Portuguese - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. The bulk of the Portuguese population is nominally Catholic. During its history, Portugal has Experienced waves of political anticlericalism—in the latter half of the eighteenth century; during the 1830s, when religious orders were banned and church properties were confiscated; and under the First Portuguese Republic, when education was secularized, properties again confiscated, folk celebrations restricted, and religious orders abolished. Under Salazar, Portugal experienced a religious revival, and the position of the local priest in the villages throughout the country was greatly enhanced. Since 1974, however, this position has been challenged, and in recent years there has been a decline in the number of clergy. A form of "pious" anticlericalism exists among the people who view the priest as a spiritual leader on the one hand and a man like every other man on the other. Religiosity is generally weaker in Lisbon and in the south of continental Portugal and stronger in the center, in the north, and on the islands. Portuguese Catholicism has produced fewer mystics than that of Spain, and people develop personal relationships with particular saints who are never represented with the suffering and anguish that characterizes some Spanish representations. Much of Portuguese religious life exists beyond the official structures of the Catholic church.

Ceremonies. The rhythms of local village life are marked by various celebrations honoring the saints. Romarias (pilgrimages) to regional shrines are a central feature of religious practice, especially in northern Portugal. Portuguese villagers also celebrate an annual festa (generally but not always to honor the patron saint) that includes a procession and combines elements of both the sacred and the secular. In the Azores, the festas of the Holy Ghost (Espirito Santo) predominate. In conjunction with these festas people fulfill Religious vows ( promessas ). Cults of death, magical practices, sorcery ( feitiço ), witchcraft ( bruxeria ), which is largely associated with notions of illness and healing, and beliefs in envy ( inveja ) that invokes the evil eye are still part of the belief System of many Portuguese.

Arts. Craftspeople can be found throughout Portugal. The rugs made in Arraiolas (in southern Portugal) are well known internationally. Women of the north and the island of Madeira produce embroidered goods, many of which are sold to tourists. This is also true of pottery, which varies in style according to geographic region. Artistic expression is also evident in the items that are produced for decorating the floats carried in religious processions.


Medicine. Modern medical practice now reaches all sectors of Portuguese society. Few women, for example, give birth at home, a practice that was common into the 1960s. Good health is often associated with what is natural, and changes in the diet (the consumption of unnatural and synthetic foodstuffs) are frequently cited as the cause of diseases such as stomach cancer. Folk medical practices are still prevalent in some parts of the country. Curers use a combination of prayer, religious paraphernalia, and traditional and Modern medicines in their healing. Among some Azorean Portuguese at home and abroad there is a high incidence of Machado-Joseph disease. It is an inherited disorder of the central nervous system, colloquially known as the "stumbling disease" because the carriers demonstrate a staggering and lurching gait, spasticity, and uncoordinated body movements.


Death and Afterlife. Death is a fundamental part of Portuguese village life. Church bells toll to send the message that a neighbor ( vizinho ) has passed away. In some parts of Portugal the gates and doors of the dead person's house are opened to allow anyone to enter, and relatives begin to wail around a body prepared for viewing. Burial is in local cemeteries, and family graves are well tended by living kin. Each village has several burial societies (confrarias) to which individuals belong in order to help defray the costs of a funeral and help pay for commemorative masses that continue for several years after death. All Saints' Day is an occasion for special reverence for those who have departed. Mourning is signified by the wearing of black; a widow will generally wear black for the rest of her life, while other kin remain in mourning for varying lengths of time depending on their age and relationship to the deceased. Portugal is also characterized by various cults of death—for example, beliefs about souls in purgatory or incorrupt bodies. Such beliefs are by no means confined to rural areas; in Portuguese cities a network of spirit mediums who can contact the dead for the living has arisen.


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