Monday, February 16, 2009


In Spain, there is a long tradition of romerías. "Romería" refers to the processions which carry sacred images from one pueblo to another (yes, you've seen them in the movies). There are romerías all over Spain, with lots of history, although nowadays they seem mostly to be an excuse to have a picnic out in the country. The word derives from Roma, referring to pilgrims walking to Rome. However, the word is also close to "romero", which means rosemary. Therefore, it's common to see people with sprigs of wild rosemary in their buttonholes.
On Sunday, we joined a group of friends at the Romería of Pozoblanco. You can see the pictures at:

and in the Diario Córdoba:

In this semi-annual romería, the image of La Virgen de Luna is carried from the pueblo of Villanueva de Córdoba to the pueblo of Pozoblanco, a distance of about twenty miles. We heard various stories about how the image came to be shared between the two villages; I don’t know if any of them are true, but they’re good stories. A shepherd found the image in the 1300’s, and the Santuario was built to house it. (The image may date from Visigothic times. One theory is that it was hidden from the invading Moors, and the shepherd found it after the Reconquista. When you look at the pictures, you might be skeptical that the image dates from before A.D. 800. With good reason. During the Middle Ages, creation of religious figures with associated legends was a big business. Pilgrimage sites brought in lots of visitors and the associated trade.) The pueblo of Pozoblanco didn’t yet exist at that time. The image was carried to Villanueva de Córdoba for the big festivals for many years, during which Pozoblanco came to be. One year, due to excessive rains and flooding, the people of Villanueva de Córdoba weren’t able to make it to the Santuario to get the image. According to the people of Pozoblanco, this meant they’d lost their right to the image, and so they brought it back to their own pueblo. There were some skirmishes fought over it (hence the symbolic weapons carried during the romería). Finally the pueblos reached an agreement to share the image, resulting in the opportunity to go out to the country for a picnic twice a year.

It was about an hour's drive to get there from Córdoba. Pedro, one of our group, is a proud son of Pozoblanco, and insisted on giving us a tour of the pueblo before we continued out into the countryside. We saw the original Pozo Blanco (white well) from which the pueblo takes its name. In the old days, roosters would...roost?...on the well, which was therefore covered with excrement, giving it the characteristic white color. My mind reels with "chickenshit" jokes, but I'll resist the temptation.

We drove out of town into the countryside, which is a landscape known as "dehesa." In ancient times, it was oak forest with heavy underbrush. Several millennia of human occupation have left the forest thinned considerably, but not clear-cut. This leaves clearance for individual trees to grow much larger, with grassland ideal for grazing pigs, sheep, goats, and cattle. One of the guys in the group explained to us (with no small pride) that this was an early example of sustainable land use.

We saw more and more people walking along the road, some on horseback, as we approached El Santuario de la Virgen de Luna, the church at the halfway point between the two pueblos. All around the church were hundreds of families with their picnic lunches. We got ourselves situated and munched a bit before walking over to the church. La Virgen had been walked from Villanueva de Córdoba in the morning, and would arrive in Pozoblanco in the evening; she spent the siesta in El Santuario. We guaranteed our good luck for the year by ringing the church bell.
La Virgen was carried out of the church around 3:30, escorted by black-uniformed men of the Cofradía (a sort of lay brotherhood). They were armed with (fake) halberds and shotguns (loaded with blanks). All of this happened to the sound of the church bell ringing and the guns firing randomly and the crowd cheering. It was quite a sight.

We all enjoyed a drink at one of the outside stands before going back to our picnic site. Eventually, everything got packed up; nothing happens in a rush in Spain. We all drove back into Pozoblanco to buy some "hornazos", traditional sweets made for the romería. It was a very nice end to a very nice day. We participated in a very Spanish tradition, something that we’d never get to see in a normal vacation.

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