North of Easter

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Passion in storage at Església dels Dolors (@bcnartconnection.com)

Easter processions are so popular in Spain that most Spaniards believe that the entire world loves them. But it doesn’t. At least not that part of the world that come to Spain on holidays and inadvertenly bump into one of them.

As you probably know, most Spanish cities and villages celebrate Semana Santa (Spanish for Easter), with long evening processions with heavy images of a bleeding Christ and His agonizing Mother carried along the streets on the shoulders of people. Between those images –often very remarkable baroque wood carvings- runs a parade of hooded figures (yes; the ones that resemble the Ku Klux Klan) and Roman soldiers. Easter processions are so crowded that everyone assumes they are also full of tourists but that is yet to be proved. In my experience, most foreigners have an instinctive dislike for that extremely public display of religious affection.

Religion today, for those who still have it, is an entirely private, intimate affair. Otherwise it can sound either uncivilized or weirdly hypocritical. Processions in Girona (a medium-to-small sized town 60 miles north of Barcelona of which there is so much to say so expect many blog entries), are not, by any standards, as colorful, noisy and spectacular as the ones in the south of Spain. Girona people are rather proud to have it that way and it could be ventured that they tend to consider southerners somewhat uncivilized and weirdly hypocritical people.

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Imperial pride

Some authors maintain that Easter processions were originally an uber-theatrical act involving absolutely everyone in town; crowds attending the parade would play the people of Jerusalem and they would insult Christ along his way to the Calvary and weep over his dead body at the last stages of the procession. A vast cathartic number. I wonder if Girona was ever like that. Today, what the local gentry of Girona really identify with, more than the religious images, is the Roman army. So much so that the procession is commonly known and publicized as the Manaies (local word for Roman soldiers), with no mention to the religious imagery. There is a long waiting list to join the local SPQR ranks and some posts are only accessible by inheritance.  True that the gilded brass armor looks great against the red and yellow shirts or under the bright red cloaks of the officers -as it becomes apparent when you visit the headquarters in the church of Sant Lluc-, but I wonder if there might be a factor of subconscious male longing of wearing skirts in public with no loss of respectability involved. Whatever it may be, Girona’s Easter procession is basically a military parade with a few catholic images sprinkled over it. Some of those images are really good, they are beautifully dressed and make a great spectacle at night surrounded by dozens of lit candles and pointed hoods. The rest of the year they are kept in the Església dels Dolors.  Both churches (Sant Lluc and Església dels Dolors), can be visited on May weekends. Drop by if you are around; I bet you Sant Lluc will be packed.  In Església dels Dolors you will be on your own.

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