Sunday, 16 March 2008
Meanwhile, back at Moratinos
It is Palm Sunday, and I took a couple of fronds from the Salamanca garden home for the big event.
As you probably know, the week leading up to Easter is HUGE here in Spain, where church and state are firmly allied, if not deeply committed to one another. The city halls are hung with banners, crosses, and images of the suffering Christ. Restaurants and bars keep stranger-than-usual hours as the owners go to march with their confraternities in solemn street processions. They dressed in what look like Ku Klux Klan uniforms, but it´s really meant to be a way to atone for their sins.
Atonement and suffering are what the week´s supposed to be all about -- a sort of day-to-day reliving of Jesus´ final days on Earth. The Bible story is not a happy one: a great man is sold-out by one of his best friends, condemned to die by the very people he attempted to encourage and transform, tried by a kangaroo court, and tortured and humiliated horribly before being publicly executed, all right in front of his loved ones. It´s just the kind of suffering the Spanish love best: it´s gory and heartbreaking and somehow redemptive, and it happens to somebody else.
They make the most of it, and they have for hundreds of years. The fun started last week, with all the "besapies" kissing of statuary feet... at least in big cities like Salamanca and Sevilla and Valladolid, where Holy Week is a total sensation. (In Valencia they practically blow up the city with fireworks.)
Out here in Moratinos, Semana Santa is a bit more understated. Today, in commemoration of Jesus´ ride into Jerusalem accompanied by cheering crowds and waving palm branches, everyone brought to church the local version of palms: branches of laurel, rosemary, or pine. Anything aromatic will do. Before Mass started everyone (we have some extra faces in town for the week...we were 26 in Mass today!) gathered in a circle in the entryway of the church, under the bell tower, and Don Santiago read a little scripture, then sprinkled all of us (and our greenery) with holy water.
We then processed into the church, singing I suppose a Psalm of Palms, and sat in our usual pews. Modesto and Florin took turns reading a very long passage of scripture. Modesto, our town historian and poet, had trouble seeing the book. During the long parts Florin was reading, Modesto slowly pulled the big book away closer and closer to his side of the lectern. He flipped the page once before she made it to the bottom, and she had to grab it back...It was a wonderful way to keep our attention riveted.
More people than usual took Communion. Even a couple of men did. I had begun to believe in Moratinos, Communion is a sacrament reserved for women! After a little visit outside the church we all took home our twigs and branches. Lots of people use the spicy ones for the year´s cooking, to put a little extra sanctity into the stew. I put ours up with our St. Francis icon, for that Peaceable Kingdom vibe.
Don Santiago will be back a couple more times this week, to hear confessions and lead a Way of the Cross recitation at the church. Most of the parades of statues, trumpet music, candlelit nighttime parades, etc. are happening in Sahagun, where they have a lively confraternity scene and "pasos," life-size statuary tableux of Jesus´ suffering, that date back 400 years. The crowds pour into town for these events, and this year, with our little piso balcony looking out over the church of St. John, we have front-row seats for a lot of the hoopla.
Last year we somehow missed everything, and finally went into town for Easter Sunday. In the evangelical world I come from, Easter Sunday is a wild whoop of joy after a tragic murder...Jesus miraculously comes back to life, and our sins get forgiven in the bargain! But here, Easter is a bit of a let-down, an anticlimax after all the agony and tears and mourning. Most towns don´t have a paso for the Resurrection. I think it´s because most regular people see a whole lot more death and suffering in their own lives than miracles. Grue is something everyone can understand.
Enough of Christian calendars. Back to the Peaceable! We now have floors just about everywhere, and outside they are actually PAINTING the place. We chose ochre, a local color that harmonizes with the landscape but really glows in the white sunshine. We are trimming with white, to bring a bit more reflected light into the deep window-wells. It´s gonna be a knockout!