In the parish where we live there are, in addition to the church and cemetery, two chapels, three shrines (one a replica of the grotto at Lourdes a far prettier spot than the original) and by my counting sixteen crosses, as well as three plaques commemorating spots where fatal accidents took place. Due to lack of priests two elderly nuns live in what was the parish priest's house and carry out many of his functions.

 Chapel on the road to the summer pastures

   Wayside shrine
 Bridge shrine

 Chapel on a bluff above the river and containing a pieta

A local geographer has recently published on the links between place names, the spots given religious significance and the religious practices of the Celts who lived in these valleys before the Romans came. The contemporary attitude of taking what people find agreeable and ignoring what is not convenient is not new. When Christianity arrived in the countryside the Church had to accommodate to local traditions.
The shrines by waterfalls, the virgins that protect bridges, the crosses along roads at junctions and dangerous bends are signs of earlier beliefs, as are the May branches fixed to the houses and barns on Corpus Christi and left all year long.
Love of instrumental music and singing gives every village a brass band and a choir. Religious processions give the band an opportunity. On the feast of Corpus Christi three weeks after Ascension at dawn we are woken by music. After the mass later in the morning the band leads the procession round the village, followed by the children who took their first communion in May scattering flower petals in front of the Host borne under a baldaquin held up by four robed men. This may be the last contact these children have with the church until they are married. The procession stops at resting places which have been elaborately decorated with branches and flowers by the young unmarried adults. These altars are ephemeral, erected in the morning and dismounted as soon as the procession passes. No-one could tell me why.

Indeed knowledge of doctrine is scanty. Attitudes arise out of circumstances. People still work with living things, animals, crops and trees. Until fifty years ago prosperity depended on the vagaries of weather and disease, forces for which there were traditional methods of adaption and survival. Today every farmer is connected to the Web.

28th June 2003