Monday, April 13, 2009

Semana Santa

It is Semana Santa and all of Spain is celebrating…

The Virgin Mary’s of Spain are perfectly happy to spend 51 weeks a year meditating in their chapels... but one week each year, the ladies like to really do the town, so they go out escorted through the town on the shoulders of forty lusty men! This is truly a site to see…nothing you could ever imagine seeing in America. Semana Santa is born of a nation steeped in Catholicism for over 500 years, or in the case of Córdoba, over 700 years. The Spanish proclaim to the world… Let there be no doubt that something miraculous occurred 2000 years ago!

You can see the pictures at:

The celebrations began late last week. We took an evening stroll, as is the custom in Spain, down to see San Lorenzo church. The church has been closed for restoration and just recently reopened. When we arrived at the church, we were surprised to find a large crowd of people waiting… then from out of the church, the procession began. First church elders and then incense and banner bearers solemnly emerged. Then an enormous, larger than life, crucifixion born on the shoulders of about thirty men descended from the church amid cheering and applause. We followed as the procession proceeded through the narrow streets. Later as we walked toward home we passed other processions. One was particularly sweet, consisting of young children bearing candles, some taller than they were. This was our first taste of the festivities, and it assured us that Semana Santa was going to be seriously cool. Sevilla, Málaga and Cádiz are generally regarded to have the most spectacular celebrations. However, the Córdoba Semana Santa is said to be one of the most “preciosa”, and hordes of tourists flood into the city to view the processions.

Last Sunday was the official start of the celebrations with six processions wandering their way along different paths through Córdoba. Every night since, there have been five or six different processions each night, each one a little different, each one following a different route through the city. The processions are quite elaborate, consisting of hundreds of people dressed in KKK-like outfits, some white, others black, purple, green, red... my first thought when I saw them was UGGHHH! Some processions are joyful, others are solemn. Generally, there is a life size depiction of El Señor, in one of the Stations of the Cross, illustrating Jesus´ final days. And so the story is told: Jesus enters Bethlehem on a donkey, He shares the Last Supper with the disciples, He prays in Gethsemane, He is betrayed and arrested, He is condemned by Pontius Pilate, He makes His final walk to Calvary, He dies on the cross, as well as others scenes from His final days…

These are powerful scenes displayed on huge float-like platforms, rocking from side to side as they go, carried by as many forty men. Lifting the platform is a production:

Scott did the math after a discussion with a priest. The largest platforms weigh over 2,600 pounds, well over a ton! It is huge honor to be selected to carry El Señor or La Virgen. José, a friend from Montilla, was selected to carry El Señor on Friday, and La Virgen on Sunday through his pueblo, Aguilar de la Frontera. He was bursting with pride as he told me; in España, this is a very big deal. After experiencing some of these processions, I understand. They are awe inspiring.

El Señor is followed by a band and various Catholic banners, crowns of thorns, and other relics. Then La Virgen makes her appearance, again carried on the backs of forty men, followed by her own band and honor guard. All of this paraded through the tiny streets and crushes of people. Children run up to the marchers to catch the wax dripping from the candles on balls of aluminum foil, creating the proverbial ball of wax as a keepsake. From the American perspective, when I describe Semana Santa, it doesn´t sound like such a big deal. But the experience is nothing short of amazing.

During these processions, we’ve been having to put certain heavy-crowd techniques into practice. When you get a large number of people into a constricted space, they get rude. You have to guard your personal space, but not in a way that you’re overtly rude, regardless of what other people do. You make yourself large; plant your feet far apart, stick your elbows out, and don’t give way if people push at you. If you give up space, you will not get it back. Some of those little old Spanish ladies get quite aggressive; they push themselves into a space that’s not large enough for one person, and then invite their friends in to join them.

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