One of my main themes for Maoist China is the persistence of religious activity. In my posts on folk traditions of Poland and east Europe I mentioned the 2009 volume Music traditions in totalitarian systems (see also Life behind the Iron Curtain).
Complementing studies of the largely “secular” Polish folk genres, an interesting chapter there is
- Jacek Jackowski, “Folk religious songs sung during the Peregrination of Virgin Mary’s Icon: an example of traditional Polish peasant piety in Communist times”.
Despite secular, atheist Communist policy, the Catholic church remained central to Polish identity, and a focus of resistance.
Among many pilgrimages in Poland, the Jasna Góra monastery in Częstochowa northwest of Kraków inspires a national network of religious devotion, with its holy icon of the Virgin Mary, the Black Madonna (most famous of many such images around Europe and around the world).
The pilgrimage was sometimes interrupted by political movements from the late 18th century, and notably during the wars of the 20th century.
As in Communist regimes more widely, a partial thaw followed the death of Stalin in 1956, though persecutions of the clergy continued. From 1957 major round of Peregrinations to the Icon got under way in many dioceses and parishes, which were held until 1966—just as in China local folk rituals that had managed to persist during the first fifteen years of Maoist rule were also silenced by the Cultural Revolution. After the Icon was “arrested” that year, empty frames were taken on pilgrimage, “the best example of authentic folk piety”.
Meanwhile in Jasna Góra small copies of the Icon were consecrated and offered to all parishes in Poland for veneration. With the approval and guidance of the institutional Church, domestic services (“Small Peregrinations”) before the Icon also became highly popular. Even after the clampdown, all these manifestations of popular piety persisted, emerging more openly by the 1980s.
As with any study worth its salt, Jackowski pays attention to the soundscape, going on to give details of religious song, under three broad headings:
- Church songs, from official songbooks, with official approbatur
- Religious songs from the songbooks especially issued on the occasion of the Peregrination
- Local religious and devotional folk creations—a rich repertoire.
Pilgrimage songs were led by przewodnik/prowadnik “guides”, often elderly women.
With religious devotion and pilgrimage significant elements in the popular resistance to the Communist regime, such songs were also sung during strikes and protests.
Meanwhile the Catholics of China were enduring their own tribulations.