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.

Happy Easter from Cáceres

Belated Easter greetings from me and Eliza, one of my girls.

The other two birds, Mildred and Amy, took the day off, so just one egg to show you. The three girls are not Rhode Island Reds but Blue Buffingtons – a gift from my friend and Fellow Camino Walker Nancy Weidinger.

Here in Rhode Island, we have finally had a couple of days of sunshine so I have been outside weed whacking. Today the rain has returned and it’s back to the tour.

Here in Cáceres it is Easter Day. It will be a busy one.

Yesterday on the way to Cáceres you might have passed through the Jerte Valley. If the weather had cooperated, you would have seen some of the million plus cherry trees in the groves beneath Cáceres.

For you, by bus, it was an easy “climb”up the steep hill to this charming city.

You spent the night in the Parador, a 14th century palace built for a wealthy Knight of Santiago, whose coat of arms is still visible on the walls.

If you were lucky, your dinner may have finished with the famed cherry liquor. Perhaps you tried some of the cherry marmalade this morning at breakfast. You may have sampled the Torta del Casar, a delicious runny cheese made from the milk of merino sheep.

You may have had migas for your first course at dinner. Barbara and I tried this local specialty. Ours seemed to have been missing the paprika, garlic, chorizo and bacon and instead tasted like what it was- a pile of fried stale bread. Unlike you, however, we did not dine at the parador.

Our cheese and marmalade were delicious. We missed the cherry liquor and we did not try or even see on the menu, the fried green lizard, another speciality. Non gracias!!

Driving in you would have missed paying a visit to the Maltaviesco Cave, where Cáceres’ earliest inhabitants lived and left their mark 64,000 years ago. Discovered in 1951, the cave has a variety of paintings but it is most famous for the red stenciled hand prints on the walls.

The Romans arrived late (35BCE), moved up onto the hill and surrounded their city with a wall, parts of which are still standing.

The Jews, the Christians, the Visigoths, and then the Moors (Muslims) followed the Romans, each group leaving its mark.

More than thirty Islamic Towers are still standing. There is still a Jewish quarter. Fine old manor houses testify to the great wealth of this city. Like Seville, much of the city’s wealth came from new world explorations.

The storks came too and stayed , arriving each spring to build their nests on the towers. Even the Game of Thrones has arrived in Caceres and now we are here.

From the Roman double eagle and walls, to the Moorish/Muslim-Islamic cistern and towers, to the many churches and the numerous storks nests , there is something to see down every narrow twisting cobblestoned street.

Today, Easter Day, there are plenty of churches in which to worship, but most Spaniards will not be in the pews. They will all be outside.

Today is Domingo de Resurrección – the Sunday of the Resurrection, our Easter Sunday. Services within the churches will be simple compared to our Anglican traditions. Outside the last procession of Semana Santa will take place, a procession of joy and celebration.

This procession, called the Procesión de Encuentro, refers to the meeting between Christ and his Mother.

Our risen Lord wears his grave clothes and a crown, not of thorns but of victory. His Mother has taken off her mourning clothes and is resplendent in white and gold. Somber black mantillas have been replaced by white ones.

In two separate processions Jesus and Mary will be borne through the streets. When they meet in the plaza there will be music, clapping and cheering. Doves and white balloons will be sent aloft. It will be a dramatic, triumphant ending to our Semana Santa and to our time in Cáceres.

For us, the time has come to board the bus and head north to the university city of Salamanca.

Since it is about 150 miles, we will take a break midway. It will be your turn to walk. What better place to walk than along a Roman road, towards to the abandoned city of Cápara? Lace up your boots.

Hasta mañana y Buen Camino.

ZAFRA TO CÁCERES: Seville to Santiago on the Via de la Plata.

Today you are leaving Zafra and going to two World Heritage sights. After a brief bus ride, you will arrive in Mérida, the former capital of the Roman Province of Lusitania. Here, you will tour the theater, the amphitheater and the National Museum of Roman Art.

You will end your day in Cáceres, listed as “the third most important historic and artistic urban centre in Europe”.

