»JOHANCA« AND THE MIRACLES IN VODICE
The so-called »farshke gonje« [anticlerical campaigns] reached two inglorious climaxes at the beginning of the 20th century in Carniola. The first one happened in 1909 with attacks on Bishop Anton Bonaventura Jeglich of Ljubljana after he published a sexual education booklet entitled »For Husbands and Wives«. The second one occurred in 1913. The scandal known as the »vodishka afera« [the Vodice affair] was provoked by a hoaxer, called Vodishka Johanca, who tried to have herself proclaimed a saint in the years 1909, 1911, 1912 and 1913. In 1913 her imposture was uncovered. When Johanca’s exploits were revealed, the indignation of the liberals at the supposed »affaire d’amour« of the Catholic politician and organiser Dr. Janez Evangelist Krek with the Viennese lady Kamila Theimer faded away.
The shows put on by Vodishka Johanca – Ivanka Jerovshek (1885–1919) were made all the more attractive by »miraculous« visions and marks of Christ’s suffering on her body. She first performed them in Rijeka and later in her native Vodice at the foot of Shmarna Gora in Gorenjska. She found some support from the Catholic Church and its gullible representatives including Bishop Jeglich responded rather awkwardly. Due to the Church’s involvement, the Vodice »miracles« and the final discovery of Johanca’s trickery which did not happen until Johanca had been living in the Vodice parish house for almost a year, added fuel to the fire of anticlerical writing in the liberal Slovenski Narod, the Social Democrat Zarja, the ultra-radical Dan and other newspapers. New elections to the Carniolan Diet were approaching and Johanca’s trickery served as an important argument in the hands of the Liberals who tried to make political and religious scandals appear even more spectacular, and made sharp attacks to deter voters from supporting their clerical opponents.
In the writing of the Liberals on the affair one could sense their glee for they had suffered many losses and humiliations on the political field. From the end of the 19th century onwards, the Catholic party had been doing very well indeed. The liberal political fortresses were falling one after another following the end of »slogashtvo« [the cooperation of the Liberals and the Catholics]. Thanks to a well organised social program (cooperativism) for farmers and workers who were experiencing difficulties and were being exploited by free capitalist enterprise, the Catholics succeeded in getting a large part of the Slovenian population on their side. Mahnich’s uncompromising separation of spirits became the basis of the program of the Catholic national or (All) Slovenian People’s Party, which had well conceived economic, political and cultural guidelines and formed a nationwide program, which included all the strata of the population. The Liberal National progressive party was not capable of creating such a program. Its influence only grew in the towns and besides, the Liberals were at loggerheads with each other.
One of the worst blows they suffered was the democratisation of the voting rules for Carniola which came into force in 1908 following great arguments between the Liberal and Catholic parties and brought voting rights for new masses of potential voters for the Catholic party. This brought about an absolute majority of the Catholic party in the Carniolan regional assembly and committee. The Catholic party became stronger than all the other parties in Slovenia together. That is why the two political sides attacked each other all the more aggressively.
The Vodice affair left a good deal of confusion in its wake, for example, regarding whether the Church dignitaries knew that Johanca was a fraud or a hysterical woman, or why they failed to carefully investigate Johanca’s »saintly« methods and why they too were duped along with a large number of the faithful and curious visitors to Vodice. However, their opponents could attack them with the accusation that the clericals had wanted to exploit the mass reaction for the foundation of a new place of pilgrimage or even a Slovenian Lourdes with a local saint instead of St. Bernadette who saw Our Lady in the middle of the 19th century in Lourdes.
Some accusations were too harsh. This is shown by the fact that in comparison with the liberal newspapers, which kept writing mockingly negative articles about the events in Vodice, the Catholic ones almost ignored Johanca until they were forced to reply to the sharpest attacks. But the Catholic paper Slovenec was too late when it began warning about Johanca’s shows at the end of September 1913.
Anyone that had had anything to do with the fraud from Vodice, in official or unofficial form, was accused of having participated in a religious hoax. The list of suspects included the Capuchins in Rijeka, the parish priest in Vodice, the Salesians in Rakovnik, who were thought to have received the most from Johanca, or those that had been duped by her, and even Bishop Jeglich, who was also thought to have been amongst the pilgrims. Jeglich was especially hated by the Liberals, ever since he rejected the possibility of reconciliation between the Catholic and Liberal sides, so they denigrated all his efforts for the spiritual, economic, political, social and cultural progress of the Slovenians, and whenever they had the chance they thwarted his efforts.
There were also many foreign newspapers including American, Czech, German, Hungarian, Croatian, Italian, Bulgarian and others that wrote about the Vodice affair and who otherwise never mentioned events in Slovenia. The Liberal deputy Dr. Vladimir Ravnihar even succeeded in mentioning the affair in parliament in Vienna in November 1913.
Although the Vodice affair had serious and painful consequences for all involved, it nowadays seems more like a joke, so it can probably best be illustrated by the caricatures in Dan, which at the time were a fun and successful weapon in the political-propaganda war.
The climax of the media war over the events in Vodice was the persiflage entitled Vodishki chudezhi, which was published in eight parts in Dan between the 23 and 31 October (numbers 659 to 667, excluding 663) and resembled a series of satirical songs, equipped with illustrations and/or caricatures.
