2/ From origins to year zero of our era

It is known that there has been the need to interpret the environment and the existence itself since the beginning of human awareness. Mircea Eliade (1978, 15) says: “the sacred is an element in the structure of consciousness and not a stage in the history of consciousness. On the most archaic levels of culture, living as a human being is in itself a religious act, since eating, sexual activity, and labour all have a sacramental value. In other words, to be—or, rather, to become—a man means to be religious”.

This reasoning puts us in the necessary direction to assess the different artistic and architectural expression that is spread out anywhere in the municipality from the above mentioned Neolithic period until today. This expression is contextualised to the global religious vision in this region.

In order to head the different samples that have remained in time, we have to mention the little flint axes found near the village of Vernet and probably made in the Neolithic workshop located in la Roureda, close to Vernet. Its usefulness was to be part of grave goods in burials. Then we have an old expression of worship that informs us about a thought that goes beyond the death through tools used in burials. It is a thought of religious nature. Although there are descriptions of religious expression from the Palaeolithic, is it not until the Neolithic when it becomes evident that awareness of religious fact is much more organised.

As a consequence of sedentarization, it is basically in the activity of cultivation where it is shown the existence of the life cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth, which are embodied in the land work. The seasons indicate the tempo of the evolutionary cycle. The observation of the heavenly bodies’ position in the sky dome becomes the measuring tool that lets foresee in which periods of year it is necessary to start each activity to guarantee a good harvest. This work of the land and its seasonal repeatability causes in the individual the awareness of temporality and at the same time, as M. Eliade (1978, 56) says, of “mystic solidarity between man and vegetation”.

It is not until the third millennium before Christ that they go into this religious awareness that comes from the land itself, the life cycle and the death that we have already mentioned. That comes definitely from the worship to the land itself symbolised in the shape of Mother Goddess or Mother Earth. This is the result of the contact between the inhabitants of the territory with herdsmen of other places. This deity, who was valid throughout prehistory and well into our history, was worshipped all around Indo-European world and symbolised the Earth in its entire creative and evolutionary spectrum. It was translated into birth, life, death and rebirth.

The transition that death symbolises gets an important meaning and the burials are made in the galleries depths of caves such as the cave of Picalts in Lluçars, the cave of Bauma in Santa Maria de Meià and other caves in Alòs, Os de Balaguer, Tartareu… They are also made building dolmens like the ones that stand out in Loella del Llop near the municipality. These ones were catalogued by Lluís Marià Vidal in 1893. We also can find the dolmens in Vilanova de Meià and yet inside the territory the ones in Montmagastre, which were discovered and catalogued by members of the Associació Cultural La Roureda (La Roureda Cultural Association) during the last years.

We also can find different pictorial expression of those days in the municipality and its surrounding area. They are embodied from Neolithic to Bronze Age (Maluquer de Motes 1981, 13). They consist of schematic representations and some anthropomorfs and zoomorfs that give us information about a graphic expression which probably goes together with religious worship. These are the examples about rock painting in Antona, Els Aparets (municipal border between Artesa de Segre and Alòs de Balaguer), Baldomà and others situated in the influence area of the municipality.

We also can find the rock of the Mas de N’Olives near Anya (Artesa de Segre) but it is already outside the boundaries of the current municipal area. It was discovered in 1981 because of some demolition to build a trench. This rock was studied by J. L. Díez-Coronel and we can see on it 34 human figures while praying. We also can see some stairs among them. According to Eva Solanes (2004, 33) information, they symbolise the distance between the earth and the sky. This rock, which dates from Bronze Age, seems that could have been part of an old shrine and it clearly refers to religious worship.

Josep M. Miró Rosinach (2001, 49) with regard to the figures’ praying position, that is to say with raised arms, explains us that during the Neolithic came up almost all the archetypical symbols that we repeatedly find along centuries and in every religion. The most ancient figures that are strongly schematized in a praying gesture belong to that period. We will see them later in the iconography from Mesopotamia and Egypt crystallising into Christianity. This position, which is repeatedly found in the Romanesque pictorial art, has been present throughout history and today in the ritual of Eucharist celebration.

