Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Ramon Llull: Immaculate Tourism

Immaculate Conception, which is the excuse for the second public holiday in three days (tomorrow), partly owes its existence (if one can describe it as that) to Ramon Llull. The mediaeval Franciscan came up with what he and other Franciscans believed was a pretty solid argument for the Immaculate Conception. This relied on the notion that Jesus's grandparents had a desire so pure that God graced them with the ability to conceive the Mother of the Son of God. Mary was thus conceived without sin. Given that, in the Llullian version of events, Mary was destined to the Mother of the Son of God, she had to be without sin - actual or original. It was impossible for God and sin to exist within the same person, i.e. Jesus. Ergo, Mary had to be without sin.

While religious philosophers continued their debates as to the Immaculate Conception, it was to become a political tool. Some time in the late fifteenth century, the Franciscans were to convince Isabel and Ferdinand that Spain was without sin and thus free of stain. Spain was therefore pure.

Given all this, you can begin to appreciate how and why the Immaculate Conception is such a big deal in the religious calendar. Or at least why it should have been deemed of major importance several centuries ago. Llull's logic would have been perfect for the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The super-race notion would have chimed well with an expansionist Spain littered with Inquisitional head cases at the end of the fifteenth century. But nowadays?

I recently asked a thirteen-year-old why there is a holiday for Immaculate Conception. It had all been explained at school, she said. But she hadn't really been listening. It was, after all, rather boring. Quite probably. And rather implausible as well. There again, this is how it is with religion. Concepts such as the Immaculate Conception are predicated on beliefs from pre-scientific times. The philosophy that went into them was within the grasp of a select few scholars who grappled with explaining the inexplicable. For a rational and questioning society, and one that is older than a generation hooked up permanently to the ramblings of a Youtuber, arcane theology is indeed boring. It also defies belief. Except to the believers. And also, from a different credo, to contemporary fanatics who mangle ancient and mediaevalist mumbo-jumbo into a form of collective psychopathy.

Although the philosophy is obscure, the history isn't, especially the physical manifestations of it. We have now come to the end of the year of Ramon Llull, who is bound so closely to Mallorca's history. Miramar, the Monestir de la Real, the Puig de Randa in Algaida: here are places which ooze with a Llullian past. But what impact has this year had?

Religious tourism, according to the World Tourism Organisation, moves some 300 million people across the globe per annum. A report for 2014 found that this tourism generated 32,520 million euros. In 2017, there are jubilee years for Caravaca de la Cruz in Murcia and the monastery of Santo Toribio de Liébana in Cantabria. Two million visitors are expected in Murcia and one million in Cantabria. These are significant numbers.

The point about the 2014 report can be found in its title: "The Economic Impact of Church Real Estate". This wasn't a report into religion per se. It focused on religious sites. Visitors do not need to be religious to appreciate such sites; they are attractive to and do attract all-comers.

Which brings us back to Llull and his year. In Mallorcan terms, he is the most significant figure in the island's religious past - more so than Juniper Serra, the physical manifestations of whom, save one or two buildings in Petra, are on the Pacific coast of the USA. But what value - in economic terms from religious tourism related to Llull - has been generated? Any?

The Llull year has seemed more a celebration of his obscure side than the commercial side: a celebration of one of the chief scholars who contributed to the Immaculate Conception dogma. Perhaps this is as it should have been, but here was an opportunity to have developed a brand of religious tourism which by and large passes Mallorca by. When one looks at other studies of this tourism in Spain, Mallorca doesn't feature.

Ultimately, it may be because Llull, despite the reverence in which he is held in Mallorca, simply isn't that well known in global terms. But then maybe this is because of a failing to make him better known. Granting him sainthood, and the Pope appears inclined to do so, might help in this regard, but one wouldn't bet on it.

There is a desire to develop religious tourism, there was a conference about it not so long ago in Lluc, but it requires far more than a holiday to honour Catholic dogma.

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