population to neglect their duty to take communion at the major Christian festivals with much less chance of investigation and accusation. The religious changes of 1790-4 represented a violent upheaval from the past; and the religious scene in France has never been the same since. However, although before the Revolution it was rare for the population absent from Easter Communion to be more than 10 per cent, the variations from place to place in regular Sunday mass attendance were very much greater. Although it is probably true, as Professor Gabriel Le Bras declared, 'that religious practice was never more widespread than between 1650 and 1789', there was evidence before the Revolution (and industrialisation) of significant regional variations in practice; furthermore the same variations emerged much more clearly in the nineteenth century. The west, the east, the Massif Central and the western Pyrenees were the most fervent; the centre, the south-west and the Mediterranean south were much less so; and Paris was much the least practising.2
Arguably Spain was the most religious country in Europe; even in the twentieth century levels of religious practice in some northern Spanish valleys approached 100 per cent.3 Yet there were wide variations in the level of religious practice in Spain as elsewhere in Europe: whereas in the north there was not only regular attendance at Sunday mass by men as well as women but also regular attendance at weekday mass, in the southern provinces of Andalusia, Extremadura and Las Manchas, where the parishes were much larger and the majority of the rural population were landless labourers rather than peasant proprietors, regular mass attendance was much lower. Frances Lannon's summary is true for many countries: 'Catholic practice was affected by the following factors: region, size of settlement, the ownership of property, occupation, age, and sex'.4 Spain also had a high number of priests, but although it was overwhelmingly rural, the clergy were concentrated in the towns, not least because of the relatively high number in cathedral and associated appointments - only a little more than a third of the secular clergy were involved in parish work. So rural parishes still found it difficult to secure a priest, and rural stipends were very low. In the late eighteenth century a number of reforming bishops sought a better distribution of priests and an emphasis on interior faith rather than simply outward observance. Significant
2 Boulard, Introduction to religious sociology, pp. 12-40; the quotation is from Le Bras, Etudes de sociologie religieuse, vol. i, p. 275.
3 Christian, Person and God in a Spanish valley.
4 Lannon, Privilege, persecution, and prophecy, p. 10.
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