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Paganism and Pagan Survivals in Spain Up to the Fall of the Visigothic Kingdom

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Old Monday, June 16th, 2008   #1
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Paganism and Pagan Survivals in Spain Up to the Fall of the Visigothic Kingdom

by Stephen McKenna

The purpose of the present study is to describe the struggle against paganism and pagan survival in Spain up to the fall of the Visigothic kingdom in 712. By paganism is here meant not only the worship of the pagan gods, but also the practices associated with pagan worship, such as astrology and magic. An attempt will be made to show the part that political, social and religious factors played in pagan survivals as well as to point out the various manifestations of paganism. This study, it is hoped, will throw light upon a phase of early Spanish history that has not hitherto been adequately treated. It will enable the reader to compare the paganism of Spain with that found in Africa, France, Germany and Italy, in as far as the extant sources and modern studies make such comparison possible.

In Spain as elsewhere in the empire the legislation of Constantine and Licinius marked a revolutionary change in the policy of the Roman government toward religion. Theoretically Christianity was now placed on an equal footing with paganism, but in practice from the first Constantine favored Christianity. Paganism steadily declined under the Christian emperors. The short pagan reaction brought about by Julian had no lasting effect and by the end of the fourth century pagan worship was definitely proscribed. But while the official pagan cults were easily suppressed the private practice of paganism offered a stubborn resistance to the progress of Christianity. The invasion of the empire by the Germanic peoples in the fourth and fifth centuries tended to keep alive pagan practices, for these invaders were either pagans or Arians and their hostility to the Catholics of the empire forced the Church in many places to struggle for its very existence. It was only after the conversion of the barbarians to Catholicism that successful efforts could be made against the paganism that still survived in the regions of the empire occupied by the barbarian peoples.

For a proper understanding of the subject it is necessary to give a survey of the pagan religions that existed in the Spanish Peninsula prior to the triumph of Christianity. Our knowledge of these pagan [viii] beliefs and practices is derived from the inscriptions and archaeological remains dating from the period of the empire and occasional references to the religion of the Spanish people in Greek and Latin writers. Full use has been made of the chief modern works that deal with paganism in Spain, in particular J. Toutain, Les cultes paiens dans l'empire romain, and Leite de Vasconcellos, Religiões da Lusitania. The writer has supplemented the studies of these two men by utilizing the discoveries on the early religions of Spain that have been made since their works were published. He has also made a special effort to show the localities in Spain where the pagan cults flourished and the probable influence which they had on the people of the Peninsula.

A comprehensive treatment of paganism in Spain down to the end of the third century A.D. forms the subject matter of the first chapter. The second chapter carries this history down from the council of Elvira, held about the year 306, to the Germanic invasions of Spain at the beginning of the fifth century. The canons of Elvira not only give us an insight into the organization of the Spanish Church, but also reveal the attitude of the ecclesiastical authorities to the paganism that surrounded them. For the rest of the fourth century the chief source is the anti-pagan legislation of the Christian emperors as found in the Theodosian Code.

A chapter has been devoted to Priscillianism, since this heresy, besides causing dissension in the Spanish hierarchy for almost two hundred years, perpetuated a number of superstitious beliefs and practices among the people. Only those problems in connection with Priscillianism have been studied that enable the reader to secure a better understanding of the pagan practices that were associated with it.

The fourth chapter contains a full analysis of the De correctione rusticorum of St. Martin of Braga, our most important source on the history of paganism in Spain in the sixth century. While the introduction and notes to Caspari's edition of this sermon published in 1883 are very valuable, many important features of Martin's attitude toward paganism have been overlooked and Caspari's explanation of many practices needed to be revised in the light of more recent studies. The closing chapter deals with the survivals of paganism in Visigothic Spain.

As the relatively large number of writers in this kingdom, with one or two exceptions, give practically no information on the pagan survivals of their region in the sixth and seventh centuries, our knowledge of paganism there must be gleaned mainly from the Visigothic Code and the conciliar legislation. Finally, considerable attention has been given to the efforts of the Church at dispelling ignorance among the clergy and people and to the exorcisms and blessings of the Mozarabic rite as factors in counteracting and supplanting pagan beliefs and practices.

The writer takes this opportunity to thank his religious superiors for the privilege of continuing his studies at the Graduate School of the Catholic University of America. To his professors at the University he is also deeply grateful. He owes a special debt of gratitude to the Reverend Doctor Aloysius K. Ziegler and to Doctor Martin R. P. McGuire for the help and guidance received from them in writing the present dissertation.

Mount Saint Alphonsus,
Esopus, New York,
January, 1938.

Table of Contents

Chapter One : Paganism and Christianity in Spain Before the Council of Elvira
Chapter Two : Paganism and Pagan Survivals in Spain During the Fourth Century
Chapter Three : Priscillianism and Pagan Survivals in Spain
Chapter Four : Pagan Survivals in Galicia in the Sixth Century
Chapter Five : Pagan Survivals in Visigothic Spain

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