Recently the author of this work (2004, 215) has discovered a rock in a research about cruciform and dome shape engravings in the area of Refet. We can see on it 21 dome shape cuts, 14 cruciform cuts and a combination of funnels engraved on the surface of this stone. Moreover, it is located in an area where I have found 45 cruciform engravings by now. Some of this engravings form a collection of crosses and several dome shape engravings both isolated or in groups. We understand that a lot of this crosses, dome shape engravings and funnels located in this place can be situated between the end of Neolithic and Bronze Age. This dating is based on the closeness to a settlement of that period and the observed parallelisms in other representations of similar making and external conformation. These representations are located in different places of Catalonia and France, where this chronology has been catalogued. Although the meaning of these rock engravings is still being studied, we cannot stop understanding that these insculptures had a worship function and probably a ritual one because of the figures’ layout.

There was a big entrance of people from the North about 1000 BC. They came with some new religious ideas that involve a clear vision of the spirit survival after death (Maluquer de Motes 1981, 15). We are at the end of Bronze Age and beginning of Iron Age. This new culture changes completely the burial way in our region. They practise cremation and bury the urns with the deceased inside the so-called cinerary urn field.

We also should take into account that trees were an important worship thing in those prehistoric days. Above all, holm oaks, which were sacred trees that symbolise the roots in the land; through the trunk and branches they symbolise the connection between earthly world and heaven. The tree became a sacred thing and they celebrated several rituals around it. Some of them have survived until today and others have developed such as circle dancing, which symbolised the annual cycle circle and was danced around these trees.

The sacred rituals have been developing along times and have coexisted and shared acts and ceremonies with religious beliefs that were following in each period. They have also adapted to circumstances of ritual and belief of each period. With reference to rituals celebrated according to significant trees in the municipality of Artesa, we should mention the thousand-year-old holm oak in Refet. According to what Joan Bellmunt (2000, 273) says, the people of the region met in that holm oak to arrange engagements like other pairing rituals at shelter of a holm oak in other places of the European continent. All they seem to be samples of old rituals that have been surviving and developing throughout years. The holm oak of Refet, which was cut down after dying in an uncertain date between 1970 and 1980, had a special meaning. It is said that in that holm oak had had a rest Arnau Mir de Tost in the Middle Age during the battles against Moors of El Mascançà (Lladonosa 1990, 455). Lladonosa himself wrote in the history of Artesa de Segre and its region that: “the holm oak felling was a shame because trunks and roots like those had seen Catalonia’s birth”.

Although the holm oak of Refet did not exist in prehistoric times, it is certain that there were specimens considered sacred by inhabitants of that period in holm-oak woods of that place. It comes from a recent study (Pérez Conill, Miquel Torres, Ramon I. Canyelles 2004, 171-228) in which we have checked that Refet has kept its condition of sacred and worship place from prehistory until today.

In relation to ancestral dancing, today we find three examples of traditional jingle bell dancing in the municipality. They are represented by a spring celebration that symbolises the splendour of nature in Refet’s field of religion, by the Ball rodó (round dancing) related to land working and by the festive dancing of la Contradansa d’Alentorn (country-dance of Alentorn).

Joan Amades with regard to Ball rodó (1950, 2, 298) tells us that “these dances are common to several European peoples and that ethnography thinks that they are remains of rites of fecundity, protection and collective preservation of the tribe and the clan in general”. With reference to country-dance (1950, 4, 814) he explains to us the archaic nature of popular dancing. In relation to the Ball de cascavells (jingle bell dancing) we should say that it is a development of the Ball de bastons (stick dancing), which is considered one of the popular dances with the furthest historic roots.

