This introductory chapter provides an overview of a serora, or a devout laywoman entrusted with caring for a parish church or shrine in the early modern Basque Country and Navarre. As common as seroras were in early modern northern Iberia, their prominence and geographic reach was limited to monolingual Basque-speaking lands and their bilingual neighboring areas. They of course shared many things in common with other devout and semireligious women active in the late medieval and early modern periods; however, the seroras represent a powerful variation that accorded Basque women far more social prominence, economic independence, and religious status and responsibility than any of their counterparts. The vocation was always reserved solely for women and was considered functionally separate from any role the lower male clergy might assume. In this capacity, the seroras may be one of the earliest examples of a specifically female livelihood with a salary that did not imitate or replicate male labor and that took place outside the home. Seroras complemented, and certainly facilitated, male religious work, but the two operated in tandem and were not considered interchangeable. In this light, the seroras push one to reconsider assumptions that early modern Catholic reform was categorically repressive and restrictive for women.
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