Basques - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. With very few exceptions Basques are Roman Catholic. Even the smallest village has its own church. There are several major monasteries. Basque Catholicism has strong Jansenistic overtones.

Religious Practitioners. While possibly the last people in western Europe to convert to Christianity, the Basques have produced such titans of the Catholic church as Saint Ignatius of Loyola and Saint Francis Xavier. There is strong Marist devotion focused on icons of the Virgin Mary housed in several churches. Until recently there were so many religious vocations that Basque priests and nuns regularly staffed Catholic missions in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Since the Second Vatican Council church attendance and religious vocations have plummeted, prompting the closure of some churches. Formerly Basques believed in witches and legendary supernatural dwellers of mountain caverns and forest fastnesses.

Arts. Practically every village has its folk-dance group. The txistu (flute) and drum, played simultaneously by a single performer, are the distinctive musical instruments. There are bertsolariak, or versifiers, capable of spontaneously composing and singing rhymes on any subject. Such performances are a part of every village festival, and regional and national championships are held periodically. In the fine arts Basques have produced several composers of note (Arriaga, Guridi, Ravel), writers (Baroja, Unamuno), painters, and sculptors (including the world-famous Eduardo Chillida).

Medicine. Even the most remote villages have access to modern medical care. Nevertheless, beliefs in the efficacy of certain folk treatments (usually herbal) persist. Some of the older generation still fear the evil eye.

Death and the Afterlife. A funeral is the most important life ritual in Basque society, triggering a year-long series of ceremonies involving the deceased's household, neighborhood, kindred, and village. Failure to conduct them is felt to compromise the deceased's smooth transition to the afterlife. Otherwise standard Christian beliefs in heaven, purgatory, and hell obtain.

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