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martes 19 enero 2021





Bertan > Bertan 21 Las portadas de las iglesias guipuzcoanas > Versión en inglés: Practical importance of these areas

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Practical importance of these areas

THE USE OF CHURCH DOORWAYS AS VENUES FOR COUNCIL MEETINGS AND LEGAL ACTS.

Since the late Middle Ages, the church had acted as the protector and coordinator of the civil and religious life of the town. In the Basque Country, the early municipal corporations were often known as "anteiglesias" [fore-churches], because the municipal council met beneath a tree, in front of the church or in the porch when the weather was unfavourable. In Lapurdi, for example, we find reference to the mayor as the "auz-apeza" literally "Priest of the neighbourhood" and "parrokia" (parish) equivalent to the modern day municipal council. In this way, local communities gradually took on the powers they now hold, outside the ambit of the "jauntsoak" or rural lords.

16. The table used for council meetings, which were attended by all heads of household, is still preserved in Berastegi.© Jonathan Bernal
16. The table used for council meetings, which were attended by all heads of household, is still preserved in Berastegi.© Jonathan Bernal
17. Portico on one side of the church in Ataun.© Jonathan Bernal
17. Portico on one side of the church in Ataun.© Jonathan Bernal

Before purpose-built town halls were erected, the church porch acted as a meeting place for the local council, a gathering of all local people also known as the "Open Council". The church of San Martin in Andoain is just one of many examples of this phenomenon. Because the open councils included all heads of household, large numbers turned out for these meetings, and spacious roofed and porticoed porches were required to accommodate them all. This is the reason why so many porticoed porches were built around churches. In some places this function survived for many years: as late as the fifteenth century, for example the churches of Bergara were still being used to host council meetings.

18. The church door always served as a meeting place, and a venue for celebrations and dances.© Ojanguren Artxiboa
18. The church door always served as a meeting place, and a venue for celebrations and dances.© Ojanguren Artxiboa
19. The ecclesiastical authorities at the door receiving the municipal cortege to recite the Salve Maria. © Kutxa Fototeka
19. The ecclesiastical authorities at the door receiving the municipal cortege to recite the Salve Maria. © Kutxa Fototeka

These areas were also used as venues for signing legal deeds and other procedures which had to be performed before notaries. When some particular job or building work was tendered out, public proclamations or edicts were issued in nearby towns to summon architects and masters in the different specialities to participate at an ìauctionî at the church of the town where the work was to be carried out. Many examples of this custom can be found in notary deeds from all the towns in the area. These almonedasóor public auctionsówere generally held over a four-day period. A candle was commonly lit and the architects would set out their initial terms and then enter into competition with the others, lowering their rates or offering improved conditions. The process ended when the candle burnt out.

PLACE OF CIVIC INTEREST.

Churches and town halls were constant rivals for pride of place in the town squares. To enhance the standing of the church, the area around the entrance was given a heightened sense of solemnity and turned into a venue for civic and social activities. Church life was projected outwards to satisfy the particular needs of each community.

Ecclesiastical records are full of accounts of church doorways being used as meeting places, and complaints about the custom of turning them into venues for festivities, games and dances. Sometimes these events disturbed the clergy trying to celebrate mass inside and to solve the problem, other facilities were erected elsewhere in the town. The town council of Deba, for example, built a whole new square complete with council buildings in order to separate the area of social and festive activities from the church.

It was so common for the porticos and porches of churches to be used as ad hoc ball courts that many by-laws and provisions were issued expressly prohibiting the practise. Nonetheless, despite the erection of new ball courts, church walls are often still used for this purpose to this day.

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