Holy Week Processions

Holy Week Processions
   Given that religion in Spain is as much a cultural manifestation as an expression of personal commit-ment, it is not surprising that the processions held in the last three days of Holy Week often have a large element of spectacle, which threatens at times to overcome their devotional aspect. In these processions, which go back at least to the Middle Ages, images of the Virgin and of Christ carrying the cross are borne through the streets of nearly every village and town on heavy wooden litters, often elaborately carved and painted, which need as many as sixteen men to carry them. The images are accompanied by a brass band and drums. In some villages, such as Hellín in Albacete province, the drumming goes on round the clock for the duration of the festival. In the larger cities, notably Seville and Madrid, the litters are escorted by robed and hooded members of the confraternities attached to the various churches. Often they are joined by anonymous penitents walking barefoot and dragging chains attached to their ankles. The most famous of these processions is held in Seville, where the lavishly adorned image of the Virgen de la Macarena is processed to the accompaniment of the impromptu devotional song typical of Andalusia called the saeta (literally "arrow"). So deeply embedded is this tradition in Andalusian culture that in 1978 some Andalusian workers in the Catalan industrial town of Hospitalet improvised their own secular variant of the Holy Week Procession, which has become an annual event, and is attended by up to 200,000 people. The same religious figures are carried, and outwardly the procession has all the appearance of a traditional one, but the difference is that it is not held under church auspices, is centred on municipal buildings, and is sponsored by a confraternity made up of professed agnostics.
   The medieval origins of the processions are most clearly seen in those few places where the practice of self-flagellation is perpetuated, the most notable example being the village of San Vicente de la Sonsierra (Logroño), where hooded figures whip themselves, and their weals are then pricked with pieces of glass to make the blood flow. This practice is rare, however, and overall the processions are characterized by a mixture of religious fervour, festive rejoicing and local rivalry.
   EAMONN RODGERS

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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