Castillans - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Within predominantly Catholic Spain, Castile has the reputation of being one of the most religiously conservative regions. Church attendance by both men and women is generally high on Sundays and holy days of obligation, although it is usually only women who attend daily services. Religious belief and practice assume a rather personalized character in Castile as elsewhere in Spain, and cofradías (Catholic lay brotherhoods and sisterhoods devoted to particular saints) are important to community and ritual life. In 1967, the passage of the Religious Liberty Law granted rights of free worship for non-Catholics throughout Spain, but the country and the region of Castile remain strongly Catholic.

Religious Practitioners. The village priest has Traditionally exercised a great deal of authority over his congregation regarding questions of the faith and secular affairs, but this control appears to be somewhat on the wane.

Ceremonies. Within the liturgical calendar of the Catholic church, the most important ceremonial occasions are Christmas and Easter, as well as the feast day for the patron saint of the village, when nearly everyone will attend mass regardless of their usual level of church attendance during the rest of the year. But much of Castilian ceremonial life, although tied to the religious calendar, has a strong secular flavor as well. The patron saint's feast day is the occasion for a village-wide fiesta, planned by village officials and involving soccer matches, bullfights, dances, band concerts, and fireworks. A parade of gigantes (giants) and cabezudos (big heads) marches through the streets of the village, headed by a band playing spirited tunes. The gigantes are 3-meter-tall effigies of Ferdinand and Isabella made of huge papier-mâche heads over long robes that conceal the man carrying them. Cabezudos are papier-mâché heads depicting historical, Ethnic, and fantasy caricatures and also are worn by men. Lifecycle events (baptism, marriage, funerals) involve churchly ritual.

Arts. Castile possesses a long and brilliant artistic heritage—a result in part of its historic role as the seat of the Spanish court, with its provision of royal patronage. Today Castilian participation in the arts remains vital and ranges through the various musical genres (today including Everything from rock to opera), the visual arts and architecture, film, theater, literature, and bullfighting. Outside of Spain, the most famous of Castile's literary figures is Cervantes. But this great productivity in the arts retains little ethnic specificity, unlike the distinctive regional flavor of works produced by Andalusians, for example, or Catalans. This universality, too, may be the result of Castile's heritage as the seat of Spanish government, and the cosmopolitanism of its courtly, and later governmental, patrons. Except locally—and for certain Ceremonial practices, such as the processions of the big heads and giants—Castilian artistic production has come to draw on Influences originating throughout the Spanish culture as a whole, and/or to participate in the larger, international sphere, rather than to celebrate or reaffirm regional or folk themes.

Medicine. Modern medical care and facilities are available and used throughout Castile, as is the case for nearly all of Spain. Folk medical practices have, as a result, largely been lost. While in the more remote, rural areas there may still be some reliance on herbal remedies, and while it is still not uncommon to find people seeking the intervention of one or another saint in the case of illness or injury, such practices and beliefs are secondary to modern medical treatment.

Death and the Afterlife. Mortuary belief and practice are conducted within the general context of Catholicism. The priest officiates over funerals and also confers the sacrament of extreme unction. The body of the deceased is interred after an appropriate mass has been said. Friends and close relatives of the bereaved are expected to provide support, beginning with their willingness to keep vigil over the corpse until burial. The body is carried in its coffin to the church in which a burial mass is said, then to the ceremony for burial, which traditionally is attended only by men. Throughout Castile, the family of the deceased traditionally hosted a funeral banquet, but this practice has fallen into disuse. The hiring of paid mourners and the distribution of food to the poor in conjunction with burials are two other traditional customs that now are encountered less frequently. A widow is expected to assume black mourning clothing, or at least a black head scarf.

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