Friday, March 29, 2013

Easter in the South

Celebrating the Joy of Easter Morning
The Easter processions are not only one of the oldest traditions in many towns and cities of (primarily Southern) Spain, they are also one of the biggest public spectacles. The small city I live in has about two dozen ‘cofradías’, brotherhoods, which celebrate a particular aspect of the Passion of Christ either through the experience of the Virgin or a scene from the narrative.

Our Lady of
These scenes are figures, usually slightly more than life-size, made of wood and ceramic by expert specialists in the genre. They are ornately decorated with gowns, halos, garlands, flowers, silk handkerchiefs, candles, placed on a wooden float rigged with an ornate linen cover supported by posts at the corners, and transported through the street on the shoulders of strong young men. They are accompanied by the members of the ‘cofradía’, dressed in the garb of penitents, with gowns and pointed hoods in the colours of the group, and by a band, providing rhythm to the bearers and the walkers, and generally livening the whole thing up.

Jesus the Nazarene
It is a slow business, because they are very heavy, and the idea is to show them to the crowds, not to get it over with quickly. They stop to rest, they stop to listen to ‘saetas’, sung from balconies on the route, during which the bearers do not rest, at least not early on, but dance the platform in honour of the singer. It’s hard work. The bearers of the processions that go out on Good Friday are dispensed from the obligation of fasting and abstinence which binds other Catholics. Mrs Hickory’s Virgin is meant to go out tonight, as part of a complex of processions involving ten different images which meet and separate and meet again, then chase each other back to the Cathedral.

At one point the crucified Christ meets two versions of His mother in the Main Square and greets them in ritual fashion, bowing and dancing. Each of them, let me remind the reader, a life-sized statue on a billiard table with 40 second-row forwards underneath it. All of this takes time and energy.

The Last Supper
After some 4-5 hours of this, at about one in the morning, they arrive back at the Cathedral and take the statue in, backwards, on their knees, in the presence of a crowd that numbers in the low thousands.

This is not just a religious activity. It is not a handful of the devout doing inexplicable things, perplexing the majority of passers-by. It is a cultural and social event lasing a week, participated in directly by perhaps 1500 people in any given year (this in a city of some 80,000, and watched, with interest, respect and understanding by many thousands who line the streets to watch them pass, waiting hours to get a good place, clapping the more difficult manoeuvres of the bearers, remaining silent for the ‘saetas’, and staying up late into the night to watch the return of the images to their home church. Most of them probably don’t visit a church from one year to the next, it includes many teenagers who would normally be out in the streets or the bars with their friends, but it is a shared experience, a part of their culture and their hometown, which they want to continue to be part of.

It is very unlikely that the processions will be able to go out tonight, because of the rain, but the experience in other years of the reception of the Virgin by the crowds outside the Cathedral is remarkable in its intensity.

No comments: