Fiestas, Saints and Spirituality: Collective Rituals as Community Eldercare in Andalusia
Keywords:Eldercare, Dementia, Collective Ritual, Spirituality, Community-centred Care
In this paper, I explore how spirituality and collective rituals influence eldercare in a small town in Andalusia, Spain. I describe how older people’s interactions with the town’s Virgin Mary statues generate personhood, situating the Virgin saints as spiritually protective kinship care-givers. As ubiquitous religious symbols, the saints can be recognised by some people with dementia, providing reassuring familiarity. Older people nearing end-of-life seem to draw comfort from these saints, who become mediators between everyday and spiritual worlds. During fiestas, the statues are carried as part of celebratory processions, stimulating intergenerational solidarity and spiritual protection, and strengthening residents’ sense of belonging, which can be especially valuable to older people at risk of isolation. In care institutions, activities encourage older people to participate in fiestas, reaffirming their community membership. For people with dementia, the multisensorial nature of fiestas can be therapeutic by inciting embodied long-term memories, whilst their seasonality can be reorientating. This paper brings insights from the anthropology of religion into dialogue with the anthropology of ageing by arguing that religious rituals have the capacity to generate a spiritually and collectively therapeutic role in eldercare; this then reveals the need to approach eldercare as ‘community-centred.’ It further demonstrates the capability of ethnography to reveal the diverse ways that collective cultural practices can influence eldercare.
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