Semana Santa de Málaga 2018

Anatole France said something like, education is arousing natural curiosity for the purpose of satisfying it later. The next paragraph is more arousing than satisfying. [You might reword that for a high school class.]

After the rush and crush of Holy Week, Easter Sunday (Domingo de Resurrectión) was remarkably peaceful (and quiet.) There was one final procession, in the middle of the day, in the usual format, with the typical cofrade, marchers, penitents, çapirotes, bands, drummers, candles, incense, thuribles, thurifers, and camp followers. The focal points were always the two (always two) “Thrones” showing some variation on the themes of María Santísima or the Crucifixion. I have always been struck by the curious twists that made an unwed mother the most hallowed of humans and a Roman device for torture one of the most sacred of religious symbols.

[The featured photo at the top of this blog showing the top of a throne as it leaves its church is “borrowed” from a printed schedule of processions:]

Page of Processions Schedule for Palm Sunday with Ads for two sellers in Mercado Central for Fruits & something Frozen and Fresh Eggs.

The meaning of the Processions is penitence, but the mood is more like a New Orleans funeral than it is like going to Communion. The Thrones, sometimes called ‘floats’, I think, to explain them to tourists, have nothing else in common with Mardi Gras, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, or the Rose Bowl. For all but about five hours a year, they are kept inside the church, where they serve as altars. Some are so large that they are used as outdoor altars. Today’s magic eyes are two Thrones waiting in a church just around the corner.

For most, the Procession begins with the throne leaving the church and ends with it re-entering. The churches have doors large enough to accommodate the Thrones, or a semi-truck, if they ever need to. They are probably only opened on the day of the Procession.

The Thrones may weigh as much as five or six tons and are borne on the shoulders of two or three hundred men of the ‘Cofrade’ or brotherhood. (Six tons divided by 300 shoulders is 40 lbs. each.) By necessity, the bearers are very nearly the same height. They are so closely packed that it is impossible to be out of step. Their movement can be a line dance, e.g., step, step, slide left, slide right, step, pause, repeat.

The bearers wear neither hoods nor tall, pointy hats (from here on, I will refer to them by their Castellan name ‘çapirotes’.) A few groups wore head coverings that looked Arabian and an occasional bearer would be blind-folded. We saw one Throne that was borne by women. Unlike any of the male bearers, the women’s faces were covered, wearing robes that very much resembled full burkas. Andalucía does have a significant Islamic heritage.

Because of their misappropriation by the Klu Klux Klan in the US, çapirotes were disconcerting for us at first. Their use in Holy Week Processions, by the KKK, and for dunce’s hats all probably evolved from the same source, but Spain had them first (by about 400 years in the case of the KKK.) They weren’t a good thing in any case.

During the Inquisition, accused and convicted criminals were put in çapirotes. They were intended to degrade and humiliate; sort of their “perp walk,” popular with some US police departments. The colors indicated the crime involved. After the Inquisition was outlawed, the çapirotes, hoods, and robes were adopted by the cofrades for the Holy Week Processions. The colors indicate the cofrade involved rather than the crime and the meaning has shifted slightly from the active humiliation and degradation to the reflexive humility and penitence.

The Procession always began with several very important men, and occasional woman, in robes, hoods, and çapirotes in the relevant colors. You know they are important because one would carry an elaborate banner, the others scepters of gold or silver, all wore ornate chains with medallions, and some were a little rotund.

Then came rows and rows of less important nazareno penitents with less elaborate robes, hoods, and çapirotes. Rather than scepters, they invariably carried candles, which could have been large walking sticks, probably five feet long at least at the beginning. They seemed to come in blocks, perhaps organized by age or some other affinity grouping. The youngest blocks didn’t get the hoods, hats, or candles. Each block had one or more enforcers, whose job it was to keep the spacing, alignment, and other behavior in order, like making sure they didn’t use the candles as walking sticks or drip hot wax on the bystanders. The difficulty of the task didn’t seem to depend too much on the age of the penitents; all were about equally likely to wander off, greet friends or family, get distracted, and forget to stop or start.

Frequently, the entire Procession would come to a stop, I assume, to give the bearers’ shoulders some relief. During these breaks, the marchers would be besieged by young spectators seeking wax drippings. These formed balls, some as large as 16-inch softballs, and your status depended on the size and the colors in your ball. Some of the enforcers were intent on preventing this activity while both the penitents and their beseechers were intent on evading the attention of the enforcers (complicated a little by the restricted vision from inside the hoods.) I’m sure they’ll repent later.


The two girls were not as aggressive as their big brother but they out-cuted him

Then came a band. These were full bands, larger than some of the high schools I have known, dominated by brass and especially drums, which were undoubtedly important to coordination of the Throne bearers. Then there would be a few more scepters and, most importantly right before the Throne, a couple ‘thurifers.’

For the non-Catholics and recovering Catholics among us who may have forgotten, a thurifer is a person who carries the ‘thurible.’ A thurible is a censer used in a church service and a censer is a container for burning incense. No matter how many years it has been, the scent seems to evoke memories of Mass and Easters Past, and for us, it now means the arrival of a Throne is imminent.

Generally, immediately after the Throne, there would be a couple rows of men in military uniforms. Then often a group of people in street clothes, who may or may not be connected to the Cofrade. Many were friends and family carrying snacks and water for the marchers. Then more rows and rows of penitents with candles in robes, hoods, and çapirotes. And finally, more thurifers and another, usually larger Throne followed by more military, another band, and anyone who wants to join the procession or who is late for dinner.

There was remarkably little variation on this formula. Over the week according to the schdule, there were 45 Processions, twenty five went down Calle Carretaria, which we could see from our balcony. We probably saw all or parts of at least twenty, some from the balcony, some we ran across on the street.

From what we saw, there was one (1) Throne carried by women. There was one Procession that did not have the robes, hoods, and çapirotes, for which, the marchers, not sure if we can call them penitents, were all military in uniform. These marchers looked neither humble or penitent, and clearly had had more drill training than the others. In Spain, the goose step is used in slow march and only for the most solemn occasions, like royal funerals and Holy Week Processions. This was the only one we saw that included singing and these singers included the entire Procession.

There was one possible exception on the singing part, but we don’t know if it was officially connected to the Procession. That was the very first one on Palm Sunday. Because it was the first one and because we didn’t know how the system worked, we went out on Carreteria to watch. No one else seemed to know the system either since there were hundreds of people scurrying in both directions.

It was the only procession for which it was cold and raining, so of course, we went outside. (The rain in Spain falls mainly on la Costa del Sol two weeks in March.) We arbitrarily picked a spot on a curb, put up our umbrellas, and waited to see if something would happen. A Procession happened. When a Throne came around the corner and stopped, a man, almost directly across the street from us, stepped out on a balcony and sang that I would call an aria, but it was short and unaccompanied. And the Throne moved on.

(This is not great videography but it was the first Throne of the week and my life, I was trying to watch, hold the umbrella, and remember how to do video. There is a better, longer version on FaceBook of the next Throne.)

Then they went for lunch, dinner, supper, or breakfast, depending on the schedule. Some restaurants specialize in cofrades; I think it’s like sponsoring a softball team. This one we go to occasionally, called “Entre Varales: tu restaurant cofrade.” I can’t translate that; it’s “Among something.” The wall hangings all depict Thrones and events of Holy Week. The large picture in a couple photos is detail of a candelabra and cloak of Maria Stma. from one Throne. Not your typical sports bar.

Processions often included a group of women dressed in black with mantillas, the traditional mourning dress.

They marched in heels.

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