SEVILLE : Tourists for a Day. NOTE : An unedited version of this blog escaped earlier and I couldn’t get it back. I apologize and hope this one is better.

The Romans were the first to settle in Seville, on the banks of the Guadilquiver River. Because of its easy access to the sea, the settlement quickly became an important city within the Roman Empire. Among it’s earliest inhabitants were the Jews, who some scholars believe came here shortly after the fall of the Temple in Jerusalem.

By 400, the Visogoths had arrived and around 700, when the Moors conquered Seville, it quickly became their Andalusian capital.

Eventually the Moors were defeated by the Christians and the Jews were driven out during the inquisition in 1492. The Torre de Oro ( Tower of Gold), still visible today, was once a part of the Moorish city wall.

Amerigo Vespucci, Ferdinand Magellan and Christopher Columbus all sailed from here to the new world.

Returning with gold, silver, tobacco and cocoa, trade with the Americas made Seville Spain’s richest and wealthiest city and an important cultural center where painters as Diego Velasquez, Francisco de Zubaràn and Bartolomé Murillo lived and worked.

From here, during the Spanish Civil War, General Queipo de Llana broadcast his wartime propaganda against the King.

Here too, hoping to promote trade and tourism, a grand exposition was scheduled for 1929 . It was a “crashing” failure.

In 1992 a more successful World Exposition was held and since then the city has prospered.

Today Seville is a thriving city of flamenco dancing, music and culture, where religious festivals go hand in hand with bull fighting and neither is politically incorrect. It is a city for all five of the senses.

As James Michener says in his marvelous book Iberia “Seville doesen’t have an ambience, it is ambience.”

Our first stop is the Jewish Quarter in the Barrio of Santa Cruz.

It is a labyrinth of formal gardens, secret tunnels, orange trees and twisting streets, some barely wide enough to walk through let alone drive through.

The area takes its name from the Church of Santa Cruz. The church was build on the site of a former synagogue. Then the church itself was destroyed during the Napolionic wars. Today the floor which makes up this plaza is in part the same stones from both the synagogue and the church.

I remember having to drive a rental car through this area and into the street below to get to our hotel. I don’t think there was a foot to spare on either side. It was terrifying.

Shortly before this hair raising drive, I had been followed for several miles by a police car. I was driving the wrong way in a dedicated bus lane, my husband and a friend howling in terror. We all survived this adventure, as did the car.

Happily, on this tour I, like you, will be a rider on the bus.

During the Roman Empire and the Muslim Caliphate, Jews were valued members of the community as scholars, doctors, lawyers, merchants and experts in the fields of textile dying. During the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella their rights and their property were curtailed and they were expelled from the country.

Today, Santa Cruz it is a thriving neighborhood of shops, restaurants and secret passageways. It is a Mecca for tourists and a Heaven for photographers.

In 2014,a law was passed giving full citizenship to the ancestors of any Jew who had been driven out of Spain.

Today there is a small community of Jews, mainly from Africa but some of ancient lineage, returning with Spanish passports and the same house keys their forebears took with them when they left Seville centuries ago.

Our second stop is the Alcazar or the Royal Palace. Originally it was part of a moorish fortress and the home of the Muslim governor of Seville. At that time, it’s gardens were decorated with flower pots made from the skulls of its enemies and a harem of 800 lived on the grounds. Fruit trees and fountains were plentiful.

The structure was rebuilt by King Peter of Castile and is considered to be the finest example of mudejár architecture in the world. The term Mudéjar refers to Muslims living in a Christian community and with its mosaics, star shaped ceilings, keyhole doorways and multiple gardens it certainly does reflect the Moorish influence. To this day the King and Queen of Spain maintain an apartment there.

Our final stop is the Cathedral and it too is on the site of a former mosque.

In 1401 workmen began building what is considered the largest gothic church in the world.

It’s High Altar reredos, depicting 44 scenes from the life of Jesus and Mary, is 65 feet tall and made of walnut and chestnut and covered with gold leaf.

The Altar de Plata or silver altar looks like a gigantic monstrance.

Goya’s painting of Santa Justa and Santa Rufina, patron saints of Seville, hangs near Murillo’s portrait of Saint Ferdinand.

