Friday, April 18, 2014

Semana Santa: An Introduction to Holy Week in Spain.

We began this sabbatical process here in Europe in Paris on Ash Wednesday, and began walking the Camino Frances on the first Sunday of Lent.  As we have moved through this season and moved into Spain,  the preparations for Holy Week have been evident.  For Canadians, even Canadian Christian Clergy,  there is lots of ponder and notice that is different.

The first thing that I noticed was the posters advertising Holy Week.  Not understanding what this is all about, I found myself taking photos,  just to have a chance to look again, and see if I can make sense, and a connection to what this is all about.

What I noticed is that every town has some procession, usually several,  leading up to and during holy week.  All of the processions involve some of the  sacred art work in churches,  brought out and paraded as part of the tradition.  And I began to notice that all processions were organized by groups in the towns,  Confraternaties  or brotherhoods.  

The posters tell about what happens.  But I didn´t get it.  Why do people parade statues outside during holy week?  Why  are many of the people in the parades hooded, and why does it seem kind of creepy?

Let me address the creepy part first.  

The hoods are traditional here,  a way to disguise who the person is as they engage in penitence and mourning.  Sorrow for the sacrifice of Jesus, and their own contrition and pennance,   as they participate in a ritual which  sums up all those ways we know we have somehow ´fallen short´ and for which we are sorry.  Participation in these parades can be hard work, and the physical cost can be painful.  The people who carry the statues may also choose to walk  barefooted,  to walk with Jesus, to share his pain. I think this is a way some chose to be open and vulnerable, rather than some sort of  ´pain is good for you´´ mindset.  Sort of like choosing to  walk 600km on pilgrimage is chosing to be open to the hard work,  blisters and  other physical costs,  to open ourselves to the gifts of  the journey.    The statues  are very heavy, and those who carry them must exert a lot of energy and strength, and it is difficult, can be painful.  But carrying such a load is a gift,  an honour, and a way to  say to God that  they are at Gods service.

North Americans see the hoods and instinctively react to the image we know all too well as signs of hate.  Some say the KKK copied these hoods, because they do cause people to react with fear.  The idea, however, is that those who walk are not on display,  not to be held up as examples of holy people.  Their personal expression of faith,  mourning, penitence,  is to be hidden, while the story of  Jesus to be held front and centre.  They emphasise the humanness of the story, which is full of pain, sadness, sorrow, grief.  These costumes underline that.  You cannot look on these hoods and feel anything like joy.

There are many parades.  We have just been to a couple so far - and will go to several more before the weekend is out.  What they are is exactly what we try to do on Palm Sunday.  They are a living experience of the story of Holy Week.  Each parade takes place during the week where it would have been during the events in Jerusalem so long ago.  The Palm Parade takes place on Sunday.  On Maundy Thursday, there is a ¨Last Supper¨ procession,  then at midnight,  a ¨Jesus Flagelation¨ procession.  It´s street theatre, with  a  sculpture from the church which shows the story,  and peoples reaction to it.  It includes the past, and characters from the present,  from Church, State, and  those who have organized the parade.

And like any parade, there is excitement, children,  photos taken,  tourist souveniers, etc etc etc.

(Just a wee side note;  I saw these little guys in a shop window and thought it might be a Darth Vader Semana Santa....but no...those are not light sabres.  They are matches,  which are meant to look like the long lit candles many of the walkers carry during the night processions. )

Here are some photos from the parade with elements from the ¨Last Supper¨.  The band played Galician bagpipes and drums,  the children carried symbols of the entire story, and the sculptures were of the last supper, and the Maddonna,  a beloved character in this story,  for whom many feel sorrow for,  as they connect with the sorrow a mother feels at the death of her son.

The characters telling the story are hooded, as are the bands.  Those who are representatives of church or state or the confraternatiy  are not hooded.  I believe this photos, above, is the mayor of Santiago de Compostella.  Dave and I followed the two fellows in red from city hall to the parade route.....

As the story continues to be told,  the mood grows darker,  the emotion more palpable. Tonight,  Good Friday, we will  go to a hillside,  and then into Saturday, through the darkest grief.  On Easter Sunday, we journey to the garden and to the joyful celebration at the cathedral. 

This is Holy Week.  A time to know that our story is Gods story, a story that is still being written.


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