12. Negotiating Vernacular Authority, Legitimacy and Power: Creativity, Ambiguity and Materiality in Devotion to Gauchito Gil

Vernacular Knowledge - Contesting Authority, Expressing Beliefs - Ülo Valk

Marion Bowman [+-]
Open University
Marion Bowman has been based in Religious Studies at The Open University UK since 2000. She has conducted long term research in the town of Glastonbury, on which she has published extensively, and has also written on vernacular religion, pilgrimage, Celtic spirituality, material religion, spiritual economies, and religion in Newfoundland. She was Co-Investigator on the AHRC funded project Pilgrimage and England’s Cathedrals, Past and Present (2014–2018), and a visiting Professor at the University of Oslo (2016–2018) and the University of Tartu (2014). She is currently External Scientific Expert on Re-storied Sites and Routes as Inclusive Spaces and Places: Shared Imaginations and Multi-layered Heritage – a collaborative project involving researchers in Estonia, Norway, Lithuania and Latvia. She co-edited Vernacular Religion in Everyday Life: Expressions of Belief (Equinox, 2012) with Ülo Valk; a Thematic Issue on Religion in Cathedrals: Pilgrimage, Place, Heritage, and the Politics of Replication with Simon Coleman (Religion 49 (1), 2019); and a Special Issue on Reframing Pilgrimage in Northern Europe (NUMEN 67 (5–6), 2020) with Dirk Johannsen and Ane Ohrvik.


Antonio ‘de la Cruz’ Gil Núñez – more commonly known as Gauchito Gil – is the focus of considerable popular devotion, promissory prayer, ex votos, shrines and material culture in Argentina. In this article, I examine how vernacular knowledge and authority are materialised and operationalised in interaction with institutional models and local lifeworlds in devotion to Gauchito Gil. In relation to the material culture that has developed surrounding Gauchito Gil, and which is seen at its strongest at his shrine at Mercedes, Corrientes Province, I show how strategies of proximity, approximation and appropriation are used effectively as material means of bolstering Gil’s legitimacy and power alongside and beyond institutional understandings and models. Drawing on Primiano’s  observation that the hallmarks of vernacular religion are ambiguity, power and creativity, this exploration of Gauchito Gil’s cult helps to demonstrate how materiality functions in conferring and transferring power, both creatively and ambiguously, to significant people without ‘institutional’ recognition or status in vernacular tradition.

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Bowman, Marion. 12. Negotiating Vernacular Authority, Legitimacy and Power: Creativity, Ambiguity and Materiality in Devotion to Gauchito Gil. Vernacular Knowledge - Contesting Authority, Expressing Beliefs. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. Oct 2022. ISBN 9781781792377. https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/view-chapter/?id=29221. Date accessed: 24 Oct 2021 doi: 10.1558/equinox.29221. Oct 2022

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