Semana Santa and white Lego

Holy Week in Andalucia, with thoughts about religious imagery in general

This is Holy Week in Andalucia, Semana Santa. We went out on Wednesday to see the procession in Vélez Málaga, our local market town. It’s quite an experience. First you have the banner-holders, penitentes in embroidered velvet robes and the famous pointy-headed masks, then women in mantillas, and brass bands. Last the serried bearers, in a swaying dead march, slowly advance the huge floats, stopping frequently for a rest or to work the canopy under phone wires. Each guild usually has two floats, the first a semi-realistic scene from the Passion story; ours was Jesus praying in Gethsemane, under a handsome small olive tree sacrificed for the occasion. The second is a stylised Virgin Mary in a gorgeous robe, surrounded by flowers and candles, under a fragile brocade baldequin. It’s well organised — each bearer has his name neatly printed on a sticker on the hollow metal beams that carry the float, the robes are cleaned, the silver polished, the candles expensive beeswax.

This raises a lot of questions I’m not competent to answer. Why do you get this here and not elsewhere even in Spain? Why are the clergy absent? But I can make a guess at the numbers. Our procession had say 80 bearers per float, two brass bands of 40 or so, plus penitentes, mantillas, censers, banner-holders and so on: the total must have run to 300 participants, plus an invisible army of stagehands, polishers, and seamstresses. In this town of about. 55,000 there are 17 guilds, that go out on different nights. So at least a tenth of the entire population is actively involved. Popular Christianity must have been like this in Europe in the Middle Ages, except you now see women in the procession and the guild committees. I wonder: is it also what popular Islam was like in this town at the same period?

I also ask myself about the art (continued below the fold)

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