Madeirans - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. Although Catholicism is the state Religion of Portugal and its insular extensions, on a village level the parish church controls spiritual affairs. The folk publicly mark their faith by ceremonial display and by ritual performance in the festa, as does the city dweller.

Religious Practitioners. The priest is the liturgical leader of his parish, the local agent of the church hierarchy and an earthly representative of divine intercession. The church's healing mission in Funchal has been superseded by modern medical practice and facilities. Outlying clinics with trained midwives have largely replaced rural "granny" healers.

Ceremonies. Madeira's festivals (festas) are traditional, most of them seasonal, and all are, in some measure, lures for the tourist dollar. The festival year begins in February with Carnaval; in spring there is Funchal's Festa da Flor (flowers) and Bachfest (music); in mid-August, the pilgrimage to the church of Madeira's patron saint (Nossa Senhora do Monte); wine harvest festivals during autumn; and Christmas and year's end festivals in Funchal (Festa de Sâo Silvestre). Local saints are celebrated in parishes all over Madeira. Folk dancers perform at Funchal's larger hotels on a regular schedule.

Arts. In addition to the crafts (artesanato) listed in Industrial Arts, Madeiran art includes religious design (intricately carved ceilings, balustrades, altars), gilded wood figurines ( talhas douradas ), and monumental architecture in the Manueline tradition. Folk dancers ( danças populares ) in Native costume ( trajes ) use indigenous musical instruments ( machête, braguinha, bringuinho). Tapestry (tapeçarias) objects include portraits, local landscapes, floral motifs, and copies of famous paintings. Madeira's most famous tapestry has 7 million stitches and is on permanent display at the Instituto do Bordado, Tapeçarias e Artesanato da Madeira.

Medicine. Medical and public health practice in Funchal is similar to that of western Europe; rural Madeira and Porto Santo have easy access (e.g., interisland flights with ambulance capability). Folk curers are the rural equivalent of the city pharmacy ( farmácia ), which can diagnose illness, prescribe medication, and keep patient records. Heavy smoking and alcohol abuse account for many islander health problems.

Death and Afterlife. Beliefs are grounded in Catholic theology. Funerals are an important liturgical event, followed by a prescribed, but no longer protracted, period of mourning and diminishing restrictions on widow remarriage.


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