Saturday, April 3, 2010

Good Friday Procession

The Semana Santa (Holy Week) festivities in Cartagena are among the most famous in Spain. In fact, here the week actually lasts 10 days. As we often do, we procrastinated so that the processions had been going on for a week before we finally went to one. It was one of the biggest, the Good Friday evening procession.

We had seen chairs stacked lining the street in our neighborhood where the processions pass, but we decided to go to the more prosperous area by the old city hall. Not knowing how the seating worked, we stopped at a cafĂ© on the route that had tables outside and a few people obviously settled in for the procession. As we started to sit down a waitress bustled over and started speaking to us in rapid Spanish. All I caught was something about “in 15 minutes,” about the time we thought the procession was due. When I asked if she spoke English, she said, “No. Here 64 euros.” We said no thanks and continued on.

There were lots of empty chairs along Calle Mayor (Main Street), but they all had numbers on them, so we assumed they were somehow reserved. I spotted a wide raised area in front of a bank behind a row of chairs. There were some people already there, but still plenty of room for us. Although many Spanish people are rather short, so am I, and I didn’t want to get stuck without a view. It worked out well although we had to stand the whole time. Later we watched as people moved into the chairs in front of us. Then a guy came around and collected their money. We still don’t know how much they were charging, but not €64 I suspect.

As we watched the procession pass, the order became clear to us. First came the drummers followed by robed men, women and children. The faces of these groups weren’t covered, but they all wore hats or hoods, and the children gave out candy to anyone who held out their hands for it. (The boy seated in front of us left with very full pockets indeed.) Usually a musical group came next. Most were bands, but there was one marching orchestra with string instruments and bassoons.

Some of the many cute children in the procession

One of the many marching bands

Sometimes there was a military group embedded before the float group. The Spanish have lots of different varieties of military, and we have no clue about which was which. We did, however, recognize the Romans. And we surmised that the group wearing camouflage had served on active duty in one of our wars. They received the most applause of someone in the procession. A thank-you-for-your-service, perhaps. In general, the audience and the members of the procession were silent as this was a very solemn procession.

Soldiers or some kind of military in fancy dress uniforms

One of the obviously real soldiers—they got applause

Even Roman soldiers

And cute little soldiers

Various groups followed the floats. The bishop of Cartagena followed one float, and very important people in sashes (the town council?) followed another. I was particularly impressed by the women in high combs and mantillas.

Women in mantillas followed many of floats

The religious floats were immediately preceded by, first, three fully hooded guys carrying a richly embroidered banner then two long rows of hooded men with lighted staffs. We had seen the KKK-like hooded guys in posters, so we were prepared. The first group in full hoods wore solid purple, so the resemblance was less striking. After that the colors varied, and the white didn’t come until the end. Even then they weren’t in all white. Those guys are in the Easter procession. For the record, the Spanish brotherhoods wore the hoods long before the Klan adopted them. They’re supposed to hide the identity of the repentant sinner wearing them, and that they do.

The men in hoods wore many different color combinations, many including purple

The eerie white robes and hoods were near the end

The floats were lighted, decorated with flowers and supported some kind of statue. The lighted staffs of those preceding the float were decorated in a sort of thumbnail version of the float. Since it was Good Friday, the ones we saw were mostly about the crucifixion and burial of Jesus (except the Mary floats at the end). The statues were very impressive, and I found the one with Mary holding Jesus as he was taken from the cross especially moving even though I’m definitely not religious.

A fine example of the lights and flowers on the floats

Most of the floats were on wheels (hidden) and mechanized. We did notice feet at the back of one, so we suppose the men were pushing it. The last three or four floats, though, those for various Marys, were carried on the shoulders of lots and lots of men. They could only go a short distance without a rest. We watched as a bell rang and the men assumed their positions. At the second bell they all lifted, pushing against the man in front to support him and with men at the back who pushed very hard. Then as they walked, the men at the back kept pushing hard at the supports. I suppose that it was so difficult just to carry the float that the carriers needed help with the forward momentum. These guys got the only other broad crowd applause when they did the lift.

Several floats were carried by men

You can see that float-bearing is a tough job

The procession lasted nearly three hours, and we were pretty tired of standing when it ended. It was worth it, though, and I’m glad we didn’t miss it.

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