But for now, as you ride on the bus, let me tell you about Barbara’s and my visit to Zafra. It was a very different experience from yours.

We arrived there needing three things. Beds, an early night, and for Barbara, new footwear.

Barbara, who is famous for crossing the Alps in a pair of red crocs, has a history of uncomfortable boots.

By Zafra, her trail shoes were killing her feet and even cutting off the toes had not helped. First order of business -check in at the alberge ; Second, find the shoes; Third, with luck, be asleep by 8pm.

Timing, they say, is everything.

We arrived in town, having no idea of the significance of these omnipresent posters.We soon found out.

We had arrived just in time for the Feria Ganadera, an international cattle show, a huge festival which draws huge crowds and many celebrities, including the King and Queen of Spain.

The fair grounds were adjacent to the pilgrim hostel. The hostel was closed to pilgrims so the farmers could have a place to stay. Every hotel in town was booked.

Eventually, with help from the local tourist center, we were able to find beds in a nursing home for elderly women run by an order of nuns.

The sister who checked us in, seeing me pull a ratty tissue out of my pocket, ran and brought back a crocheted tissue holder with a new package of kleenex neatly tucked inside. The fresh Kleenex were used and much appreciated. Likewise the beds.

We did get Barbara’s new shoes. We did sleep in beds with a roof over our heads. We had a great time looking at the cattle and eating our way through tent after tent of the fair. We did not have an early night.

We left with gratitude for the kindness of the nuns, happy feet, full bellies and with our tissues safely tucked inside their pink crocheted holder which I still use.

From here to Mérida we walked through the province of Extremadura. This province is an important wildlife and agricultural area and a stop along the biannual bird migration route from Africa.

We walked through desolate areas seeing only one other pilgrim. We did see plenty of cattle, sheep and especially pigs.

We carefully closed a variety of gates and gingerly walked over the cattle grids and tried to avoid being fried by the electric fences.

Color crept back into the landscape. Black pigs, green trees and blue tile rectangles signifying that we are walking on the original Roman road added some variety to the fifty shades of beige.

We walked through groves of holm oak trees, the favored food of the black Iberian pigs.

When these pigs end up as Jamón Ibérico, the percentage of acorns in their diet will determine the value of their meat. The higher the percentage of acorns eaten, the better the flavor and hence, the more expensive the ham.

We walked for three days, passing the occasional Roman milestone, a foretaste of our arrival in Mérida.

The temperature was still between 80 and 90. Unlike the pigs, we did not cool off in the odd mud hole. We “cooled” in the shade, wherever we could find it and however small it may have been. We were more than grateful for the occasional well. In spite of how unsanitary it may have looked, it never affected us poorly!!!

Coming into Mérida the first thing we noticed were remains of the aqueduct and the longest Roman bridge still in existence.

Founded in 25 BCE as Augusta Ermerita, Mérida was a retirement community for the Emperor Augustus’ favorite military men. It also was an important stop on the Via de la Plata, sometimes called the silver route. Mérida was an important stop in the transport of gold and silver from the mines in the north to the cities in the south.

We saw, as you too will see, some of the treasures of this lovely and lively town.

The Teatro Romano is still used today for performances and while the Anfiteatro is a ruin, at one time, in additional to the usual gladiator spectacles, it could be flooded to stage naval battles for the entertainment of the 90,000 soldiers who were garrisoned there.

The stunning brick National Museum of Roman Art, designed by Raphael Moneo, displays room after architecturally brilliant room of sculpture, Christian funerary inscriptions, frescos, and mosaics. An excavated Roman villa, part of the museum, is located outside.

And finally, there are the remains of the aqueduct, visible on the way out of town.

To see it all would take days. I will leave you with one last view of the 2000 year old Roman Bridge with the 30 year old Santiago Calatrava bridge in the background.

On to Cáceres where we will celebrate Easter and explore this fascinating city. Hasta mañana.


This afternoon we leave Seville and head for Zafra. We will travel in style in our luxury motor coach complete with WIFI, water and snacks, both healthy and unhealthy!

