The heightened nostalgia of corresponded to deepening desperation after , as Germans sought to understand how their sacrifices could have been in vain. Bereaved and aggrieved peoples existed among both winners and losers.
Although there were transnational elements of reconciliation across national borders, especially between Germany and France, the problem of war sacrifice was most acute in Germany. These veterans renounced war and denounced the soldiers and civilians who had agitated for it during , as well as those who sought another war to avenge the unfavorable outcome. Veterans thus used their Catholic faith as a source of pacifist healing. These peace congresses would be influential in laying informal networks of transnational association that helped the Christian Democratic parties foster European reconciliation in the post era.
Across national boundaries, states such as Britain and Germany tapped into medieval Christian imagery and language to reinforce the notion that combat was chivalrous, noble, and an honorable defense of tradition. By appropriating this trope, states attempted to counter the atomizing industrial brutality of modern mechanized war. Visual imagery played a huge role in the state instrumentalization of popular religious belief. Among all the powers, imagery of Christ, the cross and the saints was used on enlistment posters to get soldiers to join in the crusade to save civilization, similarly encouraging civilians to buy war bonds or become nurses.
Propagandists from the Entente Powers drew heavily on images of destroyed churches and cultural sites in northern France and Belgium such as the library at Louvain , reinforcing the notion that the enemies were barbarians bent on destroying civilization itself. The Great War was a moment of modernity when traditional religious practice confronted industrial destruction that threatened existing orders. Yet even in the paramount modernist centers of capital cities, traditional religious practices endured and were strengthened.
Family-based religious life in these cases included regular chapel attendance and a deep commitment to faith. Going into battle, Christian believers carried a copy of the Bible or short Biblical extracts with them. The opening verses of the Gospel of John were a frequently used text:.
The power of scripture was especially reinforced each time the pages of text saved the soldier from being wounded by bullets or shrapnel. Significant both symbolically and physically, soldiers often carried Bibles in pockets directly over their hearts, and these practices gave a few more layers of protection in a vital area. Military doctors and army psychologists observed numerous soldiers attempting to ward off bullets and shells, believing that metaphysical will and talismanic action could alter physical laws.
For believers this sometimes included chanting prayers, uttering religious exclamations, and performing religious rituals such as caressing rosary beads while praying. For the believing soldier, religious conviction provided a way of coping with the harsh pressures of combat. Especially in the face of repeated exposure to death, for the believing soldier who survived battle, religion also provided a rationalization of the course of events. Tensions between establishment and popular religion were perhaps most acute in the conflicts over charismatic figures with mass followings.
Right in the heart of central London at the Church of St. He advocated a non-institutional church and repeatedly clashed with religious and civil authorities over such issues as militaristic commemoration of the war dead. Potentially more troublesome and unsettling to male church leaders were female visionaries such as Claire Ferchaud and Barbara Weigand , who implicitly or explicitly challenged traditional patriarchal structures of religion.
Both of these visionary mystics drew on popular understandings of the Catholic Cult of the Sacred Heart. In their respective national contexts of France and Germany, Ferchaud and Weigand, demonstrated the transnational power of adapting a common Catholic belief, viewed both nationally and locally.
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Church and state repression ensued, especially suspicious of female authority figures. Sexuality formed one of the most potent ways in which mass populations challenged traditional religious behavior, especially in extra-marital relations, some of which was state-sanctioned in the form of military brothels and rapes of defenseless citizens in occupied areas. Perhaps the case of peasant soldiers in Russia showed the most potential for destabilization of traditional sexuality, facing not only the mass destruction of Great War, but the new mores of the militantly atheistic Bolshevik regime.
Studies of Russian peasant soldiers indicated that old religious codes could be violently displaced, with soldiers especially exercising newfound sexual freedom with abandon. As Leonid Heretz described it:. Of course, as Heretz pointed out, such behavior occurred in other armies, too. Particularly in Protestant countries, enthusiastic evangelicals tried to seize on the notion of the war as an opportunity for widespread social revival.
The heavily Protestant contingents of the Anglophone armies in the British Commonwealth as well as the United States became prime breeding grounds for attempted moral crusades. Indeed, one should resist the temptation to assume that pleasures of the flesh and material interests predominated as a matter of course. Many times they surely did, sometimes for religious believers. However, wartime behavior needs to be seen in the context of larger 20 th -century trajectories.
Deeply rooted in pre-modern modes of thought, belief in supernatural phenomena reflected a two-fold power dynamic in which human agency was passive and active, and sometimes fluctuating between both poles. Thus, as Jay Winter has written:. Not only outside of the established Churches, soldiers adapted religious motifs to their own personal practice, which sometimes bordered on the superstitious.
World War I
The French veteran and Catholic peace activist Marc Sangnier, for instance, treasured a small wooden crucifix given to him by a nun in a convent near the Sangnier family retreat. For believers, supernatural phenomena occurred both on the battlefield and at home. Soldiers and civilians claimed to see apparitions of religious figures such as the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ walking on battlefields, hovering over the skies or appearing at home. Drawing on medieval British memory, the tale probably drew upon legends which publicized the return of dead men from the Battle of Agincourt.
