Musical poems in praise of a stigmatic

by Andrea Graus

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Margalida Amengual in ecstasy, c. 1918. ADM, 13.1.

Abandoned the day of her birth, Margalida Amengual (1888-1919) was adopted by a peasant family from Costitx, an isolated village in the middle of Mallorca (Spain). Extremely pious, she tried to join a convent but was rejected because of her feeble health. Amengual became a Franciscan Tertiary and was said to spend several hours meditating over the Passion. In her small library, she kept a book on the life of the stigmatised Italian mystic Gemma Galgani (1878-1903), canonised in 1940. Her spiritual father removed the book from the library after the start of the extraordinary phenomena. In late July 1918, Amengual started to have severe difficulties swallowing and began a period of inedia that lasted six months, until her death on 30 January 1919. Allegedly, she was only nourished by the Eucharist and by ice mixed with sugar and cinnamon. On Friday 9 August, stigmata became visible in her hands for the first time. From then on, she relived the Passion every Friday. She allegedly experienced other extraordinary phenomena, such as visions and levitation, and had the gift of prophecy—she correctly predicted the day of her death. The Bishop of Mallorca charged Reverend Nicolás Saggese and Canon Antonio Sancho with an investigation. All rejected fraud and judged the phenomena to be veridical.

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Visitors in front of Amengual’s house. In: “El suceso de Costitx,” Baleares, 3 (77), 1919.

During the last months of Amengual’s life, the news of her ecstasies spread all over Mallorca by word of mouth. According to the doctor Sebastián Amengual—one of the first to examine the stigmatic—the events were witnessed by hundreds of people, including ‘physicians, lawyers, priests, enlightened people of different points of view, old men and young people, reluctant to accept the mentioned phenomena.’ (ADM, 13.1). During the ecstasy, what impressed them the most was her facial expression. In the words of a group of visitors: ‘We saw that her facial expression was of anguish. It is not possible to describe it. Was it resigned angst? It cannot be qualified as such. It was a deeply intense anguish; but with an expression of peace and softness […]. There is no “[Mater] Dolorosa” with such an expression’ (ADM, 13.1). Margalida Amengual preserved this appearance after she died. Her corpse was exhibited for ten days in the church in Costitx without showing any sign of decay. Around 80,000 people from all over Mallorca and other parts of Spain came to see her body.

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A drawing depicting Amengual’s mortuary chapel. In: “El suceso de Costitx,” Baleares, 3 (77), 1919.

After the funeral, booklets popularising Amengual’s life—usually self-published—started to circulate. They were authored by her fans and written mostly in Majorcan, a dialect of the local Catalan language used by Amengual and her local devotees. Soon, more elaborate literature appeared. Her followers began to praise Amengual’s glory through songs and poems that have remained part of the popular culture of Mallorca. The Goigs de na Margalida de Costitx are the most striking example. In the popular tradition of the Catalan-speaking territories, goigs are poetic musical compositions sang to the Virgin Mary, Christ or the saints, printed in illustrated leaflets. They are sung collectively during liturgical acts, such as processions or pilgrimages, to give thanks for graces received or to ask for the spiritual and physical benefit of the community. Amengual’s goigs became the ideal way to praise her graces and disseminate her life story. They confirm her widespread reputation of sanctity at that time and are an example of popular devotion. They were written by a Franciscan Tertiary in 1921, with music by a Capuchin Friar Minor, and published by the Franciscan journal El Apostolado Franciscano. Their popularity was such that in less than a year three editions had appeared. In 2011, the goigs saw its 5th edition. They have been especially disseminated within Franciscan communities in Mallorca and Catalonia. Some of the stanzas recall the ‘Friday agonies’ and the overwhelming arrival of visitors after Amengual’s death:

It caused admiration to see repeated to a certain extent the painful agony of Our Lord in you. Many Fridays you have been admired for this remarkable happening. The news of your death spread everywhere making a large crowd come who feels great grief, sorrow that is only caused by the reputation of sanctity. All the village of Costitx  and all of Mallorca in this final hour feel the desire to see you. And your fame persists and has even increased.

Different editions of Goigs de na Margalida de Costitx. Courtesy of Arxiu Amics dels Goigs de Barcelona.

The goigs are another example of the importance of the oral culture in the construction of celebrity. Even though they have seen five editions to date, their function is to be transmitted orally through singing, as in the musical poems of the medieval troubadours which inspired the goigs. Many people know Amengual’s goigs by heart, though not all have read them. The goigs are deliberately easy to memorize while singing. Each stanza has the same music and is followed by the same chorus, giving time to think of what comes next. In Amengual’s goigs, the chorus is: ‘Of Jesus in the Sacrament / you were a fervent lover: / “Be our advocate / next to your Loved One”.’ The chorus is a clear indicator of Amengual’s mission in the eyes of her followers. Approaching the cult of stigmatics through this type of sources provides interesting insights into the role of oral culture, media and popular enthusiasm in the rise to fame of these mystics.

References:

  • Arxiu Diocesà de Mallorca (ADM), Box 13.1.
  • Arxiu Amics dels Goigs de Barcelona
  • Munar, J. B. Margarita de Costitx. Datos biográficos de la Sierva de Dios Margarita Amengual Campaner (a) Cativa, 1888-1919 (Palma de Mallorca, 1969)

Want to know more? Read the whole story in: Graus, A., “A visit to remember. Stigmata and celebrity at the turn of the twentieth century,” Cultural and Social History (First published online, October 2016).

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