Towards an Ecological Catholicism

Marian Pilgrimage in the Anthropocene

  • Sarah Traylor
Keywords: Marian figures, ecological Catholicism, ecological crisis, Virgin Mary, Gaia, Anthropocene era, pilgrimage


In his novel “Die Wallfahrer,” or “The Pilgrims” (1986), Carl Amery draws together the topics of Catholicism and ecological criticism through pilgrimage. The novel depicts the journeys of four pilgrims to the Marian shrine at Tuntenhausen, in Bavaria. Their journeys take place during critical times over four centuries: the Thirty Years’ War, the Enlightenment, the “Gründerzeit,” or the economic and industrial boom in nineteenth century Germany, and the Second World War. While these journeys are deeply rooted in Catholic practices, they do not neatly fit into the story of Christian soteriology. Instead of pointing towards heaven and God’s mercy, they point to a future characterized by a different kind of mercy revealed through the pilgrims’ interactions with Marian figures they encounter along the way. These interactions guide them to engage with a counter narrative to anthropocentrism and disregard of those considered weak. The pilgrim’s journeys anticipate their ultimate journey towards Gaia, the earth goddess in Greek mythology, and the inspiration for the Gaia Hypothesis, which proposes that the Earth evolves as a system in which organisms are an active, fundamental component. I argue that the novel recasts the pilgrim journey as a journey towards an ecological consciousness of humans’ creatureliness and increasingly detrimental impact on the web of life.