Monday, 1 April 2013

Easter processions in Spain

Procession of the Flagellants - 1812 by Goya
Easter is Spain's main fiesta period. Almost every community observes it in some form with pomp and solemnity. The week is heralded by the Palm Sunday procession and continues every night until Easter weekend. 
Brotherhoods of robed men and women carry 'pasos' - huge sculptures, depicting religious scenes showing the entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and on following evenings the Virgin, Christ with crown of thorns, scenes from the Passion, the Last supper, and the Crucifixion are carried through the streets from the main church or Cathedral. Sometimes several churches in the town have their own 'pasos' which are carried to the main church where they then await the principal 'pasos' to exit the church and where they all then process together. The 'pasos' are accompanied by penitents wearing tall conical hats or hoods which hide their faces. In some towns passion plays are acted out, and in others people carry heavy crosses. Sometimes the centuries old ritual of self-flagellation can be witnessed as in the Goya painting above. The tall conical hats worn by the penitents originally were worn by inquisitors of heretics tried during the Spanish Inquisition.
When we visited Toledo Cathedral we saw this 'pasos' being prepared for the coming evening. The flowers were being arranged and the silver highly polished. Some of the 'pasos' weigh 3500 kgs and require 100 people to carry. Many of the penitents carrying the 'pasos' walk with bare feet over difficult cobblestones on the arduous journey. Our first encounter with one of the processions was one of solemnity with columns of people carrying candles, accompanied by loud rhythmic beating of drums, and then a wind band would strike up with slow, mournful and very haunting music. All of the community take part in the sombre processions from the very old to babes held in arms.
The procession passing through the square where we stayed - at this stage we gave up and retired, but the 'pasos' still had a long journey to cover until it was back at the cathedral.
Another procession in the old town of Cuenca famed for its hanging houses. This 'pasos' is waiting in the old square for the principal 'pasos' to emerge from the cathedral. This one shows Judas betraying Jesus when he led a mob of temple guards and high priests into the garden of Gethsemane to capture Jesus. Judas greeted Jesus and the high priests then had him arrested. 
A further 'pasos' showed the disciples trying to stay awake and keep watch but not suceeding.
'Pasos" showing the Last Supper
My photos are not very sharp - the crowds and the darkness making it difficult for my little camera.

53 comments:

  1. Hello Rosemary, Those rituals you show seem really scary and unpleasant. Not at all what I associate with the Easter season. They remind me of the Klan in the United States--perhaps that is where they got some of their imagery.

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    1. Hello Jim - we all immediately thought of the KKK, and suspected that they must have imitated these ancient ritual garments.
      The fact that most of the population was involved revealed to us how powerful the church in Spain still is.
      When we first encountered the drumming, hooded figures, it did feel extremely scary, but as time past we became accustomed to it.

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  2. We have something similar in Italy, but without the scary element. Those hooded KKK lookalikes are really scary, aren't they? I love your photos, though you say you are not very happy with them and I find you post very interesting.

    I think that people in Italy are a bit more relaxed, than people in Spain about rituals. We do it, but we don't over do it! And... you would only see an Italian walking barefoot if it was fashionable not to wear shoes!

    The hooded men really look scary, aren't they? What is interesting is that these rituals, or processions, have been going on for such a long time,and, like other traditions, they provide a link with the past and give us an idea of what things must have been like a long time ago.

    Flagellation and self harming were connected with religion and fear of God. There are poems, written in the 12th century which really give us an idea of how people used to think back then, regarding religion and self punisment. Sinners used to wear a robe called "cilicio" in Italian, which was lined with spines and worn on bare skin. Can you imagine that? The Church must have instilled an incredible fear of God on "sinners!" How weird!

    Anyway! I actually wish I could have been there, watching the procession and taking photos. Afterwards, I would have gone for a delicious meal. Which is probably what you did!

    CIAO!

    ANNA
    xx

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    1. Dear Anna - our first encounter felt very scary, but as time passed we became accustomed to what was happening. It all became much different when we actually saw the penitents with their hoods off, laughing and chatting whilst drinking beer and wine!!!
      You are spot on about the meal, we headed off to a wonderful restaurant in the old town square of Cuenca for a local meal - the bars and restaurants were all bulging with families having a good evening out.
      It was very interesting for us to see as I had no idea that these processions were carried out every night during the pre-Easter week across the whole of Spain.
      I am pleased that you liked the photos and the post. It was a new encounter for me to see. Kind of you to say you loved my photos, it is at times like these that I think that I really need a better camera to cope in the dark etc.
      Ciao

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  3. I think your camera coped really well Rosemary. These images are haunting and very powerful. Brilliant photography, capturing some very special moments. Jx

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    1. Dear Janice - haunting and powerful are the right words to use. Our first encounter felt quite frightening too as it was all a completely new experience to us.
      You are making me feel less concerned about my poor photos - I suppose as long as they convey what was happening that is the main thing rather than the quality.

