Story and photos by Barbara and Manos Angelakis
One of the most beautiful and interesting times to visit Andalucía is during the Holy Week i.e. La Semana Santa.
Unfortunately this year, with the corona virus spread having heavily hit the entire country of Spain, these very popular sacred celebrations were canceled, but we had visited Andalucía a couple years ago and were deeply moved by what we experienced. Perhaps, it is a visit we should all plan for next year.
Holy Week in Spain is the annual tribute to the Passion of Jesus Christ; celebrated by religious fraternities that perform penance processions on the streets of almost every Spanish city and town. The main attraction of Holy Week is these processions which take place from Palm Sunday to Good Friday and Easter Saturday.
In the center of the area between the city of Seville to the west, Malaga to the south, Córdoba to the north and Granada to the east, lays the very heart of Andalucía. Here are towns that cling to the hillsides and take fierce pride in their history and traditions. Thanks to the generosity of the Spanish Tourist Board and Junta De Andalucía (Andalucían Tourist Board) we were invited to attend Easter Week in the eight towns of Baena, Carmona, Osuna, Puente Genil, Priego de Córdoba, Alcala la Real, Lucena and Cabra, to follow the “Caminos De Pasión” trails.
Each of the towns on the circuit has its own individual style, with differences important to the participants and a source of local pride. The processions are organized by Brotherhoods of Men, Sisterhoods of Women, or a combination of both, with each establishing its own ritual. Many of the Brotherhoods have existed for hundreds of years but new ones continue to form choosing to recreate different aspects of the Easter drama. Some of the Brotherhoods are affiliated with local churches and are seriously religious in nature; others are more secular and seem to exist as social organizations for camaraderie and town esteem... all are highly family oriented and full of good cheer. Each Brotherhood wears a different color tunic and style of hat, some wear masks, most carry candles. All the parades are joined by hooded penitents often wearing black or purple robes and sometimes even marching barefoot on the sharp-pebble-covered streets of the old towns. The floats and statues, most hundreds of years old, are bedecked with embroidery, jewels, precious antiquities and flowers – white for purity, purple for suffering.
In Baena, the celebrations start early in the morning with groups of men dressed in Roman soldier helmets. They start drumming at sunrise to wake up the city with the staccato beating of drums. The men march in small groups – sometimes a few friends or fathers and sons – and are dressed in “historic” garments with helmets topped by colorful feathers of the wearer’s choice. These drummers are meant to represent the exuberant crowds of Jews (but why the Roman helmets?) that were arriving in Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. Seemingly lost to history is the explanation for the fierce competition between the Coliblanco (white tail) and Colinegro (black tail); these tails are attached to the back of the helmets. Later in the day, the various Brotherhoods take turns parading their sacred statues through the tiny winding and often steep streets. This tradition has remained unchanged from the Baroque era to now.
Carmona has the distinction of having the oldest historic icon to be paraded in Andalucía “Señor de la Armargura” created by Jorge Fernández Alemán in 1521. Two of the original four arched stone gates to the ancient walled city are still standing and watching the massive floats (pasos in Spanish) being maneuvered through the narrow city gate as the sun was setting was a very emotional moment. A crier (guide) was shouting step by step instructions to the unseen handlers underneath the float as the crowds held their breath until the sides and top of the gate was cleared by mere inches. Once through, the trumpets blared as the crowd applauded and cheered.
Osuna is geographically located halfway between Sevelle and Granada and their celebration is influenced by traditions from both cities. The numerous floats carrying the religious icons and statues are held either in the style of Seville – crossbeam method - or Granada – taking the enormous weight directly on the shoulders; a number are a combination of both. Some are carried from underneath the platform. Whistles sound frequently or bells are rung, to signal the carriers to rest the floats and resounded to once again lift them in a synchronized manner. Sometimes music keeps the beat for the carriers as they progress down the pebbled covered narrow streets, shifting their weight from side to side as throngs of devoted bystanders cheer them on.
In Puente Genil one sees traditional biblical figures dramatize passages from the Old and New Testaments. The costumes have identifying names and are accessorized according to who they are, so that each figure can be property acknowledged. Some of the costumes are centuries old and have been carefully maintained to pass on from one generation to the next. In Puente Genil the Easter Week celebrations are known as “la Mananta” or “it feels inside” and Jesus of Nazareth is their Patron Saint, adding another level of devotion to an already sacred procession.
It was very moving to see how each figure wearing the heavy costume and mask was attended to by their friends and relatives, adjusting their clothes, setting right the heavy wigs or guiding them through the crowds in a respectful and tender, loving manner – inspiring to see the care given as if to the actual historical figure.
Priego de Cordoba’s Easter celebration tends to be characterized by solemnity and religious fervor. Penitents take center stage in the many different parades with great attention being paid to acting out the drama based on strict biblical references. Religious rituals have been honed over the centuries that culminate on Good Friday by townspeople following the float carrying Jesus of Navareth up to “Calvary Hill” for the blessing of the “hornazo” a hen-shaped pastry with a hard-boiled egg in the center.
Alcalá la Real is notable for its extremely steep hills that lead to La Mota Castle, an imposing guardian over the town. The activity centers around the main square and the broad main boulevard that is decorated for Easter with flowers and banners. Here the festival fever is a combination of religious devotion and good natured revelry. Notable were the brotherhood that we saw that wore colorful costumes of red boots, white stockings, red britches, green coats with red accents and helmets topped by flowers.
While women are now allowed to participate in the parades, here we saw an entire “sisterhood” of women wearing lavender tunics, leading a procession and carrying a paso, up towards the Castle… a rather daunting climb.
Lucena offered a festive air with almost everyone in the town - young, old, and in between - carrying their own lit candle, making for friendly conversations. The streets were coated with candle wax but many times we saw the wax from the dripping tapers gathered and, once cooled, handed to the children to collect along with the memories of the special day. Lucena currently boasts sixteen brotherhoods, several of which have existed for over four hundred years. Here the pasos are carried to the beating of a drum which along with the thousands of lit candles adds a special excitement.
Cabra presented another view of the pageantry since we were there for the nighttime festivities. Cabra’s Easter celebrations date from the late 15th century and represent many of the features we observed in the other towns, such as the parade of the Jews and the followers of Christ to the sound of drumming, with the trumpets known as “abejorros” joining in. Some of the pasos were carrying the precious religious icons created in the 17th and 18th centuries. The music was vibrant and rich adding a memorable element to an already emotional celebration.
Music played an important role in the processions in all the towns we visited with the marching bands and drummers adding immeasurably to the strong sentiments evoked. Most enjoyable was seeing the gathering together of families of all ages contributing to the action or standing on the sidelines cheering in support of their neighbors participating in the festivities.
With many thanks to:
Junta De Andalucía www.andalucia.org
Tourist Office of Spain www.spain.info
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