Finally, we have the tomb of Christopher Columbus, held aloft by four kings of Spain.

Recent DNA tests confirm that after being buried in northern Spain, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba, his travels are over at last, and he has truly come home !

A quick look outside at the original Minaret which once called Muslims to prayer. Now the cathedral bell tower, it still has the original door and lock.

It is possible to go up a series of ramps rather than stairs to see the view overlooking the city. Horses were used to haul the stones up as they built the tower. The ramp were wide enough for two supply carriages with horses to ascend side by side. Hence there are no stairs.

And so for us, our time in Séville has come to an end.

I will leave you with a couple of lasting memories of this colorful city where even the pigeons are photogenic.

Tomorrow we work our way north to Zafra on the Via de la Plata. Hasta mañana!

NOW IT BEGINS: Maundy Thursday in Seville

A note about the delay in this blog. I could pretend that my “flight had been delayed” but the truth is I have turned into a shelter-in-place sloth.

I’m sure there are people who are at home catching up on all of those rainy day projects.

I am not one of them. I have no time to vacuum, no time to clean the garage, and no time to write. Yet I have all the time in the world to eat, to sit in the sun, to read and to sleep.

But today, it is the day after Easter in Coronaville. Outside, it is pouring and the wind is howling. The electricity goes on and off and I am out of excuses and Easter candy! Time to get back in the tour.

Tonight is the official start of our Seville to Santiago tour. Over drinks in the lobby, we will meet our fellow travellers.

There are fourteen of us: 4 from Rhode Island, 3 from New York, 2 from Wyoming and 4 from Great Britain. Bishop Don Carlos will not join us until Salamanca. He has to work!

It’s tempting to stay at our hotel and have dinner on the roof as the view from here is incredible.

But a better view and a far more interesting evening awaits us.

We will be spending the evening in the flamenco studio of the well known dancer and teacher, Lidia Valle. We will walk through her shop, past her custom made flamenco dresses and up the stairs to her studio.

Her studio has a private balcony and we will be able to watch the procession as they pass below us.

Since I have only witnessed this procession from the street, I am looking forward to this incredible opportunity.

Here is a foretaste of what we can expect to see- a photo from Lidia’s own web page! Thank you Lidia.

While we are with Lidia we will learn about the history of Semana Santa ( Holy Week) in Seville and we will eat tapas including mojáma atun (cured tuna), a dish traditionally served during Semana Santa.

And Spain being Spain, there will be liberal quantities of pestiñas ( sweet fried dough twists) and torrijas ( similar to cinnamon french toast) and plenty of local wine, finos and amontillados from Jerez de la Frontera.

But as delicious as this all will be, our primary focus tonight is the Maundy Thursday procession.

Let me give you a little background of Semana Santa and Maundy Thursday in particular.

Maundy Thursday in Seville is the most important day of Holy Week.

For the faithful it is a day of solemnity and rituals. It is not a holiday; rather it is a day of public worship. Men and women will dress in black and women will wear the traditional mantillas secured by elaborate combs and diamond clips, many visibly fingering their rosaries.

Families will gather for meals of traditional foods such as potaje de vigilia, a stew made of chick peas, spinach, garlic, onions, peppers and hard boiled eggs.

Processions will move through the streets from early afternoon and continue through the night. Each will follow a specific time schedule and a particular route , from the home church to and through the cathedral before returning back home again. These routes can take anywhere from 4 to 14 hours to complete and may have as many as 2000 persons in each procession.

Each procession is sponsored by a particular guild or brotherhood called HERMANDADES or CONFRADIAS.

Some guilds reflect professions such as bakers or dock workers. Some are ethnic groups such as the Gypsies. Other are charitable organizations and still others base their membership on being born in Seville. Today in Seville there are 70 active guilds, some going back 400 years.

Generations of families belong to the same guild and today women make up 40% of the guilds.

Seville has a population of 700,000 people and nearly 200,000 belong to one of these guilds. Membership is coveted and members are active throughout the year. Holy Week practices are a weekly activity for all members including the children.

Each guild has its own distinctive color and dress code right down to the shoe buckles in some cases.

Most wear the tradition robes and a pointed cap, known as a CAPIROTE, here a symbol of penitence not hatred. Others wear the dress of Roman centurions. Still others wear what look like military uniforms.