Because we only 14 this year, we can spread out and each have an entire row of seats- a treat for the long legged among us who usually fight for the middle seat of the back row.

It will take us barely two hours to get to Zafra, a distance of 134 km or 62 miles.

But instead of looking out the window of the bus, come walk with me along the camino route, a trip if you will down memory lane.

Barbara and I walked the Via de la Plata for six weeks in 2004. We started in late September and arrived in Santiago de Compostela on November 3.

As you will see, the Via is very different from the other Camino routes.

We began from the Seville Cathedral where we managed to get our first Camino stamp, a two day ordeal which sent us on a scavenger hunt around the city from the cathedral to a distant restaurant and back to the cathedral. Eventually, the pilgrim office was open and willing to give us a stamp. However, we did have a phenomenal dinner at the restaurant so all was well. Without this stamp, we could not prove that we had started in Seville. And without proof, no Compostela. See below in yellow.

We will need to get two stamps per day to qualify for a Compostela, the certificate that proves we have actually made the walk.

The eagle eyed among you will note that the cathedral is not our first stamp.

When we walked this route in 2004, we flew first into Lisbon and made a side trip to Fatima to restock our supply of Holy Water which we transferred to our old travel size bottle from Lourdes. This well worn bottle lives in our first aid kit. It has come to the rescue many times and we don’t leave home without it.

After we had secured another few years of Holy Water, we took a series of buses down the coast of Portugal and back up to Seville.

It was a hilarious day-long adventure complete with lost bus tickets, jeopardizing my transfer from one bus to another.

But today, armed with Holy Water, passports and the obligatory stamp we are on the move.

Your bus will get you to Zafra in under two hours . Walking will take us six days.

The walking route is longer, 156 km, and we will average just over 26km or 15 miles a day.

The route out of any city is a long and ugly slog . This one is no exception. Eight miles of sidewalks, factories and being forced to walk in the wrong side of the road makes us long for the countryside.

However we are rewarded after six miles when we arrive in Italica, one of the earliest Roman cities in Spain.

Founded by Scipio Africanus in 205BC, it was also the birth place of the Emporas Hadrian and Trajan. It’s amphitheater is the fourth largest in the Roman world and its theatre could seat 25,000 people.

Up in the hill there are mosaics from rooms of the House of Exedra. There are many including a swimming pool and planetarium but my favorites are the birds from the House of Peacocks.

And it was good to see that the Romans had a sense of levity. Bathroom humor was alive and well in the latrine!

Now that we are officially out of Seville, we are looking forward to walking on a dirt track through “miles of cotton and sunflowers”. But the camino is full of surprises.

Wait. Are we lost? No it is late September and summers in southern Spain are hot. We spend our first days walking through parched and burned fields and through two national parks. All of the color seems to have been sucked away by the heat. Everything is a monochromatic palette of tan and brown. The ground is split and rock hard.

Even the critters and flowers and comply with this unwritten dress code.

One good thing. It is too hot for the snakes who are also brown. We see a dead one. I like to think that like Krook in Bleak House, he self combusted.

Another good thing. We are carrying plenty of water.

About the only color comes from Barbara and and me, garbed to stay cool in the 90 degree plus weather .

You, however, are cool in your air conditioned bus. It is spring and outside the world green and colorful.

You have arrived in Zafra and you are about to meet Fatima and Cati.

At Fatima’s cheese shop you’ll sample a selection of local artisanal cheeses made of raw goats milk. You’ll gently wash down your cheeses with Egxtremeñen wines. Cati, your local guide and wine expert will teach you about the wines from Ribera de Guadiana and also from the small Matanegra region, the only place in the world to grow the Eva-Beba grapes! Afterwards we will walk to a favorite local restaurant for dinner.

Barbara and I are already in bed but if you still have the stamina, the Good Friday procession in Zafra is about to begin. Attendance optional.

The other alternative is to head for your hotel. The Casa Palacio de la Corte, a 19th century palace, was the former home of one of Spain’s most prestigious and aristocratic bull farmers. And it is as colorful inside as it is outside.!

Hasta mañana and sweet dreams.

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!

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