Easter Week ‘Semana Santa’ of Cordova (Andalusia)

Today is Easter Saturday — a day of waiting, hope, renewal and a second chance. Here in Spain the streets are usually jam packed with the people hustling and bustling about, pushing and elbowing their way through the crowds as they fight to get a better place to see the Semana Santa processions. But this year, what with the virus, things are markedly different — no processions, no outward shows of faith, no dramaturgical representations — just confinement. This is heart breaking for many — but then again, so is the whole dammed situation. Instead, we endeavour to keep this all-so-important week alive via virtual methods and the social media: processions of the past, masses, prayers, meditations and words of inspiration are all posted, televised and shared, making this valued, prized time reachable to thousands. I have posted some of my last year’s photos of the processions of Córdoba on my Facebook (see https://www.facebook.com/gillian.mir.1 )

But I have also included below, an extract from my book, An English Lady in Cordova – the Alternative Guide (available at https://www.etsy.com/es/shop/GillysWork?ref=search_shop_redirect) describing and illustrating some of the Easter Week processions.

I hope you enjoy reading this blog, and thank you in advance for visiting me!

Semana Santa is a hectic, feverish time of pageantry where narrow streets brim with spectators who jostle, shove and push their way to get a better view of the many floats and processions that pass in front of them.

There are numerous gold and velvet-clad Virgin Marys that are borne aloft on these ‘pasos’: they stand with rosy but sorrowful faces and tearful eyes, clutching rosaries in their slender, pale fingers as they rise from a bed of red and white carnations.

They are flanked by highly ornate, golden or silver candelabras from which many curving branches, in silver or gold, hold burning candles, some protected from the breeze by bell-shaped glass.

Silence reigns in a sign of respect as Mary passes by. The only audible sounds are those of the slippered feet of the ‘costaleros’ (statue-bearers) that carry the float aloft on their cloth-protected shoulders and turbaned heads. There is the metallic clinking of the chain as it touches the thurible containing smouldering incense; or whispers from those that are praying in hushed tones. All these muffled sounds are punctuated by the orders that are given by the ‘capataz’ (guide) to the costaleros through the grille of the float, as he manoeuvres them on their blind way; they scuffle forward bit by bit, feet clad in flat canvas slippers or some even barefoot. Often there are scuffles as one costalero will try and elbow another out from under the float so that he (or she) can have the honour of carrying the statue.

Clouds of smoke rise from the incense and are mixed with the heavy, sweet perfumes of crushed roses, spikenard and orange blossom. And overcome by emotion, a heaven-inspired devotee might break out into a lugubrious, flamenco-style ‘saeta’, as he or she is inspired by the poignant scene; others throw bagfuls of white carnation petals from the rooftops onto the fair, sad-faced Virgin as she passes.

Then as the procession continues on its way, and the statue is borne aloft once more after having given the costaleros a short break, people clap encouragingly, crowds follow behind, first the dignitaries, then the ‘penitentes’ dressed in long robes, with tall, cone-shaped ‘capirote’ hats on their heads, with their faces covered by the ‘antifaz’ veil so they remain unrecognised. They bear wooden crosses that are supported against their shoulders or they hold long, dripping candles between their gloved hands.

There are also the ‘madrinas’ who are the patronesses that follow behind: they are dressed in black garb with long, lacy veil ‘mantillas’ securely fastened to their hair with the traditional Spanish ‘peineta’ comb. Behind the dignitaries and madrinas follow the crowds of children dressed in cassocks or uniformed dresses, some holding candles and baskets full of matches or incense. Other children standing among the awe-filled spectators press forward to beg a few drops of the molten wax that drips from the long candles, with which they mould a steadily-growing ‘lucky’ wax ball.

Behind the children comes the brass band that pipes out heart-stirring melodies in time with the thumping of the drums. Each step of theirs is marked out by the solemn drum beat or the clicking of the wooden blocks which uncannily calls to mind the jangling skeletal bones of any historic phantom that might still be lingering in this ancient area.

Other bands are led by the khaki-bereted ‘legionario‘ soldiers who swear allegiance to their velvet-robed Virgin: they pay homage to her by singing out words of admiration, glory, flattery and encouragement, all in time with the raising and lowering of their rifles. Sometimes the soldier that leads his ‘troupe’ also walks with a sheep held by a lead. The legionnaires are very impressive and seem to highlight the seriousness and sobriety of the moment.

Other bands are led by the khaki-bereted ‘legionario‘ soldiers who swear allegiance to their velvet-robed Virgin: they pay homage to her by singing out words of admiration, glory, flattery and encouragement, all in time with the raising and lowering of their rifles. Sometimes the soldier that leads his ‘troupe’ also walks with a sheep held by a lead. The legionnaires are very impressive and seem to highlight the seriousness and sobriety of the moment.

Moody and tangy sounds that accentuate the already intense emotions—ones shrouded in smoky haze as Mary goes nodding on her way, following her Son who leads ahead on another float; He either makes His triumphal entry astride a donkey, with palms at His feet, or sits with the twelve disciples at the Last Supper. On another float, He is sentenced by Pontius Pilate, or He carries the cross, perhaps helped by Simon of Cyrene and accompanied by Veronica who wipes His face.

Then as Holy Week progresses, ‘Jesús’ is seen prostrate in a glass coffin before He finally makes His last appearance on Easter Sunday: then He is seen as a resurrected angel with holes marking his hands and feet.

This is definitely a time—no matter how believing or unbelieving one is—where emotion is intensified by poignancy and devotion; these feelings are all the more heightened by the heady perfumes and incense that fill the air, and where the concoction of feeling and experience is veiled in a time-honoured, impenetrable mystery.

However, all the sorrow ends on Easter Sunday. The week doesn’t culminate in chocolate bunnies and the hunt for Easter eggs, but (as is the case of Priego de Córdoba) the blessing of pastry-encased boiled eggs, known as ‘hornazos’. It really is a sight to see! Crowds gather on the hill known as the Calvario (reminiscent of Golgotha) where there is also a hermitage church. A priest emerges, says a few words—a benediction—then under the ever-watchful eye of the resurrected Jesús, the jostling crowd offers up with outstretched arms these tasty morsels before Him. By some miraculous feat, He waves His arm up and down as He bestows His blessing upon all and sundry.

The crowd sighs with relief—deep, heart-felt sighs that release all the tension and anxiety that has accumulated over the past week. As the blessing is given, a sea of dark heads and olive complexions (and quite a few foreign ones too) nod in gratitude, while some villagers comment on how well He is looking today!

To continue the happy festivity, the day is celebrated with a good lunch, typically ‘cordero’ (lamb) or paella, followed by Easter pastries and cakes, such as ‘torrijas’ (thick slices of bread soaked in milk, beaten egg and sometimes anisette, fried in olive oil and glazed in honey); ‘pestiños’ (fried dough flavoured with white wine, sugared and sprinkled with sesame); ‘monas’ (cakes covered with chocolate figurines); ‘roscos’ and ‘buñuelos’ (small donuts made with sweet wine, and sprinkled with sugar and Moorish cinnamon). This is just to mention a few of the irresistible delicacies!

Well, I hope that I have transported you in place and time and that you have been able to experience a little of what the Andalusians experience and to feel something that is so important to them.

Thank you for your visit — take care, stay well, see you soon!

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