Saturday, 1 May 2010

Easter in Madrid

Palm Sunday procession to the church of San Miguel

We came across this procession by chance and were soon caught up in the drama of  ritual. It was around 10pm and this was the tail-end of a procession that had started several hours later with a Christ figure being taken through the streets of Madrid. This was part two and if the band was weary and the feet of the carriers were sore they were not showing it. I have never witnessed anything like the processions that take place in Spain during Semana Santa. There were several in Madrid, well organised and clearly timetabled, each one runs according to years of tradition.

We followed the Palm Sunday procession to its conclusion at the Church of San Miguel, where we caught a behind-the-scenes look at the event as we sneaked in under the guise of "friends of a cousin".

These monumental figures are carried by a team of black-clad men who shuffle through the streets unseen by on lookers. Occasionally I caught a glimpse of a black shoe peeping out but no more.

When we were inside the church, I was able to get a close look at the silver and ornate decoration. One of the attendants plucked a white rose and handed it to me as a souvenir of a remarkable evening. I loved the drama of this event - costumes, a marching band, saineta singers en route, choirboys and wafting incense. Matriarchs in black lace veils and mantillas reached out to touch and pray at the stations of the cross on the virgin. I saw a whole church community working in unison and reverence and was moved by their commitment.

Easter in Madrid was a holiday for me as teaching was halted. It was a time to wander the streets anew; to taste torrijas (egg-soaked bread deep fried and served with a cinnamon syrup); to stand in freezing churches for concerts of sacred music; to have my first picnic in the Retiro and eat a chocolate rabbit.

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