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Bertan > Bertan 21 Las portadas de las iglesias guipuzcoanas > Versión en inglés: The ethnological role of the church doorway

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The ethnological role of the church doorway

Traditionally, marriage banns were read by the priest during mass and posted on the church door. During the first half of the sixteenth century wedding ceremonies in the Basque Country followed the Manual of Toledoóas opposed to the Roman Rite. One of the differences between the two was that the Toledan Rite included the blessing of the arrasócoins given by the bridegroom to the bride. In many towns, it remained the custom for many years to make the declaration of mutual consent and bless the rings and arras in the church porch ñante foras ecclesiae-, in keeping with the old rite. It is known to have been practised in Zerain, where the bride and groom sat on two chairs or prie-dieus, provided by their respective families, in front of the church door; while the best-maid and bridesmaid occupied another two on either side. During the ceremony, the guests waited inside the church. Afterwards the priest took the bride and groom by the right hand and led them into the church, reciting a psalm. At the foot of the altar he blessed them, and the ceremony ended with the nuptial mass. Out in the porch again, the newly-weds were received in style, with dantzaris (dancers) and spinners forming a guard of honour with raised swords, sticks, arches and scarves. Even to this day, it is still common for the bride and groom to be greeted in the porch by groups of dancers, with a ceremonial aurresku dance.

20. Book of the old rite of sacraments called the
20. Book of the old rite of sacraments called the "Toledan Manuali", which stipulated that marriages and the blessing of the rings and coins should be celebrated in the portico or "ante foras ecclesiae".© Labayru Institutoa

THE PORCH AS A PLACE OF PURIFICATION, BLESSING AND RECEPTION.

Under Mosaic law, a woman who had given birth was considered impure. Before she could bring her new-born child for baptism, she had to fulfil a series of obligations and attend certain religious ceremonies. Before entering the church, she received a special blessing in the porch, associated with the Virgin Mary's presentation of the Infant Jesus at the temple after the purification. In the Judaic tradition, purification was not intended to clean a stain on the person's character, but rather to remove a bodily impurity: in this case the woman had to re-establish her integrity and her union with God as the source of life. Any infringement of the rite came to be considered a sin, although this was revoked by the Pope in the seventh century. Nonetheless, this custom survived among Christian women until the mid-twentieth century. The act was as follows: the woman was accompanied by the midwife, her family or a neighbour who carried the child; before the church door she received the post partum blessing in an almost private atmosphere. In Hondarribia (Fuenterrabia) and Zerain this custom was called "entering mass", "purification" or "entering church". In Beasain, Ezkioga, Berastegi and other places, the mother was illuminated with a candle during the rite.

22. The sacrament of marriage and the blessing of the rings and coins were celebrated in the doorway.© Antxon Agirre Sorondo
22. The sacrament of marriage and the blessing of the rings and coins were celebrated in the doorway.© Antxon Agirre Sorondo
21. The sacrament of marriage was still being held in the doorway of the church or
21. The sacrament of marriage was still being held in the doorway of the church or "ezkontza eleizpean" as late as 1940.© Cecilio Fernandez

Another blessing commonly administered at the church door was the one given to livestock and domestic animals. More recently, motor cars were blessed outside the church by the priest, who would emerge from the church flanked by the altarboys.

It was also common for the municipal authorities to be received by the ecclesiastical authorities in the church porch on feast days and other solemn ecclesiastical occasions. The custom is still maintained on the day of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, when the town council parades to the church to recite the Salve Maria.

THE FIRST CEREMONY OF BAPTISM.

Until 1970 Catholic baptisms were still celebrated in accordance with the rite of 1614. The priest would emerge from the church, robed in his garments and accompanied by an acolyte, and would administer the sacrament in the doorway of the church. Before the ceremony began, the priest would verify the parish to which the parents belonged and talk to the godparents; who would previously have attended catechism. From the fourth to the sixth century, it was the custom for the priest to blowing three times on the child's forehead, thus rejecting Satan. He then marked the child's face and chest with the sign of the cross, and placed his hand on its head to signify that the church took it into God's protection. The child was then given salt to anticipating the Eucharist and the heavenly feast, and the churchdoor ceremony was complete. In the ritual of the "arrebuchas" still practised to this day the godparents throw sweets, nuts and coins to children waiting outside the church.

23. The rite of the 'entrática' - the post partum purification or blessing in accordance with Mosaic law, was held before the baptism at the doors of the church. This cleansed the woman of the bodily impurity contracted by having conceived a child.© Labayru Institutoa
23. The rite of the 'entrática' - the post partum purification or blessing in accordance with Mosaic law, was held before the baptism at the doors of the church. This cleansed the woman of the bodily impurity contracted by having conceived a child.© Labayru Institutoa
24. Before the baptism was held, the priest at the door of the church blew three times on the newly baptised child to ward off the devil;<br /> he then made the sign of the cross on the baby's brow and chest, placing it under the protection of God, and gave it salt in anticipation of the Eucharist. Anguiozar 1925.© Ojanguren Artxiboa
24. Before the baptism was held, the priest at the door of the church blew three times on the newly baptised child to ward off the devil;
he then made the sign of the cross on the baby's brow and chest, placing it under the protection of God, and gave it salt in anticipation of the Eucharist. Anguiozar 1925.© Ojanguren Artxiboa

FUNEREAL ROLE.

