Puro arte. Aire puro. Puro sol. Pura agua. Pura pasión.
[True art. Crisp air. Brilliant sunshine. Sparkling water. Deep passion.]
This is the seasonal slogan on the official Semana Santa Processional Program released by the Provincial Council of the Province of Granada, Andalucía, Spain. The province of Granada extends from the Sierra Nevada range containing the highest mountain peak on the Iberian peninsula, snow-capped ‘El Mulhacén’, the mystical burial site of the 21st Nasrid Sultan of Granada, Abû al-Hasan’Alî, to the ‘Costa Tropical’ with its white sandy beaches along the Mediterranean Sea. Since we live part time in Costa Rica, we’re quite familiar with the Spanish word pura, as the lovely Costa Rican term ‘pura vida’ can be heard there all day long. Even though pura vida translates to ‘pure life’, it transcends this simple translation in its use as a cheerful greeting or a nevermind-shoulder-shrug and everything in between. Pura is an amplifier if you will. Aire puro isn’t just pure air, it’s also crisp, invigorating, refreshing, simply the purest high mountain air.
Pura pasión is clearly the catch word for the week leading up to Easter. Beginning in the Middle Ages, brotherhoods formed within church communities who dedicated themselves to perform public acts of penance during Holy Week. Over time fraternities developed, who are now represented by the “Royal Federation of Brotherhoods and Confraternities of the Holy Week in Granada”. The royal federation determines the schedule and other specifics of each of the 33 penance processions, which enact the stations of the passion of Christ during this most solemn time of the Christian year.
Our first day in Granada was Domingo de Ramos, Palm Sunday. We had little idea of the magnitude of the events about to unfold and which overshadow all other activities throughout Granada for the eight days of Holy Week. Checking the procession schedule, we aimed to “catch” a procession while seated at a window table at a bistro on Gran via de Colón, one of the main procession routes through the center of Granada, which also happened to be just around the corner from our exchange home. How clever of us to find a table overlooking our very first procession on our very first day in Southern Spain during the very first day of Semana Santa! Ha! Think again.
It rained. Processions don’t commence while it’s raining to protect the precious statues lovingly carried through the streets on the shoulders of members of the brotherhood
There seemed to be two marching bands per procession, each accompanying one of the two floats with their mournful sound emphasizing the somber mood of the penitent cofradías.
We eventually gave up our prime table and walked back home for a while, to return to the streets of central Granada sometime after nightfall for a stroll through the ancient quarters, where we suddenly and unexpectedly encountered one of the “pasos” or floats, depicting scenes from the Passion of Christ and the Sorrow of the Virgin Mary. Our first paso happened to be showing The Last Supper.
But first, we experienced our initially disturbing encounter with a group of “nazarenos”, penitent cofradías, brothers, who wear the pointy hat with the eye slits called a “capriote”. As a Jew, this is a frightening and uncomfortable sight, especially in a region where in the year 1478 the Catholic Monarchs Isabel I of Castile & her husband Ferdinando II of Aragon opened season on our forefather with their Spanish Inquisition. The Tribunal del Santo Oficio de la Inquisición Española was not abolished, by the way, till 1834. I would think, these nazarenos are also a disturbing sight for any American acquainted with the scourge of the Klan.
On Wednesday, by sheer coincidence, we encountered the procession of Los Gitanos, one of the most eagerly awaited procession, in a side street with only a few spectators. A golden photo op! Los Gitanos encompass a community in the ancient Sacromonte neighborhood of Granada, which had traditionally been inhabited by Gypsies. Sacromonte is considered the birthplace of Flamenco. Following are some impressions of the procession of their cofradía, officially titled
Insigne, Pontificia, Real, Colegial, Magistral Y Sacramental Cofradía del Santísimo Cristo del Consuelo Y María Santísima del Sacromonte
We were told, the true Los Gitanos processional experience is the return of the revered symbols to their mother church way up in the hills of Sacrcomonte during the early morning hours. The residents light bonfires and welcome their pasos back home with song and dance. Unfortunately, we didn’t quite have the stamina for such late night folklore.
In the above picture, you can see some figures on a balcony near the left edge. The man on the far left was a soloist performing a moving aria for the paso in the plaza below. Sadly the video clip I took disappeared on me.
On Good Friday morning I took an early walk through the streets of old town, expecting to find only empty streets in a bereft city. I had hoped for space and quietude to take pictures of ancient nooks and crannies and soaring towers. What I encountered instead were crowds of tourists and street performers, gypsies telling fortunes and dunces paying for fortunes foretold.
To escape the milling masses, I dug into the Iglesia del Sagrario, a church built in Spanish baroque style and attached to the cathedral proper. Together with the burial chapel of the Catholic Majesties, the complex covers the ground formerly occupied by the main mosque of Granada. Inside the church, I found two pasos displayed.
We had actually seen these floats in procession before.
In the cathedral next door, I came across a float for closer inspection.