In 1961, in the small Spanish village of San Sebastian de Garabandal, four young girls had an apparition of the Virgin Mary. They entered a state of ecstasy in which they became completely unaware of their surroundings and sensory perceptions. Reportedly, witnesses would pinch the girls, pierce their skin with needles, lift them up and drop them onto rough rocks, and yet they remained entranced. The light and presence of the Virgin is all they claim to have experienced. Twenty years later, in the town of Medjugorje, in Bosnia & Herzegovina, six children also had simultaneous visions of the Virgin, with similar ecstatic qualities.

In his debut book, Noema, Michael Swann investigates the aura of place and religious experience by searching for signs of the Virgin Mary’s presence in these two locations. Alongside original photographs made at both sites, Noema also includes images that have been appropriated from video footage of the visionaries taken during their apparitions. These emphasise the impenetrability of the individual religious and phenomenological experience, and speak to the separation between what is apparently being seen and what is photographable.

"Until the age of eleven, I was a Catholic. Although I lost my faith, I felt no sense of loss. Many years later I was told a story of a friend, who heard the voice of God speak to her while she was alone in her bedroom. To move from belief to non-belief felt simple, but to pass in the other direction seemed to require a substantial spiritual encounter. Perhaps I could believe once more, if I were to receive a messenger from God." —Michael Swann

Noema is published by Kult Books.