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  4. Happy Easter, Rosemary. How nice to see a new post from you. I think the photos are splendidly atmospheric and give a very good impression of the events. These processions are remarkable and I've seen other blogs describing the procession in their particular town or village. It seems to be a custom that is widespread in Spain, even today.

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    1. Dear Perpertua - Happy Easter Greetings to you too.
      I am pleased that the photos conveyed the atmosphere to you.
      You are correct about the processions happening all over Spain.
      However, I had no idea that they took place over a whole week. We did see a large area in Toledo Cathedral where the different 'pesos' were waiting in there processional order to be taken out each evening.
      It is good to be back in touch with you again.

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  5. Wonderful photos of the "pasos".. Here we have a similar ceremony. spain I think is the only catholic country that use the long tall hoods..
    I have never been in Toledo during "Semana Santa".. it must have been a wonderful time.
    'Torquemada' brought to the church. Terrible terrible things. He was evil.

    Hope you enjoyed 'Espanha'.. Happy Easter and 1st of April.
    val

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    1. Dear Val - you are right to mention Tomás Torquemada who held sway as Spain's Grand Inquisitor of terror for 15 years. He was convinced that Spanish Jews were gaining increasing religious influence on and economic domination of Spain. That they were trying to undermine the sovereigns power and even more importantly the Roman Catholic faith. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella concurred, and soon after their accession to power petitioned the Pope to grant their request for a Holy Office to administer an inquisition in Spain.
      Happy Easter Greetings to you too Val, and thank you for your interesting comment.

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  6. Impressive these processions. We missed your blog updates the last two weeks.

    Greetings,
    Filip

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    1. Thank you Filip and Kristel - that is kind of you to say. Glad you enjoyed seeing the processions.

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  7. Hello Rosemary, you have explained it perfectly.

    Marina

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    1. Dear Marina - I am so pleased that you think that I have given the right interpretation of the processions. Thank you - that is a very generous comment which I appreciate.

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  8. Welcome back Rosemary! Spain is a very particular country which conserves a lot of ancient customs and habits. All these processions look to me very atmospheric and I'm not scarred at all. Did you like Toledo ? I've been twice in this charming place but never at this season. You've been so lucky to have visited this land , I'm a little bit envious of you !
    Warm greetings and thank you for this great post !
    Olympia

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    1. Dear Olympia it is lovely to connect with you again, and I am so pleased that you enjoyed the post.
      We enjoyed our time in Toledo very much, and really appreciated seeing the wonderful architecture and the El Greco paintings.
      When we booked the trip I must confess that we were unaware of the Easter processions. It was a stroke of unexpected luck that we were able to see them.

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  9. Welcome back, Rosemary! If I find the penitents scary, it is because I can imagine the fear they would have instilled during the Inquisition!! Did you discover if they still make swords in Toledo?

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    1. Dear Mark - I was totally unaware of the sword making in Toledo, but your comment now makes me realise why there were so many little shops with swords in the windows. That aspect completely passed me by, but I now know, as a result of your comment, that they made swords for the Knights Templar, and that their sword making skills go back to the Roman times.

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    2. My understanding is that for several centuries, Toledo made the best swords in Europe, but I can't pinpoint where I've read that . . .

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    3. Your information is correct, and in fact the tradition continues, although I was unaware of it myself.

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  10. Welcome back.
    Trust you enjoyed your break!
    Interesting how Easter progress's in another country. Can't say I am thrilled with those hoods, but that is their custom so it's to be respected.

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    1. Thank you for your greetings, it is good to connect again. The hoods are not so scary once you have seen them removed and watched the occupant have a drink and join in the fun with their friends.

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  11. Welcome back Rosemary, and Happy Easter to you. Your photos and descriptions are very powerful, and, to me, astonishing! The Spanish do have a dark and intense version of Catholicism, and I find it hard to believe I belong to the same church. Only such a country could have thrown up a Goya, I think. Thank you for the fascinating glimpse into the Spanish culture, and I am sure you had a great time.

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    1. Thank you for your welcome back and belated Easter greetings to you too.
      The religious ceremonies hark back to the difficult history of the inquisition that the people lived through, which themselves stemmed from the expulsion of the Muslims and Jews. Spain's history and the church are hugely influential even today.

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  12. Looks a bit scary! Fascinating nonetheless x

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    1. The first encounter was strange but we got used to seeing the different outfits and became enthralled by it all.

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  13. Those processions in Spain are quite impressive! I find those processions a little creepy and scary as well. Years ago I was watching a procession like that.

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    1. I was interested that you have seen a similar procession in Spain. These Easter ones have very sombre overtones.

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  14. Dear Rosemary, Great to see you back. We have missed you. As always, your posts tell the entire story. How generous of you to share your Spanish adventure with us. ox, Gina

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    1. Dear Gina - thank you for your kind welcome back. We have both returned feeling quite tired as we did so much walking everyday, but it was worth it. Glad you enjoyed seeing the post, and hope that you saw the previous post too where you are gratefully mentioned.