The legend was reported in eyewitness reports published in Russian newspapers :. Such associations tapped into a blend of Biblical tradition Apocalyptic Battle on a White Horse found in Revelations and , traditional stories of sainthood especially the story of St. More concretely, another famous episode involved the Madonna of Albert Cathedral, which became a focal point of attention near the British front lines on the Somme.
Located at the top of the cathedral tower, the statue of the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child had received a direct shell hit, which bent the statue at a right angle to the church spire, hanging precipitously from the tower. The statue seemed to defy gravity, and British soldiers constructed a popular story that the war would end on the day that the Madonna finally fell to the ground.
The apparitions began on 13 May and continued on the 13 th of every month through October , eventually gathering audiences of tens of thousands of pilgrims claimed to have seen the vision. The apparitions included interpreted prophecies of an even greater war to come, visions of hell, and the need to repent for sins. Apparitions often took the form of the ghost of a dead comrade or relative visiting believers. One prominent episode of supernatural contact occurred to Will Bird of the 42 nd Battalion, perhaps the most famous front-line Canadian soldier. After the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April , Bird sought shelter in rear-area trenches and fell asleep.
Steve beckoned Will away from his resting place to a new location where he thought he had been sleepwalking or hallucinating; he promptly fell asleep again. When his comrades awoke Will the next day, they were amazed to find him alive: his former location had been completely destroyed by a direct hit from a high-explosive shell, which dismembered the bodies of other nearby soldiers such that his friends had been combing through the body parts attempting to identify him.
Will recounted the experience to others, aware that he sounded delusional, but he believed that his dead brother had intervened to save his life. Other Great War participants took a more active role in attempting to contact the dead, most famously through the phenomena known as spiritualism. As Jay Winter noted in his classic work, spiritualism contained both secular and religious variants. Even some avowed secularists nonetheless believed that some form of the human personality lived on after physical death.
Spiritualism was a diverse phenomenon that included true believers, curious observers, the mentally deranged, and schemers attempting to defraud the gullible.
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Perhaps the most famous evangelist of the spiritualist phenomenon was the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle , who lost his son, brother and brother-in-law during the war. Religious spiritualism often occurred at the margins of established church doctrines, though the Catholic notion of intercessory saint cultures helped to blur boundaries.
Beyond famous personalities like Arthur Conan Doyle, ordinary soldiers and civilians used a wide variety of physical items in the belief that they could influence metaphysical reality. Talismans and amulets found numerous forms during the war, sometimes including lockets of hair, rings from loved ones or personal items associated with family members or local religious sites.
Many of these objects adapted traditional forms such as the cross. The items were used for a variety of purposes, usually to ward off injury and death. While holding such objects, people uttered incantations of all kinds trying to avert disaster and return home to a state of peace. Soldiers went to war bearing religious medals of saints, while home front believers similarly invoked saints as intercessors to protect their loved ones fighting.
The pre-Christian and pagan elements of Catholic and Orthodox religious cultures allowed an easier conceptual shift for religious believers to embrace a wide variety of talismanic practices designed to ward off evil. The plethora of saints allowed believers to invoke the protection of specific intercessors, such as St. Barbara for artillery and miners, St. George for cavalry or St. Joseph for engineers. The soldiers formed a cross of copper by using the fragments of detonated artillery shell casings. For the rosary chain, the POWs used cartridge casings from 6.
Postcards formed one of the most visible and popular traces of religious belief on a large scale. Many showed Jesus Christ standing watch over soldiers in the trenches, sometimes leading them in battle, or comforting the dying on the battlefield. The symbolism of the dying Christ on the cross was juxtaposed in explicit comparison with dying soldiers. Some postcards invoked the saints as patrons that would protect the believer and in some cases harm the enemy. More personally, postcards of churches and religious sites even destroyed ones served as souvenirs, allowing visitors to claim that they represented a bit of culture in a world gone mad.
Such acts, demonstrated to the receiver, asserted that the visitor was a defender and respecter of culture. A wide variety of saints made an appearance in religiously themed art and literature. Some were explicitly co-opted for national purposes, such as St. Michael in the service of Germany or Joan of Arc for France. All the same, it is a memorial of uncommon interest. Comprehensive view There are five sections to the memorial: a frame of palms on either side that encompasses a large painting not visible here; see below , a smaller painting, a table of names, and two tablets giving details about the creatio nof the memorial.
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Lower tablets Two tables below are unusually informative about the memorial. The first says that the memorial expresses gratitude for the armistice signed on Monday, Nov. This memorial was created swiftly and a fine one it is. Unfortunately it is not displayed to advantage in the church.
Upper painting The upper painting is part of the frame. It illustrates a brilliantly good succession of chivalric and sacred images: bishop's mitre and knight's helmet, then crozier and sword crossed, then a shield in front of the cross, and the motto, "O you who suffer and who are troubled, and I will comfort you. Lower painting The second painting and the table of names are set in a wide wooden frame.
The painting shows an angel with the palm of victory at Christ's right and soldiers ascending on his left. In the center of the painting a soldier is draped in the flag; at the left we see a small, destroyed church and near it a small white cross a battlefield cemetery ; at the right, smoke on the battlefield. The table of names was wisely written on paper; you can see elsewhere that such lists had to be emended rather awkwardly. A notice in brass at the bottom instructs viewers to consult the "Livre d'Or" in the sacristy.