National Geographic : 1951 Apr
Holy Week and the Fair in Sevilla By Luis MARDEN With Illustrations from Photographs by the Author OMAN soldiers in gleaming breastplates and red-crested helmets sat at side walk cafe tables eating ham sand wiches and drinking beer. Under street lamps, masked penitents, like sinister figures of the Inquisition in their long gowns and high, pointed hoods, conversed in whispers (pages 504 and 507). Troops of cavalry in brilliant full dress, with drawn sabers held stiffly upright, clat tered over the cobbles as muffled drums thudded monotonously and a bugle blared brassily in the still air. It was midnight. Holy Week had begun in Sevilla. A Week of Processions I had driven down from the bleak Castilian highlands to the spiritual capital of Spain's sunny southern region of Andalusia* to see striking demonstrations of two aspects of the Spanish character: piety and gayety. The first reaches its fullest expression during the impressive Holy Week processions; the second shows itself at the Spring Fair that follows. Sevilla's Easter week processions begin on Palm Sunday and continue through Good Fri day. Day and night, at least one procession will be making its way round the city. Pil grims become used to the solemn beat of muffled drums and the lugubrious notes of the bugle. Forty-eight cofradias, religious brother hoods of laymen, have charge of the Semana Santa (Holy Week) processions. Oldest of the brotherhoods dates from the 14th century, several from the 15th. They bear sonorous titles, such as: "The Pontifical, Royal, and Very Illustrious Brotherhood and Cofradia of Nazarenes of the Sacred Decree of the Most Holy Trinity, Most Holy Christ of the Five Wounds, Most Holy Mary of the Conception, and Our Lady of Hope." The cofrades, or brothers, usually file in absolute silence, wearing voluminous tunics and tall conical hoods (page 514). Originally the loose robes and masks, different in color for each brotherhood, hid the identity of the penitent, so that no one could recognize the sinner. Penitents are also called nazarenos, probably because some early Christians were known as Nazarenes. No women march formally in the processions. Most cofradias carry two pasos, or plat forms bearing images, in procession. The first shows an episode of Christ's Passion, and the second canopied platform bears the sor rowing Virgin Mary (page 508). The pasos of Sevilla are famed for the rich ornamentation of the dais and the images. Most elaborate of any in Spain, they are made of carved and gilded wood. The Virgin's paso is surmounted by a richly worked velvet canopy, or baldachin. Twenty to forty men, hidden by the fretwork sides and velvet cur tains of the paso, carry the heavy platform through the streets (page 503). I stood one night among a throng of Span iards and fervent pilgrims from all over the Spanish-speaking world in a park on the edge of Sevilla. As the beat of drums heralded the approach of a procession, street lights snapped off, leaving the night to a brilliant moon. Along a sandy path that ran under a high wall a double line of hooded penitents shuf fled into sight. Flames of the four-foot can dles they carried threw wavering circles of yellow light on the moonlit wall. Though thousands packed the line of march, the only sounds came from the drums and the shuffling of sandaled feet. As I looked down the two lines of flickering light, the square bulk of a paso, bearing the figure of Christ Carrying the Cross, turned the corner. Glass shaded candelabra at the corners of the paso threw a fitful glare on the agonized face of the Saviour, and made the varnish of the wood carving glisten like sweat. The Haunting Song of Repentance As the ponderous dais approached, the clear voice of a woman rang out from somewhere in the crowd at my back. In long-drawn-out minor notes, modulated by the ululation of the Moors, the woman sang to the image. It was the saeta, a song of repentance and sorrow aimed like an arrow at the bowed figure on the platform. At the first notes, the invisible bearers came to a halt and low ered the heavy paso to the ground, facing the voice issuing from the darkness. For a couple of minutes the saeta continued, then died away on a long-drawn wail. The drums beat again, the platform shuddered into life, and the pro * See "In Andalusia, Home of Song and Sunshine," 14 ills. in color by Gervais Courtellemont, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, March, 1929.