EASTER IN SPAIN : suffer the little children to come unto me…

Today is the third Sunday of Easter. I have been thinking how differently it is celebrated in each town and city. Over the past twenty years I have been lucky to witness this liturgy four times.

The first was in 2000 in Los Arcos, a stop along the Camino Frances route to Santiago. We arrived in this tiny town of 1100 after a pleasant fifteen mile walk. We were going to celebrate Easter in style- our own room and no snoring pilgrims.

The hotel beds proved more uncomfortable than those in the average alberge but there was a bathtub, plenty of hot water and only two of us in the room. Luxury.

Without the usual curfew we were able to go to the Easter vigil. The exuberantly decorated Basilica Santa Maria is a combination of gothic and plateresque styles and has one of the most amazing organs on the camino.

The church was full, several hundred women and about six men, including three clergy. Most churches have more women than men attending but this was very odd.

The service was familiar and during the sermon, the priest admonished the congregation to welcome the pilgrims and strangers. After Mass, we were nearly kidnapped and taken to the Easter Vigil party. There was much food and wine and very little English spoken. Between a dictionary and a few charades communication was not a problem. Strangers were certainly welcomed here.

The next morning we returned and the church was standing room only. There were lots of men!! Turns out there was a big soccer match the night before and all the men were worshipping the home team at the local bars.

After Mass the entire congregation joined in the “Meeting Procession”. Instead of a float carrying the figure of Jesus, here a priest carried a Host in a silver monstrance under a canopy through the narrow streets.

Very old photo from the days of film.

Hanging from the balconies were a colorful mix of scarves, quilts and banners. People on the balconies clapped as we walked through the streets, most folks carrying a candle either purchased at the church door or brought from home.

Arriving in the town square we awaited the statue of Our Lady, who appeared soon after, proudly carried by a group of women dressed in their Easter finest. As Jesus and Mary met, doves were released. It was modest and lovely .

Ricki my original walking pal and I retired to our hotel for a lunch of roast lamb and local white asparagus.

During dinner the television was on. It was loud and the screen was large. They were broadcasting the procession from Burgos. It was impossible not to watch.

Burgos is another city on the camino. Here the tradition was very different and I need to show you why this broadcast has stayed with me for twenty years.

Like Los Arcos, two processions converged at the cathedral. Mary from one direction; Jesus from another.

When they met, a huge blue and white ball, looking like a beach ball, emerged from the church tower. Guided along ropes, it was pulled towards the center of the street, high over the procession below.

Like an egg, it was cracked open and out dropped a child dressed as an angel. The child, flapping and kicking, descended to the virgin beneath and snatched off her black mourning mantilla and carried it aloft, still kicking and flapping. Eventually the angel was lowered to the ground and reunited with her (or his: they alternate) parents. This custom, called the “Bajada del Ángel” (the descent of the angel), is not only charming but a reminder that many of the religious traditions are visual because of the illiteracy of earlier congregations. The stories of the Bible were painted, sculpted or acted out as a teaching tool for the faithful.

Holy Week is broadcast live from Burgos each year so if you are looking for a binge watch, this is a good one.

In 2004 we spent Easter in Seville where we have just been. We were leaving on Easter Day to begin the Via de la Plata. Having checked out of our hotel we entered the cathedral wearing hiking clothes and backpacks. We eventually convinced the ushers we had come for the Mass. We weren’t in our Easter finest but unlike most of the “properly attired” we did come at the beginning and stay until the end of the service. No missa brevis for us and no photos for you.

Last year, 2019, Barbara and I re- walked part of the Northern Camino route (el norte) and spent Holy Week and Easter in Bilbao. If you want to see and hear another Easter variation, go to my blog archives: nancyelnorte.wordpress.com under Archive Holy Week. Another very different experience.

I want to finish this blog with my favorite Easter memory from Spain.

It was in 2006, in Granada, April 16. It was Barbara’s birthday. We had celebrated in our usual camino style with inflated friends and family.

In the early evening we heard music and looked outside to see another procession forming. We couldn’t resist.

There were the usual and beautiful floats. There were he usual exquisite examples of silver work and embroidery. The women were as usual beautifully turned out. However, this procession was all about the children. It’s hard to think and maybe sacreligious to say that the children outshined Jesus and Mary, but they did outshine the statues.

Every child was dressed in pale blue and white. Little girls with blue satin ribbons in their hair stood beside handsome boys with gelled hair. Babies stood in tiny blue leather shoes with silver pacifiers in their mouthes .

Young spectators came off the sidewalk to touch the floats and to peek underneath. They collected wax from candles to add to their balls of wax, prized Semana Santa souvenirs. Toddlers sat on the curb eating candy given to them by the hooded Nazarenes.

Children gleefully and endlessly rang their bells while adults tried to explain the bells were only for the procession.

Finally, the procession moved and so did the children. Hand in hand they went along.

They walked beside their fathers; they were guided by their mothers.

They walked through the streets ringing their bells. They celebrated Easter and did what kids do best. They acted like kids!

Happy Easter from Spain for the last time this year.

Tomorrow. We take a walk on the “Way” and have tapas under the stars in the Plaza Mayor in Salamanca. There we will meet Bishop Don Carlos, who will guide us to Santiago de Compostela.

Hasta mañana.

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