Spain has some very unique traditions when it comes to how they celebrate Holy Week.
This is a picture of a Holy Week Procession here in Salamanca.
After 4 years of living in Salamanca I have never seen one of these for myself since I normally travel during Holy Week. However, tonight I found myself in Salamanca and I wanted to experience a procession first hand. Honestly, they have always scared me a bit. You can’t grow up in Georgia and not be taken back when you see a man dressed up in a hooded robe of this style. But Holy Week Processions are a deeply rooted Catholic tradition here in Spain and I’m trying to get all I can out of life in Spain here at the end.
Let me give you a bit of context for the processions – all throughout Spain, and even in some Latin American countries, there are Catholic Brotherhoods – something like a civic organization that supports the efforts of a local church. These brotherhoods are the ones who put on the processions as a way for the members to pay penance and identify with the suffering of Christ during Holy Week. The Brothers wear Nazareno/penitential robes (the colors differ based on the Brotherhood) and they will walk around town, often barefoot, carrying a float that depicts either a scene from the Passion of Christ, a statue of Christ on the cross or sometimes Mary in extreme agony at the death of her son. The processions are often accompanied by brass bands and women wailing to express their grief at the death of Christ. All of this makes for a very intense and somber expression of what the events of Holy Week are about.
So tonight I went in search of a procession and what I found was not a cool cultural experience but a reminder of why I came to Spain in the first place. I didn’t actually ever find a procession, but I did see a bunch of people heading into the Cathedral, so I decided to follow and see what was going on. Inside there were hundreds of people, more than I have ever seen, and they were all walking around admiring the different procession floats that were on display. This was very much a tourist event and the sad thing is that tourism is what keeps that Cathedral open. Tonight the Cathedral was packed out with people there to admire the grandeur and artistry of wooden carvings ornately painted, sometimes even gilded, that later on will be paraded around town on the shoulders of men who want to show the community that they can pay for their own sins. There are dozens of churches in Salamanca, beautiful old places where God was once adored that are now only open during Holy Week because otherwise nobody would ever go in them. Being in the Cathedral tonight was a very emotional and spiritually difficult moment for me. It makes me question where is God in all of this? Is this what he wants from us? And what does all this have to do with Easter???
One of my favorite authors, Frederich Buechner has a great line in one of his books, where he through the character of a slightly crazy old monk says- “All that is lost is nothing compared to what is found, and all the death that ever was, set next to life would scarcely fill a cup.” I imagine that this is exactly God’s sentiment when he looks down at Spain right now and sees people parading around loss and death- he knows that all this is nothing compared to the life we can find in him. So with that in mind- let me tell you about how we are celebrating Easter here.
You might remember my Valentine’s Day Tree from a previous post. Well, I know it seems like a silly thing, but we continued our tradition and turned it into an Easter Tree. Yes, I still have my Christmas tree up, but don’t miss the point here🙂
When I came home from my depressing trip to the Cathedral this is what greeted me- a silly tree full of homemade ornaments- easter dresses, baskets, lilies, eggs and one ornament there in the bottom right corner that makes me laugh at how audacious God can be sometimes. Our friend Carmen made that ornament. It is a bright green cross with small Alpha and Omega letters on it. Carmen has been coming to En Vivo for 3 years now- and very reluctantly at first. However because she made true friends at En Vivo she stuck around. After a few months, Carmen became a regular at our Thursday Night Bible Studies, she got involved in a small group and our leadership group. She started questioning all the things she was hearing from us, she dove deeper into her friendships and somehow amazingly she kept coming around. After 3 years, Carmen is one of our best friends. She comes over to hang out with my roommate and I almost once a week- so one random Tuesday back in mid March, we convinced her to help us decorate our tree. She laughed at us as we made “American” Easter decorations such as an Easter Dress, a basket, a bunny and a duck. And then we saw what Carmen made, and we too laughed, but not at the silly thing she had made, but at how unbelievable God is. Carmen made a cross. When we asked he why- she said, “I thought this was an Easter tree!” She added the Alpha and Omega because he knew along that is where he would go and because for all eternity he isn’t there anymore. Carmen is Easter for me. Not a procession of men focused on the tragedy of Holy Week. Carmen is the hope of Christ that we find in that empty tomb come Sunday.
There are two very different “Easters” happening here in Salamanca and I am so very thankful that mine includes Carmen.