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In 1938, the German ethnologist and liturgical historian Anton L.Mayer wrote an essay under the title Die heilbringende Schau in Sitte und Kult. In so far as he coined the term ‘Schaudevotion’ and introduced it into liturgical and devotional research concerned with the high and late Middle Ages, he influenced the image of this time deeply, and his views remain valid today. At the centre of the essay stood the value and the role of ‘seeing’ in the area of Christian worship, in particular the worship of relics in which, from the late twelfth to the early sixteenth century, the main focus of the act of worship – as in the worship of the eucharist – was the seeing of the relic itself.
Mayer distinguished between three types of ‘religious seeing’: 1. The mystical vision/the mystical Schau, which aims through contemplation to achieve a revelation or vision in front of the inner, mental eye. Through rapt contemplation, the viewer acquires knowledge, which gives him religious insight. 2. The viewing or the Schau of the mystery, however, is a physical act. The viewer progressively sees his environment as transfigured. He experiences himself affectively involved in an action or an event, where the sacred reality transcends the profane, secular reality. In most cases, cultic or liturgical acts are involved. 3. The physical or magical ‘watching’/Schau involves a purely physical type of seeing. According to Mayer, this constitutes the simplest and most primitive, sensual connection with the object in question. The purpose of this connection ranges from the desire to worship a saint to the hope of an immediate, measurable effect, like for example the avoidance of starvation or the threat of war. Other wishes could be more personal, such as the cure of an illness or the deliverance from a particular, critical situation.