The old native settlers that developed by themselves from the Neolithic to the end of Bronze Age and beginning of Iron Age mixed with the northern settlers who shared their social, cultural and religious characteristics with. This mix developed about the fourth century BC with the formation of Ilergetes Iberian people who lived in our territory. We have a good example of this in the hamlet of Antona, which today is at excavation stage. This is a more advanced culture in which stands out the knowledge of writing among other characteristics. The bases of its religious world are not very far away from the previous phase. Despite the mix with settlers that come from other places, what did contribute the newly arrived people was the iconography that represented several signs about the Goddess and other worship figures.

We have more information about this historic period because the invaders that finished with this culture, that is the Romans, recorded it in writing. Thanks to the writings and its contrast with archaeological research we know that the worship to this culture was made basically in three types of location: the Loca Sacra Libera (areas of rural worship), the sanctuaries and the temples. The last ones are related in a way to the current Christian religious rooms. This worship rooms were situated in places that were ‘guided’ by the nature itself. That is in fields where emanate a spiritual force that came from inside the earth according to formulas yet founded in the Neolithic and Bronze Age.

In the Iberian culture with regard to their religious aspect we should stand out the worship to different signs of Mother Earth. Although we do not know which were their names in our territory, in other places of the Iberian world they were represented by Artemis, Tanit, Demeter, Astarte, etc. The faithful offered up a lot of ex-votoes to these Goddesses such as deities’ representations in the shape of human figures as we know today. They also offered up representations of animals (mainly horses and bulls) and of human body limbs among other figures that were made of bronze and baked clay. Once the worship places were full, the offerings were emptied in deposits or buried somewhere out of range of people because they belonged to some deity.

The Iberian kept the tradition of deceased cremation and burial in cinerary urns but together with ashes they placed death’ belongings that were burnt because they were next to the corpse. These urns were buried in cemeteries close to hamlets and in some cases they were crowned by commemorative stones, which remind us the crosses that we see on the graves excavated in the ground of our cemeteries.

The kids that did not passed the affiliation ceremony and had therefore no access to necropolis neither to the world of the deads were buried in the subsoil of the family houses. This ritual could have relation in some cases to agricultural and pastoral practises while in other cases we should think about foundation rituals and in other ones even about rituals of house protection (Adolfo J. Domínguez, 1995,

The Romans disembarked in Ampurias in 218 BC. The same year they destroyed the capital of Ilergetes Iberian: Atanagrum (or Athanagia). This city, which does not appear again in the history, could be the hamlet of L’Espígol in Tornabous (Maluquer de Motes, 1981, 21). The Romans adopted the Greek religious culture but mimicking some of their Gods, which all of them symbolised different life fields. Despite their thirst for conquering, they adapted their religiousness to the ways of each conquered area. The worship that revolved around ancestors and protective deities was carried out in a certain place of the house and conducted by the head of the family in the privacy of their home. The head of the family brought together all the people who lived in the house, both family and servants. Within the large amalgam of deities venerated by Roman people, for this work we should mention Terminus. It is a God that defended territories and borders and was symbolised by tumuli and boundary stones in the confining areas. We will talk sufficiently about it in the corresponding section.

In spite of the settlement of two big cities situated quite close to Artesa like the ancient ones Aeso (Isona) and Iesso (Guissona), apart from the Roman Ilerda, at this moment in time we find very few remains of Roman culture in our land. Specifically, we have just found two buckles in Santa Cecília and Antona (Maluquer de Motes 1986, 18) and some remains of terra sigillata (signed with craftsman mark) that were found by Mr. Rafel Gomà and today are shown in Museu del Montsec (Montsec Museum) of Artesa de Segre. However, the Romans represented a quite advanced culture whose location and type of building were not very different from the current room structures. Some of their buildings have probably become old country houses of the municipality. The Roman Empire was present until the fifth century. It was not until the second century that we begin to find references to Christianity in our land.

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