Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Il Comparatico - Godparenthood

Godparents played a vital role in the Italian family.  One thing that is not usually found in social studies is the fact that normally there were two sets of godparents for a child.  The first set was for birth/baptism, the second for confirmation.  Therefore, any one child could have up to four other adults to turn to if they lost their parents  This is often why you will see an orphaned child absorbed into a related family.  Either the head of household or the wife was likely the child's godparent, perhaps both of them.

Civil records show that not all children were given two godparents at birth.  However, there were nearly always two for baptism, a testament to this custom's importance.  Poorer families often chose a wealthy member of society, even if not a relative, in the hopes that the child would be provided for were they to die before the child reached its majority. 

When a couple was engaged they decided on who would be the witnesses to their marriage.  This decision had double meaning because the witnesses automatically became the godparents to their first child.  Some superstitions spoke of the child inheriting certains traits, physical appearance or personality, from their godparents. 

In general, a brother of the man and a sister of the woman were usually chosen for the baptismal godparent roles.  In studying the records of many families, I have found this lasted for the first two or three children, then they began to spread out the responsibility.  Godparents were afforded respect and acted in parental roles with the child even while the parents were still living.

Immigrating Italians brought these traditions with them.  You can still see this practice in some form within Italian American families today.