Gipuzkoa has maintained many of its old traditions and customs, and the church porch has acted as a backdrop to many of them. It used to be common to bury the dead in the area adjoining the church, and as a result meetings in the porch were said to be held in the cemetery (cimiterio) of the church. It was also common practise at funerals for the coffin to be rested on a table or bier, sometimes made of stone at the main door of the church in the porch while the funeral mass was being celebrated inside. This construction was known as the "il-arriaga" or "stone of the dead". An example can still be seen next to the church of San Andrés in Elosua. Members of local associationsóguilds and confraternitiesóalso awaited the funeral cortege in the church porch. It used to be common for the members of the cortege to bring offerings. As they were borne in a basket, candles would be lit in the porch as the priest recited the prayers for the dead. This rite is associated with the idea of illuminating the path to the afterlife or giving the soul light in its new abode.

25. After the baptism, the godparents in the doorway threw cakes, nuts or coins to the children.© Mª Amor Beguiristain
25. After the baptism, the godparents in the doorway threw cakes, nuts or coins to the children.© Mª Amor Beguiristain
26. Over the years, the sturdy walls of covered church doorways have often been used as ball courts for playing pelota. © Ojanguren Artxiboa
26. Over the years, the sturdy walls of covered church doorways have often been used as ball courts for playing pelota. © Ojanguren Artxiboa

In some places, the priest still receives the coffin in the porch, accompanied by some members of the congregation. After a prayer, the cortege then sets off towards the presbytery. This is a relic of the old comitiva which used to walk from the house of the dead person. In some towns the closest family did not enter the church, instead staying at the door with the coffin, accompanied by hired mourners. Inside the church they would be represented by other members of the family. It was also common to leave the offerings in the porch until the offertory. Seventeenth century accounts relate that it was common for animalsógenerally a ram or two oxenóto be brought as an offering. They would head the cortege or be led next to the coffin, and when they reached the church they would be tied to a ring in the wall. Some of these rings can still be seen inóthere is one in the church porch in Aitzarnazabal, for example. The animal was covered in a mantle lent by the parish and bore a ring-shaped bread roll on each horn. The size of the offering depended on the exequies provided. According to eighteenth century accounts, at large funerals a live bullock was offered up. After the funeral it was returned to the household, who paid a certain amount depending on the weight of the animal as payment to the priest for the service. This custom was also practised in the nineteenth century when the head of some important household died: the funeral cortege would be accompanied by oxen wearing black mantles and a golden cross and bells, or by a fine heifer with flowers and rosettes on its horns. Rams, pigs or poultry were also led to the main entrance of the church. Although the Provincial Assembly and Government of Castile tried to ban this practice, a garlanded bullock is known to have been offered up in the Oikia district of Zumaia as late as in 1917.

27. In the funeral cortege offerings were brought which were deposited at the door of the church by the women. They were then brought into the refectory.© José Roldan Bidaburu
27. In the funeral cortege offerings were brought which were deposited at the door of the church by the women. They were then brought into the refectory.© José Roldan Bidaburu
28. Offering of a ram, Orexa 1977. The funeral cortege was headed by rams or, in the case of well-to-do families, oxen covered with a black mantle and a cross. These animals were tied to a ring at the door of the church. After the funeral service was over, they were valued and their price was given up as an offering.© Iñaki Linazasoro
28. Offering of a ram, Orexa 1977. The funeral cortege was headed by rams or, in the case of well-to-do families, oxen covered with a black mantle and a cross. These animals were tied to a ring at the door of the church. After the funeral service was over, they were valued and their price was given up as an offering.© Iñaki Linazasoro

In some places, the family of the dead person would offer mourners some bread and wine, which was served up in the church porch after the burial. There are accounts of this practice taking place in Zerain and Zegama. This meal was known as the "Karidadea" the "Charity". The mourners would form a circle with their backs to the wall, speaking in low voices. Men and women would serve the members their own sex. When the mayor of the town, who always presided over the event, saw that everyone had finished, he would take off his beret and being to pray aloud. This meal was known in Oiartzun as "amaiketako" (elevenses) and in Getaria as "seixiak" or refreshment. In some towns in the early twentieth century it was the custom to give the pall bearers a dish of cod in the church porch. In the portico of the church in Oiartzun people would also recite prayers for the dead after high mass on the days of the faithful departed or animas, while women left coins in a bonnet as they left the church. In Karranza this mass was held in the doorway of the church. After the mass, the altar boys would wait in the porch until the priests emerged, scattering ochavosósmall brass coinsóthat had been left in the collection.

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