Terra Mariana: Latgale
Was it by accident or by intuition that we joined a group of Catholic pilgrims heading on foot to Latvia’s most important spiritual center, Aglona, in the heart of the eastern region of Latvia, Latgale. Here, on the road, we rediscovered the land called Tera Mariana, witnessing Latgale and its people going through hard times; farms and villages being abandoned; elderly people being left alone and a lot of land left uncultivated. However, it is believed that in many Latgalian dwellers deep faith and sincere love for the land they live and work on can still be found. In this way, people of Latgale express their wish to preserve their cultural heritage, uniqueness, and their wish to be.
The land where Estonia and Latvia lie was once called Terra Mariana, the Land of Mary. During the Reformation, the Lutherans abandoned this name, but in Latgale it was kept. This was because Latgale, before the Christianization of the region, worshipped Māra, “another Mary”, the goddess of fertility, motherhood, and the earth. Later both, Mary and Māra have become inseparable from each other and deeply rooted in every heart, soul, and household. In the course of time of enduring polish Pans, German lords, and Russian tsars, Catholic rituals and traditions were being thoroughly kept in every Latgalian house, as if to save its identity, culture, and language.
Local and global economic and political processes have turned out to be more devastating than foreign invaders and have endangered the unique culture of Latgale. Today Latvia is still struggling with one of the worst economic crisis in the EU, resulted in high unemployment rates and mass emigration. Ministry of Welfare of Latvia has proposed resettlement benefits for those people who are willing to move from one region of the country to another looking for work. There is a concern that after the start of the benefit program that the already sparsely populated rural areas of Latvia will become empty.