith, which by placing its altar sacralizes the spaces destined for work (usually offices, workshops and shops), and the public space, which should be secular par excellence, is transformed by street altars into collective and community territories of faith, with the capacity to regenerate and transform space.

This study opens an epistemological horizon that demands more attention from studies on ordinary and daily religiosity, on the sensitive weight of its materiality, on the aesthetics that generate humanized sensibilities, on the intimate communication that links the invisible with the visible, on the senses of sacralization and security or wellbeing associated with them, on the actualization of tradition. It takes us into the study of the practice of faith in the immediate current context of its practitioners, where religiosity is still in force to solve and accompany their daily routines.


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EncartesVol. 7, No. 13, March 2024-September 2024, is an open access digital academic journal published biannually by the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social, Calle Juárez, No. 87, Col. Tlalpan, C. P. 14000, México, D. F., Apdo. Postal 22-048, Tel. 54 87 35 70, Fax 56 55 55 76, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, A. C.., Carretera Escénica Tijuana-Ensenada km 18.5, San Antonio del Mar, No. 22560, Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico, Tel. +52 (664) 631 6344, Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Occidente, A.C., Periférico Sur Manuel Gómez Morin, No. 8585, Tlaquepaque, Jalisco, Tel. (33) 3669 3434, and El Colegio de San Luis, A. C., Parque de Macul, No. 155, Fracc. Colinas del Parque, San Luis Potosi, Mexico, Tel. (444) 811 01 01. Contact: Director of the journal: Ángela Renée de la Torre Castellanos. Hosted at Responsible for the last update of this issue: Arthur Temporal Ventura. Date last modified: March 25, 2024.