Center Visitor Taking a Fresh Look at the Basque Seroras

Amanda Scott was our most recent visitor here at the CBS. She is currently pursuing her PhD in History at Washington University in St. Louis where she is completing a dissertation entitled The Basque Seroras: Local Religion, Power and Gender in Northern Iberia.

This was Amanda’s second visit to the CBS to continue reading from our rich anthropological and ethnographic collections that will aid her in her research. On this visit, Amanda was specifically looking at materials on witchcraft, folklore, fairy tales, and carnival for chapter five of her dissertation, which deals with gendered criticism of the vocation of serora (and most interestingly with a serora-witch from Etxalar!).

As Amanda explains:

"My dissertation is the first systematic study of the Basque seroras, a category of uncloistered religious women active throughout the early modern period in northern Iberia. Hired competitively at the parish level, seroras were church employees, enjoying social prestige and pay comparable to the male clergy. They took no vows and were free to leave the religious life if they chose, meaning that the vocation afforded them considerably more autonomy than traditional nuns or married wives. Entrusted as they were with looking after the parish church and its furnishings and with setting a moral example for the good women of the parish, seroras were at the very center of local religion. However, despite their fundamental importance to religious practice in early modern Iberia, the seroras have attracted almost no historical study.

"By placing the seroras in the context of other contemporary categories of religious women, The Basque Seroras broadens the way we conceive of female religious life and opportunities in the early modern period. It also crucially revises our understanding of reform at the local level: following the reforming Council of Trent, uncloistered religious women were broadly condemned and forced to join established religious orders. These directives notwithstanding, the seroras managed to survive well into the eighteenth century. I contend that even though the Counter Reformation in Northern Iberia is often characterized as immediate and successful, the seroras demonstrate the variability of local enforcement and the ways parishes successfully pressed for leniency or reached tacit compromise with diocesan authorities. Individuals such as the seroras, who straddled secular and religious spheres, were instrumental in this process of negotiated reform."

Amanda hopes to defend her dissertation Spring 2016 and is interested in multiple second projects, including a volume of short essays possibly titled "Voices from the Basque Archives," dealing with episodes of local religious life from the early-modern Basque Country and Navarre. This year, Amanda is living in Spain where she is conducting research at church and secular archives in Pamplona, Donostia, Bilbao, Oņati, Tolosa, and elsewhere.


Cover photo: Jorge Oteiza. Aranzazu Apostles, photo by Daniel Montero.