Story and photography by Barbara Angelakis
aditional photos courtesy Manos Angelakis
Located in the southern part of the Iberian Peninsula with coasts fronting both the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, lies the second largest autonomous region in Spain: Andalucía. It is best know for gifting to the world Flamenco; Bullfighting; and its own adaptation of Moorish architecture and arts that were developed through nearly 800 years of occupation by invading North African Muslim tribes. Andalucía’s gastronomy is internationally renowned for its distinctive wines; olives and olive oil; Iberico ham and cured pork products.
In the center of the polygonal area between the capital city of Seville to the west, Malaga to the south, Córdoba to the north and Granada to the east, lies 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 and to experience the traditional foods eaten during Easter week.
Each of the towns on the circuit has its own individual style… subtle differences, but important to the participants as a source of local pride. The processions are organized by Brotherhoods of Men, 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 robes and sometimes even marching barefoot on the sharp-pebble-covered streets of the old towns. The floats and statues are bedecked with embroidery, jewels, precious antiquities and flowers – white for purity, purple for suffering.
We began our visit in Baena where the action starts before dawn and literally wakes the town with the staccato beating of drums. Men march in small groups – sometimes in pairs of friends or father and son – and 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 that were arriving in Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. Seemingly lost to history is the explanation for the competition between the Coliblanco (white tail) and Colinegro (black tail) 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 period to modern times.
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 being maneuvered through the narrow city gate as the sun was setting was a very emotional moment. The crier was shouting step by step instructions to the unseen handlers as the crowds held their breath until the sides and top of the gate was cleared by mere inches. Once through, the music blared as the crowd applauded and cheered.
Osuna is geographically located halfway between Sevelle and Granada and their celebrations are influenced by traditions from both cities. The floats - called pasos - 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 even carried from underneath the platform.
Whistles sound frequently or bells are rung, to allow the carriers to rest the floats on the ground due to their enormous weight and resounded to once again lift them in a synchronized fashion. Sometimes the 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 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 to the next generation. 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 brothers 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 celebrations tend 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 Calvario 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 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 “brotherhood” of women wearing lavender tunics, leading a procession up towards the Castle… a rather daunting climb.
Lucena offered a festive air with almost everyone in the town - young, old, and all in between - carrying their own lit candle, making for friendly confrontations and 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 Christians to the sound of drumming, with the trumpets known as abejorros joining in. Some of the pasos carrying the precious religious icons were created in the 17th and 18th centuries. The music was vibrant and rich adding a memorable element to the 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 activities.
For more information on La Semana Santa (Holy Week) please visit:
Caminos De Pasión www.caminosdepasion.com
Junta De Andalucía www.andalucia.org
Tourist Office of Spain www.spain.info
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