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    2. Dear Rosemary, So glad the book arrived in one piece. Thank you for the mention, very kind of you. ox, Gina

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  15. Good to have you and your interesting posts back again. Your images are wonderful and really capture the atmosphere.

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    1. That is very kind of you to say Marina - I was a bit disappointed with my images - my little camera is not the best in the dark and with jostling crowds. I am never too sure whether to use the flash or not, but I can see from this post that when I did use flash the image is sharper.

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  16. Happy Easter Rosemary :) I would have found it unnerving, seeing all those cloaked, hooded men walking through the night. I haven't grown up with these kinds of ceremonies but I'm sure they bring comfort to the people who practice and witness them.

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    1. You are right Rosemary - I believe that it is a cultural thing. The small children were not frightened at all, and in fact several of them were dressed up in similar outfits. When we first saw the drummers with their hoods covering their faces in the dark, we found it very mysterious and strange, but as we saw several events on following evenings we became accustomed to it all.

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  17. Amazing. I have never seen these but would love to.

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    1. The experience is something that we will not forget in a hurry - we had no idea that this happened for a whole week before Easter. It certainly added an extra dimension to our trip.

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  18. Hi Rosemary,
    Your photos are very atmospheric,I had seen the hooded figures on the television in the papers but didn't realise how widespread it was in Spain or how heavy the pasos were! It must have been a bonus to see these traditions and processions on your holiday.
    Sarah x

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    1. Hello Sarah - we had no idea either about these processions taking place all over Spain either - life is a continual learning process. It was a bonus to see this tradition being performed and it was just luck that we picked that particular week.

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  19. I must say for me, like some others, these photos conjured up images of the Spanish Inquisition. Very sinister.
    Very interesting, all the same!

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    1. Yes, the conical hats are the same of those worn by the inquisitors during the Spanish Inquisition, but now worn by penitents. Once we grew accustomed to the processions we did not have a problems with them - there was a lot of good humoured friendly fun around in the crowds.

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  20. Very interesting, Rosemary. We have processions in Italy for various saints days with each village having a different patronal festival, but nothing in our area like the elaborate Spanish
    ones. Your photos are very atmospheric. Although one has to respect the sincerity of the participants I find the conical headgear very disturbing because of the past association with the Inquisition etc.

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    1. You cannot help but think about the KKK too. I suspect that they were influenced by this headgear themselves. They keep the hood on a pole, and when you have seen them wandering around not wearing it, with drink in hand, it does diminish the fear factor somewhat.

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    2. I've had another good look at your photos and they still give me 'the shivers', but I'm sure you enjoyed your evening somewhere more relaxing, perhaps in a restaurant with a glass of wine and a nice meal! Look forward to more of your photos soon! Have a good week!

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  21. Hi Rosemary, thanks for visiting and the well wishes. I'm heartened that she'll grow out of it... eventually! What great photos and such a neat way to spend the Easter holiday. I'm glad you found me; I'll by reading!

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    1. Hello Ann - thank you for visiting - look forward to seeing more of your posts.

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  22. Your photos are clear and sharp in spite of low light, rosemary. There are time-honored religious ritual with procession in my country but they look very different from those in your pictures. I’m scared by the people hiding their faces with hoods.

    Yoko

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    1. Several people have commented to say that they find them scary Yoko. We felt the same at first until we became more familiar with them.

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  23. Welcome back, Rosemary!

    I was hoping that you would share some posts about your holiday in Spain, and I was fascinated by this one! The creepy hoods on the penitents are difficult to see past at first, but I love seeing these very old traditional Easter rituals, much preferring them to the overly commercial bunny and chocolate egg imagery that dominates here. Give me the old and creepy over the commercial and homogenous anytime! Did you happen to see the National Geographic article about carnival/spring ritual costumes from throughout Europe? Fascinating!

    Warm regards,
    Erika

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    1. Thanks for your welcome back Erika - we are now fully recovered from all our walking and sightseeing.
      These processions were completely new to me. Of course I knew that Spain had big church fiestas for their saints etc but was completely unaware of these week long celebrations pre-Easter. The first procession we encountered was at 10 o'clock one evening when we heard the frantic, sombre drumming coming along the street. We were very taken aback by the conical hats at first but grew accustomed to them. It is an experience that we will always vividly remember.
      I didn't see the National Geographic article - but have just had a look at it online. The outfits are extraordinary, I have never heard or seen any of them before.

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  24. I grew up watching processions in the Philippines and in Spain. But the one in Spain as you shared here are more dramatic with the hooded men carrying the lifelike statues. It makes it more scary and mysterious.

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    1. Yes, you are right these pre-Easter processions in Spain are something completely different from the more jolly patronal saint day fiestas.

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