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Life in Culebrón is a disconnected series of pieces about the banal and ordinary of everyday life in an inland Alicante village seen from my very British perspective.

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Not just Cadbury's Cream Eggs

I think it was Catworth. There was a deconsecrated church and a theatre group called something like Reduced Theatre. Very reduced, just one man. Dressed as an Anglican vicar, he filled time as he waited for this evening's speaker, a speaker who will never arrive. Rural theatre. The ersatz vicar at one point bemoans the heavenly future of someone he knows - a Wesleyan and a Geologist - enough to consign anyone to a fiery eternity. My baptism took place in a Wesleyan church; my degree is in geology. The Cub Scout pack I briefly belonged to met in a Methodist Hall. The Grammar school I went to sang the Winston Churchill preferred version of Who Would True Valour See and we would all troop to the Anglican Church on Ascension Day. But that was closing in on 50 years ago now.

Now Easter in the UK, for me at least, was basically about chocolate eggs. I'm told it's also about rabbits now. That and a Bank Holiday for workers or the end of one term for people involved in Education. Not a lot of religion. Not a lot of cocks crowing thrice or Pontious Pilate and nothing about Veronica, the woman who wiped Jesus's face on the way to Calvary.

In Spain it's different. People still think Spain is a very religious, a very Catholic, country. The  statistics don't bear that out but nearly all Spaniards are brought up in a country that is conditioned by Catholocism, by rituals and customs related to the Roman Catholic Church, even if the number of practising Catholics, especially amongst younger Spaniards, is very low.

As a consequence Easter provides an incredible display of religiousness that fills the streets of Spain. It also fills the aeroplanes with people setting off on holiday but that's a different story. The variations on the Easter story are endless and that's where my ex Wesleyan, Methodist, Anglican and long forgotten religious indoctrination puts me at a severe disadvantage. On the TV news there are quick stories from all around the country of famous carvings, religious tableaux, graven images, carried through the streets by groups who form around them and maybe about the personalities who are involved in the groups. So maybe you have a carving called something like Our Chained Lord or the Black Virgin. This will be a wooden carving, possibly carved hundreds of years ago. or maybe in the 1940s after the original was burned or lost in the Civil War. The carving itself will be polychromed and dressed and go onto an ornate platform which may be fitted with wheels or carried through the streets on pained shoulders. The people who escort the figure often wear the tall pointed hats to hide their identity; the idea is that the people are indistinguishable, rich or poor, young or old. All together to pay homage. Not everyone wears pointy headgear. Women wearing mantillas and Roman soldiers are pretty common but there can be almost anything from people in doublet and hose or blacked up through to flying angels.

Your carving may go out on the streets on a couple of days during Holy Week or it may be out every day. It depends. Some groups, brotherhoods in translation for lots of them, may have several pieces of statuary so they go out with different floats on different days. The routes, the variations, from joyous to silent vigils vary from day to day. The discipline of the week may disappear with the joy of The Sunday of Resurrection or it may be that, Friday apart, the parades are as much about distributing sweets to the children amongst the spectators as they are about religious observance. The handling of the big floats may be of supreme importance with the dipping, reversing and lifting of the two or three ton floats being roundly applauded or it may be only of passing interest. Every town has its customs, its traditions and its idiosyncrasies from burning Judas to running at full tilt with the float of Mary on your shoulders, as she rushes to meet her risen son.

In the years we've seen lots of processions in lots of towns. This year we've been out in Pinoso, Jumilla and Albacete. In Albacete we went to see the Encounter, the part of the story where Jesus, fresh from the tomb, meets his mother on Easter Sunday. Two parades from opposite parts of the town bring in different imagery. In Jumilla it was the solemnity of Good Friday and for the rest we were in Pinoso including the procession from Thursday night to Friday morning where the lights of the town are turned off, muffled drums beat solemnly and black robed penitents carry just one float, the Christ of the Good Death, through the streets. The float is accompanied by lots of ordinary people carrying candles.

As an event I liked Jumilla best, overall Pinoso was my favourite though because it's ours, through our streets and with people we know. So the bronze to Albacete.

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