Swiss, Italian - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. In the Swiss Italian region there was space for an autonomous, anarchistic, esoteric monte verità. Newspapers give a good view of popular beliefs, as they are full of advertisements by fortune-tellers, therapists, and problem solvers. Officially, most Swiss Italians are Catholic. Archaeological remains from graves provide evidence of Etruscan, Celtic, Gallic, and Roman customs and goddesses. The Swiss Italians were Christianized already in the fourth century and some villages still celebrate Ambrosian rites. In the alpine valleys (Leventina, Bienio) people were Christianized from the north. During the Reformation, Italian refugees were accepted in Mesolcina, Bregaglia, Poschiavo, and Locarno. As the Grigioni Italiano were under foreign domination, the Reformation could develop freely but it did not have a lasting influence. Catholic Ticino was influenced considerably by the Catholic Swiss cantons, which by law prohibited the Reformed church from remaining in dominated areas. Until the formal separation of church and state, the population was under the control of the churches and monasteries. Recently, many monasteries and community churches have been abandoned because of a shortage of priests. Italian priests are often found in the valleys.

Arts. The cultural (linguistic, intellectual, architectural, art-historical, and artistic) center of Swiss Italy lies in Italy (Milan). The sculptor Giacometti from Bregaglia (Stampa), who was known locally, had to exhibit first in Paris and Milan before he was recognized in Ticino. The same can be said of Brignoni, the artist and ethnographic collector. Swiss Italian literature emphasizes regional culture and identity. There are regional programs for theater, music, and arts education. There is no Swiss Italian university (four American universities around Lugano and business centers in nearby Lombardia were recently opened).

In the last thirty years nearly every valley has opened a local ethnographic museum. Many of the objects are also sold as souvenirs: wooden backpacks ( gerla); copper pots; bast-covered chairs; pergolas, peperonis, and maïs of plastic; open wooden shoes ( zoccoli); and special mugs ( boccalino ).

Medicine. Because of the climate, a growing segment of the economy focuses on the construction of private hospitals and old-age homes. At the beginning of the century hospitals for the treatment of tuberculosis were famous. Because of a lack of confidence in modern medicine, there is a movement among the middle class toward traditional methods of healing. Traditional knowledge about medical plants and healers is being studied. Modern medicine is still regularly used for major health problems.

Death and Afterlife. Beliefs about the afterlife are shaped by the Christian tradition. In villages today the deceased are no longer kept at home until the funeral, and wakes are less common. A community room is now used for this purpose. At funerals the church is more or less filled, depending on the public status of the dead. At times there is a "fanfare" played. After the service the procession goes to the churchyard, where the last prayers and rites take place. The churchyard is built at the edge of the village and protected by walls. The burial places show differences depending on traditional, Economic, political, and social status.


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