Galicians - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs and Practices. Roman Catholicism is overwhelmingly the central religious force in Galician society, although men tend to be less obviously religious than women. Catholic churches, cathedrals, monasteries, and various types of shrines, including distinctive high stone crosses ( cruceiros ), dot the landscape. Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses are actively proselytizing in the region, but they are gaining only a smattering of converts.

The beliefs of most Galicians are infused with a vigorous strain of supernaturalism. Ceremonies connected with these beliefs are frequently celebrated simultaneously with traditional Catholic ceremonies. Fig-symbol amulets, scapulars, and objects to ward off the evil eye, for example, are often sold close to the church where a religious rite is being celebrated. Various types of people are commonly believed to have supernatural powers: meigas (who provide love and curing potions), barajeras (who cast out evil and foretell the future), and brujas (who are believed to cause harm). A common saying is Eu non creo nas bruxas, ¡pero habel-as hainas!, or "I don't believe in brujas, but they exist!"

A considerable number of sites in Galicia have profound religious significance. For example, the Galicians, other Spaniards, and a vast number of Europeans consider Santiago de Compostela, in the La Coruña Province, to be one of the great spiritual centers of the world, ranking equally with Jerusalem and Rome. Early in the Christian reconquest, the bones of Saint James were believed to be uncovered in the area (in 813). Saint James (Santiago) subsequently was ensconced as the rallying figure in the ultimately successful wars against the Moors. A vast number of faith-promoting Saint James stories permeate the beliefs of Galicia, and the symbols of Saint James (cockle shells and the distinctive cross of Saint James) are ubiquitous.

Ceremonies. Saint's day celebrations, popular religious excursions ( romerías ), night festivals on the eve of a religious festival ( verbenas ), and the whole traditional calendar of Catholic observances provide rhythm to the lives of Galicians. A considerable number of nonreligious observances are threaded through the calendar of observances—for example, the "Disembarking of the Vikings" at Catoira, which vigorously reenacts the attack of a marauding Viking fleet in the tenth century.

Throughout Galicia a great number of varying charms, incantations, rites, and sympathetic actions are performed at each step in the life cycle.

Medicine. In case of illness, the usual Galician pattern is to consult a medical doctor first. If the illness does not subside, then the person doubts that the illness is medical and may consult a healer ( curandero or curandera ) who can cure with herbs or other nonmedical remedies.

Arts and Crafts. Galicia is famous for its folk dance groups, which are accompanied by the skirl of Galician bagpipes ( gaitas ). Various vocal and instrumental groups (some even cranking medieval hurdy-gurdies) sing and play popular Galician music. Thriving groups of artisans produce works in silver and gold, ceramics, fine porcelain, jet ( azabache ), lace, wood, and stone.

Galician literature today maintains characteristics developed during the Middle Ages; it is largely a literature of lyrical poetry. Notable Galician writers include Rosalía de Castro, who expressed the deep nostalgia ( morriña ) of nineteenth-century emigrants; Manuel Curros Enríquez, whose poems exalt the regionalist spirit of Galicia; and Valle-Inclán, noted for his elegant poetic prose.

Regional Foods. Galician restaurateurs command considerable respect in Spain. The estuaries produce shellfish of all kinds, from the famous cockleshells of Saint James to lobsters, mussels, shrimps, oysters, clams, and crabs. Caldo gallego is a broth of turnips, cabbage or greens, and white beans. At most bars and at all sorts of outdoor celebrations, there are roast sardines, octopus, squid, little green peppers (the famous pimientos de Padrón ), and chunos (doughnutlike tubes of fried pastry). Many of the cheeses are traditionally in the shape of breasts (called tetillas ). A strong liquor called aguardiente or orujo is served burned ( queimada ) with lemon peel and sugar.


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