Sunday, May 1, 2011

Cofradías (warning: this post will kill your bandwidth)

For the week's vacation before Easter, our Spring Break, I headed up to the north of Spain.  We traveled from San Sebastian in the Basque Country to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, or from the very eastern tip of the northern Spanish coast until practically the very western tip.  Along the way we visited 5 gorgeous cities and ate tons of beautiful food.  One of the coolest things we saw, though, were the Easter processions put on by the Cofradias of the various churches of Santiago.  Now, the Cofradias and their Easter processions are a Spain-wide phenomenon and their fame has reached world-wide levels.  Most people who know something about Spain know that at Easter time, people like to dress up like colorful KKK members and have parades.  This was my first time experiencing the processions, and it was certainly incredibly impactful!

The processions start the whole week, and sometime even two weeks, before Easter.  Easter is a big deal in Spain, you can learn more about it here.  Basically, these are church groups, and they wear these tunics so that they can show their penance while still hiding their identities.  It used to be a very formal, male-only activity, but nowadays women can wear the tunics and hoods, and children often take part in the processions.  There are musicians, typically drummers and trumpeters, and the processioners carry offerings for Christ such as candles, crosses, or food.  Most impressive of all, though, is the giant statue/float (called a trono, or throne) they carry on their backs, slowly moving in unison and tapping metal rods on the ground.  These can often weigh more than a ton!  The whole thing is noisy and dramatic.

Now, there had been some processions in San Lorenzo before I headed out on my trip, but being that in my town the processions take place at midnight, I had opted out of watching them.  I knew I would get plenty of chances to see them during the trip.  But, actually, I did not.  We sort of saw one in Santander that held up our bus as it arrived, but that was all.  We weren't worried, though, because our last stop was Santiago de Compostela, a hugely religious pilgrimage town, and we weren't disappointed.  There we saw three processions, all quite different.

At sundown on Good Friday, we headed to a small church outside of the old stone walls.  It was rainy, so they decided to cut the procession short for the sake of the involved children's health.  This was certainly the more "home-spun" procession, with handmade costumes, the participation of tons of little kids (even a baby in a stroller with a little tunic on), and just the general feel.  They also left the cones out of their hoods, presumably because of the rain.
getting ready
the large float
parishioners watching in the rain
kids bearing gifts
The statue arrives back home, surrounded by trumpeters and a few city officials.

The second procession we saw, on Saturday evening at sundown, was much more intense and professional.  It included my first glance of beconed hats, a high school marching band, a military band, an elderly choir, and FOUR giant statues, one of which was actually carried by children.  The main show part of it took place as the sun set in the main square in front of the cathedral, and it was very intense.  Between the soldiers, the old people, and the bagpipes, I may have even cried a little.
The high school band arrives, escorted by pointy hats.
kids carrying a giant cross
military band
I just find this picture delightfully creepy.
two of the four giant statues
 A nice golden-hour closeup... funny how the presence of actual gold helps.

Finally, on Easter Sunday afternoon, we attended our final procession.  I have to admit that I was expecting this one to be different, much happier, but it really wasn't.  What it did include was representatives from the cofradias of each of the other churches and a statue of the resurrected Christ.  An image of resurrected Christ is pretty rare in Spain, as they seem to much prefer the crucifix, so that in itself was pretty interesting.  We also got to watch them struggle a giant statue out of the low church door while simultaneously going up the steps, which got quite tense in moments.
a rainbow of hoods
Lift with your knees!
Phew, they made it.

It's worth mentioning that these are only one kind of procession, that in Andalucia they tend to be loud and boistrous, with drumming and song, while in Castilla they tend to be incredibly solemn affairs, and so on.  Still, these were the ones I saw, and as I said above, they were very moving.  It was somewhat unsettling to my American sensibilities at times to see people dragging large, rough-hewn crosses with chains around their ankles, or to witness them walking miles in the wet streets barefoot, or to hear the cracks in their backs as they straightened under the floats.  The imagery of the hoods was also somewhat upsetting to my eyes, especially when they had their spot on the head of a small child.  Nevertheless, it was beautiful and strange to see the open dedication paid to religion, and the notion that in this modern age people would cause themselves physical pain and injury as a form of penance for their sins.  I am so glad to finally get to see this oh-so-Spanish event!  And, as always, there are many more photos on my facebook page.

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