The Lent is fully observed here in Madrid as it is in many other Catholic countries in the world. In fact, I noticed an increase in the number of masses scheduled throughout the Lenten Season in the churches that I go to, such as the Parroquia de San Antonio de Cuatro Caminos at Bravo Murillo. Musical orchestras claim the altars of churches as their temporary mini-concert stages, like the neoclassical-styled altar of the medieval church of San Gines in Calle Arenal, albeit performances are wholly solemn to conform to the season and venue. Evidently, religion in Spain is very much alive – and this is true in all aspects.
March 20, 2016 was Domingo de Ramos, or Palm Sunday, the start of the Holy Week. Peddled intricately-woven palm branches within and surrounding the church premises are aplenty, offering the churchgoers varied options in terms of sizes and shapes. However, I found them to be exorbitantly high, with some sold as much as 5 euro apiece.
An awaited event during Palm Sunday and done in many parts of Spain is the religious procession, a congregation of devotees marching the streets of cities and barrios in a slow fashion while chanting prayers and hymns. Beloved religious icons are carried along – they serve as centerpieces that remind the Catholic faithful of the ultimate sacrifice, which is the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. The central area of Madrid boasts of its own procession, with a route that includes popular tourist areas such as Puerto del Sol and Plaza Mayor. The Cofradias, brotherhood associations in Spain, organize these street events during the Semana Santa. Keeping alive the age-old custom of holding Semana Santa processions has been these groups’ unwavering quest, ever since such tradition started during the Middle Ages.
I wasn’t able to go to Sta Iglesia Catedral de Sta María la Real Almudena, which was the procession’s starting point. Instead, I first attended the 6PM Mass at San Gines, and rushed to the Plaza del Sol afterwards to join the good-sized crowd that were already watching it. A significant portion had already passed through, which was unfortunate since I’ve wanted to see the huge cross that was said to be held high in front.
Palm Sunday in Madrid
Processions carrying the Statue of Christ usher in Palm Sunday, the start of the Holy Week. If we were to remember, Jesus rode a donkey and tread the streets of Jerusalem where he was welcomed by the crowd. I was a bit disappointed (like everyone else, presumably) that the Christ Icon was cloaked in plastic, but it was understandable as it was meant to protect the holy relics from intermittent rains that afternoon. I was in the midst of onlookers, with some holding palm branches and waving them up in the air to welcome the participants. Among the enthusiastic welcomers were a few women elaborately dressed in black gowns and headdresses.
I might not have witnessed the procession from start to finish as I planned, but I was exhilarated just the same to have seen even if only a part of it. The experience inspired me to pursue a deeper and more meaningful observance of the rest of the Semana Santa. Likewise, I’m happy that the Spaniards do observe these religious holidays just like back home. They take to the streets during the Holy Week, but this time not to drink and enjoy some merrymaking, but to reenact important scenes from the Passion and Death of Christ. They do not treat the Semana Santa as merely a way of having more time for vacation and family, but as a means of continuing olden traditions as practicing Catholics.
While other processions feature bands playing drum and cymbals, the marching band yesterday at Puerto del Sol used wind instruments to play slow religious music to accentuate the solemnity of the occasion.
Getting the attention of the crowd are ladies dressed in black, elegant gowns and similarly-hued mantillas espanolas (veils) hanging over their peinetas, or high combs. These were attires similar to the ones I saw at Parroquia de San Antonio and Almudena Cathedral during important town occasions in the past.
It was Domingo de Ramos, the start of Semana Santa, and so it would have been ideal if the sun was out. Unfortunately, the weather was cold and rainy, with a bit of wind. And as expected, the rains caused some inconvenience, like the organizers needing to cover the beloved icon with plastic to protect it from damage. Just the same, the float was beautiful, being fully adorned with c0lorful flowers. According to the schedules announced online, the procession starts at 4.30. The rains obviously slowed down the procession as it took them more than two hours to reach nearby Puerta del Sol.
Participants wear pointy headdresses called Capriotes and long white gown worn during penance activities called Nazareno. It is said that the Capriotes point to the sky to make for an easy road to heaven. They wear white hood to cover their faces in order to hide their identity as remorseful penitents. Some Palm Sunday processions are joined by those with their feet bare and heavy chains attached to ankles to render a more difficult penance.
Rey Carlos III, at Plaza del Sol, appears to lead the way for the Christ icon as the float that carries Him wades through eager onlookers. As the float passed by me, I tried to pry on what’s underneath it, looking for Costaleros, or the men assigned to carry the float on their shoulders. Any Spaniard takes pride in being a Costalero as carrying such heavy weight thru the entire route of the procession meant forgiveness of his sins and immense blessings. Such great rewards, which is why a Costalero would not mind suffering great pains for hours just to ensure the float reaches its final destination.