Vodishki chudezhi, the text for which was written in verse, probably by editor Dr. Ivan Lah (1881–1938), and the caricatures drawn by Fran Podrekar (1887–1964), were published following demand from the readers in the beginning of November – just before the elections – in an independent supplement of Dan in the form of a brochure with 46 pages. The brochure entitled »Johanca« or the Vodice miracles (numbers 672–680) proved extremely successful. The very first day it sold 4,500 copies and the following day 10,000 copies. The number of copies printed grew and at last reached a record 20,000 copies, of which 1,000 were meant for Slovenians in Cleveland. That was the second brochure published by Dan that proved very successful. The first one was entitled Balkan War and featured caricatures and poems and was issued by Dan at the beginning of 1913. The brochure Vodishki chudezhi is considered to be one of the most famous Slovenian political pamphlets. It belongs to a series of brochures with an anticlerical tendency which were issued by different publishers in that period.
The satirical verses of the poem »Vodishki chudezhi« published in the brochure and written by Ivan Lah described rather scornfully and quite freely the story of Johanca’s saintly life. There was also an imaginary sermon by the parish priest, a report on the session of the clerical committee in Ljubljana and a warning against the fraudulent scheming of the parish priest in Vodice. It would be difficult to claim that the verses have any great literary quality, but they nevertheless flow seamlessly from one to the next. The flowing verses and the comical content were the reasons why the poem about Johanca soon caught on amongst the people. Many people learnt some verses by heart.
Of all of Podrekar’s caricatures, the two that stood out the most were the one on the front page of the brochure entitled »The latest coat-of-arms of the land of Carniola« also published in number 669 of Dan, and the last caricature, which was entitled »How some imagined saint »Johanca« to be in her heavenly glory«, which was also published in Dan in one previous number. The remaining small-format illustrations were not even too ambitious in design, but they did show the artist’s talent and sense for drawing and the direct nature of a well-drawn caricature. Thanks to their sharpness, comic effect and ease of recognition of the events portrayed, Podrekar’s very small caricatures drew much attention.
In the last caricature in the brochure, Podrekar helped himself with Raphael’s most popular painting of Our Lady – the Sistine Madonna (1513/1514 or later, Gemäldegalerie in Dresden). He imitated the motif and composition, the layout and proportions between the performing actors. However, Our Lady bearing Jesus has been replaced by Johanca with a calf in her arms, Pope Sixtus II has been replaced by Bishop Jeglich and Saint Barbara by a fat priest. The latter is holding a bottle to catch the calf’s blood which Johanca used in her hoaxes. Raphael’s painting was livened up by two angels and Podrekar replaced them with two little owls. The painting by Raphael Santi (1483–1520) is one of the most famous artworks of all time and that is why the context of the caricature could easily be understood by anyone. This is an example of the »borrowing« of an art motif, an iconographic pattern or famous work of art.
There were other examples of this effective form of caricaturing or mocking a person or event in Slovenia. At the end of the 19th century, a number of caricatures of similar form were published by the satirical journal Brivec from Trieste. Fran Podrekar was the Slovenian caricaturist who made use of this form the most often.
Like the sharp anticlerical commentaries in the newspapers, the brochure too hit the bull’s eye. Although the brochure presented only a parody, a humorous mocking text, the Catholic side did not take it lightly as a form of propaganda in the pre-election battle. We can easily make this out in the caustic answers which were urgently necessary and large in number due to the elections which were to begin on the 1 December 1913 with elections to the general curia. The caricature of »Vodishka Johanca appearing as Our Lady and holding in her arms a calf from which blood is flowing« (from: Matija Shkerbec, A review of the modern Slovenian Catholic movement, I. del, Cleveland 1956, pg. 36), was supposed to offend the religious sentiments of Catholics. Statements in defence of the faith and religious sentiments that were under threat from liberalism and the Social Democrats were published mainly by Slovenec, which proclaimed Johanca to be a liberal heroine. Warnings and calls for boycott also came from pulpits and confessionals.
Amongst others, all four male Marian congregations in Ljubljana voiced a public protest and called on the authorities to do something and the faithful to boycott the antireligious newspapers. »Furthermore, as this represents an indirect attack on Our Lady’s honour, the congregation asks and calls upon the faithful men of Ljubljana of all walks of life to stick to the Marian congregations in as large numbers as possible, as a response to this blasphemy. This will be the best possible response, which the opponents of the faith will have the least reason to rejoice about...« (»Against the offending of religious sentiment – practical Christian work«, Slovenec, 1913, no. 280)
In October 1913, Ivanka Jerovshek was arrested, and in the beginning of 1914 sentenced to ten months in prison. Writing on the Vodice affair was part of the turbulent election agitation, but it did not particularly help the liberals in the elections, not even in Vodice, which was in the constituency of Kamnik-Brdo and where the SLS candidate was the member of the state assembly and greatest Catholic »popular herald« Dr. Janez Evangelist Krek. In Vodice he organised two election gatherings in one day that were very well visited and in which he succeeded in inspiring enthusiasm in all those present. In December 1913, the SLS party succeeded in achieving a convincing victory at the Carniolan regional assembly elections. So the political picture did not change very much and the SLS party retained a majority in the regional assembly.
Fran Podrekar, Saint »Johanca«,
Bodecha Nezha, year 1914
Fran Podrekar, Saint »Johanca«, Bodecha Nezha, year 1914
Bodecha Nezha, year 1914, Nr. 1
Fran Podrekar, Victim, Bodecha Nezha, year 1914, Nr. 1
Text in the illustration 1:
How some imagined
saint »Johanca« to be in her heavenly glory
Translated from Slovenian by Marko Petrovich