El conocimiento os hará libres y las fronteras os harán gilipollas.

lunes, 1 de septiembre de 2014

POPULAR PIETY: THE LAST RELIGIOUS STRONGHOLD.


       Every summer the same event takes place again. We are in Piornal (Cáceres) but it could be any other little village from rural Spain that still remains inhabited. Village churches, usually empty during the whole year, are crowed by people of all ages, from little children to old grandparents. Assistants are wearing their best clothes and are prepared to enter in the holy place in joy. Silence is kept inside, especially during the offering and the chants. Some young women are dressed in the traditional way, showing long baroque skirts and mantillas and playing popular songs. People then cheer up the local saint, proclaim their loyalty with oaths and promises and at the end of the mass, clap the flowered statue of that saint and start a procession throughout the main streets of the village. Fireworks, traditional music and singing bells follow the religious ceremony. If we asked the people who shared this ceremony, we would find out that not too many of them go to the church in the whole year. Why this religious boom, then? 
 
  Popular piety is something that nerves the clerical stage, but they recognize  that catholic faith wouldn’t survive without this kind of piety. In fact, people have given up thinking religion as a way to save their souls or get a moral guide in life. Many people don’t care too much about life after death or ethical precepts. What it bothers them is the current and earthy life, and the achievement of their own goals. In the case of these summer local celebrations, the preservation of their own identity. Many of them are emigrants who arrived every summer to the village where their childhood lie, and with these events they return to their own roots. Religious acts give to these personal feelings the power to keep attached to their origins. They make their identity holy, sacred, perdurable along the time. They won’t pronounce themselves on body resurrection or deep religious matters, but they will strongly believe in Saint Roque or Saint Sebastian, or the Virgin of the Lake, the Mountain or the River. And they will praise the miraculous fact that thanks to their celebrations, they are together year after year in the very same place.
      According to all this, Christian religion becomes itself in some kind of civic religion, similar to what occurred once in Rome or Greece. The roots of these celebrations, in fact, are a mixture of two different influences. On one hand, local saints’ devotion was developed long time ago in all Western Europe, but specially in Italy in the medieval city states, as a way to preserve their identity from the Papacy or the German Empire. On the other hand, the time of all these celebrations is according to the yearly agricultural calendar. Midsummer is the moment when all cereals and vegetables are finally cropped, and a moment of pause before the grape harvest. It’s time for offerings and thanksgiving. Remote pagan festivals were celebrated then, and Christianity just picked them up and added to their own celebrations.
 Are these good news for Catholics and officials religions? It’s hard to answer. The good thing is that, with no doubt, these local festivities are as strong as they have always been, or even more. Identity processes are stronger than ever because people are always looking for their own roots in the age of globalization. They don’t depend on religious crisis or whatever it can happen to mother church. The bad thing is precisely the same fact. We don’t have to mistake these beliefs with what the proper religion is. Christian faith is being relegated to the sacred moments of our life (birth, marriage and death) and social rituals. So it’s increasingly losing all its deepest meaning: something that wouldn’t be taken as casual or briefing.     

 Offering "el ramo" to the local patron, Saint Roque. This celebration was originally based on the end of the harvest, specially in Castille. Nowadays cherries have sustituted wheat as the main crop in this area of Cáceres, but the purpose is still the same.  




1 comentario:

  1. Como siempre una buena entrada, yo sólo veo dos dudas al respecto:
    1. ¿No crees que de estos rituales identitarios del mundo rural la participación es cada vez más baja? Los pueblos también se angostan en verano, el mantenimiento de estos rituales siempre está asociado a la gente de más edad...
    2. Como ya dijera Brown sobre la religiosidad en el Bajo Imperio Romano la virtud del cristianismo fue su fuerza interior, en los momentos de crisis del Bajo Imperio, la religiosidad cívica al ser un cascarón sin alma, un conjunto de fríos ritos, no resistió la caída de la civitas en el mundo antiguo y el cristianismo fundó su éxito gracias al consuelo interior que ofrecía, frente a unos rituales cívicos o identitarios que, a pesar de lo dilatado que puedan parecernos, siempre son más cambiantes a lo largo de la historia.

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