The men who carry the floats are known as COSTALEROS – literally sackmen, a reference to the thick clothes they wear on their heads.

At one time dock workers were paid to carry these floats, called PASOS, on their neck and shoulders. Now the stronger men in each guild carry them hidden underneath each float.

There is a standard order for every procession.

First comes the cross followed by the NAZARENES, members of the brotherhood,carrying candles, and then the PENITENTES, barefoot and carrying wooden crosses.

Next comes the marshall whose job it is to maintain order and keep the lines straight.

He is followed by the altar boys with elaborate candles and incense.

Next we will see the first paso depicting a scene from the passion of Jesus Christ, usually one of the mysteries of the rosary. These floats will be decked with brightly colored flowers and gold.

Following the paso will be a musical band playing specific music, appropriate for the tone of each procession.

The entire sequence will be repeated for the second paso, this one depicting the Virgin Mary. Her float will also be covered with flowers, usually white or pale pink, but instead of gold only, she will be surrounded by gold and silver and be sheltered under an elaborately embroidered canopy.

In Seville the most well known of these Pasos is Dedicated to La Macerena. Tonight there will be a procession known as La Magruda which will begin after midnight and carry this beloved statue through the streets for a dozen hours before returning to its home temple just before noon.

Following the prescribed form, we will see two floats. The first is the Sentencing of Christ. Magnificent in its own right, it cannot compare to the beauty of La Macerena, Our Lady, Hope of Seville.

On this most Holy Night, I will leave you in the dark, heading towards the cathedral. Who knows when or if we will sleep tonight. And we have only just begun.

Tomorrow we tour Seville and then board our bus and head north. We travel along the Via de la Plata to Zafra where we will observe Good Friday.

Hasta mañana.

A HILLTOP DETOUR: Holy Wednesday in Ronda – nancyelnorte

This morning I am going to take us off the beaten path, at least from our scheduled tour. Later on I will get back on track and bring you Maundy Thursday from Seville. But first, we are going to take a detour to the ancient hilltop city of Ronda, about 80 miles from Seville. I…
— Read on

EASTER ON THE CAMINO From Seville to Santiago

April 9-In a normal world, today I would be waking up in Seville at the Hotel Vinnci La Rabida.

I would be waiting to join a group of 14 pilgrims from around the US and Great Britain for an nine day tour led by Joanna Wivell, Bishop Don Carlos Lopez, the Bishop of the Spanish Episcopal Church, and myself, along the Via de la Plata, one of the lesser known routes of the Camino de Santiago.

Here in Seville the famous orange trees would be in blossom. Curiously the blossoms and the oranges are on the trees a the same time. The oranges would be scattered all over the ground. The sight and the smell would be and is unforgettable.

This Easter on the Camino-From Seville to Santiago tour was to have started in Seville on Maundy Thursday and moved each day from the south to the north along the Via de la Plata, experiencing the ancient Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Eve and Easter Day rites of Semana Santa in different city each night.

We would spend our days walking parts of the camino and seeing some of the cultural highlights along the way while enjoying the best hospitality Spain has to offer.

The tour, which has been cancelled due to the Corona Virus, is one of two sponsored each year by Friends of the Anglican Pilgrim Centre in Santiago, of which I am a board member. These small relatively short tours are designed to promote the Camino de Santiago while highlighting the rich heritage and culture of Spain. At the same time we offer our bus pilgrims an opportunity to walk some of the most beautiful and interesting sections of the route.

Finally, ending in Santiago de Compostela,we would share with them our dream of establishing an international pilgrim centre where pilgrims of all denominations may gather to pray, study and reflect on their recently completed pilgrimaged.

Instead, like most of you, I am sheltering in place in Rhode Island, lamenting what might have been.

However, I have walked the Via de la Plata from Seville to Santiago. I have also been fortunate to have witnessed Holy Week or Semana Santa in Spain three different years in four different cities.

So, this year instead of taking you to Spain, I hope you will let me bring Spain to you. I hope I can give you a glimpse of it’s majestic Semana Santa and its magical and diverse Via de la Plata and when the world is normal again, you might come and experience it for yourself.


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