Postcard from Sevilla, Spain: The most celebrated mother in Spain

My childhood memory might be as hazy as the incense clouds at midnight mass, but I think the head covering of a rather homely statue of the Virgin Mary at Star of the Sea church was a humble blue cloak.

In Spain, things are different. La Virgen generally wears richly embroidered gowns with an elaborate silver or gold crown perched upon her head. And she is mesmerizingly beautiful.

In Adalusia, she appears everywhere (see La Virgen tiles of the streets of Seville here). In Seville, one stunning representation of Mary per church is rarely enough. Although Holy Week theoretically revolves around the story of Jesus’ last days before his crucifixion and resurrection from the dead, the candlelit floats bearing Mary through the streets are the stars.

The most cherished of these is La Macarena, or La Virgen de la Esperanza (above). The 17th-century carved wooden figure resides on the altar of her Basilica in the Macarena neighborhood in Seville. When she emerges at midnight on Good Friday, the assembled faithful gasp and cry, with some scrambling to touch her cloak. She is paraded through the streets for 12 hours, with candles lit, according to Margaret Galitzin, to prevent her from seeing her son’s suffering on the float preceding her.

The wooden representation of Our Lady of Sorrows with her dramatic glass tears generally is attributed to Pedro Roldan (1624-1699). She received numerous makeovers through the years, particularly after a not-very-pious drunk hurled a bottle at her resulting in a “bruise.” Legend claims no cosmetic alterations could erase the damage. According to Galitzin:

When the man who committed this terrible offense against the Mother of God became sober, he saw the bruise and repented for his crime. For his penance, he resolved to walk before the statue each Holy Week with chains on his feet and carrying a cross to expiate his sin. After his death, his descendants continued this practice. To this day, it is said, a family member continues this act.

In addition to her elegant attire and shining crown, La Macarena wears several emerald floral brooches. The jewels were a gift from one of Seville’s most famous matadors, Jose Gomez Ortega (1895-1920), Joselito. A Canonical Coronation in 1913 added these precious stones to the garments of La Virgen.

You might have noticed the year of Joselito’s death and realized it seems premature. His faithful tribute failed to spare him from a fatal goring 99 years ago.

Yet La Virgen went into mourning. She wore widow-black robes for a month following his death – the only time she has shed her embroidered fashions. La Macarena remains the patron of bullfighters.

The photographs collaged here are regal representations of La Virgen from numerous churches in Seville.

 

Belated Mother’s Day wishes to all.

Postcard from Sevilla, Spain: Former Convent home to Bellas Artes

The former Convent of Merced Calzada dates from the early 1600s, but since 1841 it has been open to the public as the Museo de Bellas Artes.

The fine arts museum originally preserved and showcased works from closed convents and monasteries around Seville. The collection has grown through the years and includes works by some of the most famous painters associated with the city – Murillo, Zurbaran and Leal.

Not uncharacteristically, I often found myself distracted by the tilework and the devils in the details.

As we were headed into the season of Semana Santa processions, the paintings of enormous horse-drawn floats from 18th-century Seville proved of particular interest. Although these bacchanalian-themed floats appear to be more closely associated with rowdy pre-Lenten Carnaval celebrations.

Postcard from Sevilla, Spain: If a resident peacock fanned his tail inside Real Alcazar, would anyone even notice?

According to traditional Western norms of design, seemingly incongruous combinations of floor-to-ceiling colors, textures and materials create a remarkable feast for the eyes in the Alcazar Palace.

In 913, in what had been the ancient Roman city of Hispalis, the ruling Caliph of Cordoba ordered the center of government be established on this site. His successors further embellished the palace and expanded it toward the Guadalquivir River.

When the Castilians under Ferdinand III (1199-1252) gained control of the territory in 1248, portions, but not quite all, of the original palace were lost as Christian rulers sought to imprint their taste and traditions onto the site.

Pedro I (1334-1369), either called Pedro el Cruel or Pedro el Justo depending on which version of history one sides, had a lot of complications in his life. In addition to those continually and violently contesting his throne, Pedro as a young ruler was coerced into several arranged politically advantageous marriages despite his obvious love of Maria de Padilla (1334-1361).

Before Pedro’s half-brother, Henry II of Castile (1334-1379) dealt him fatal blows, Pedro made extensive use of the talented artisans and craftsmen on hand in Sevilla to build a palace luxurious enough for him and his mistress. The Mudejar alterations resulting from the Moorish architects employed by the Christian king produced handsome results.

The Alcazar’s contradicting yet complimentary architectural styles represent an evolutionary melding of royal whims from 11th-century Moors through 13th-century Gothic, 14th-century Mudejar and the Renaissance of the 15th and 16th centuries. The ruling Bourbons made further architectural alterations to suit their 19th-century tastes and residential requirements.

Real Alcazar is where Queen Isabella I of Castile (1451-1504) contracted with Christopher Columbus to finance his explorations. The palace was the setting chosen for Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (1500-1558) to meet and marry Isabella of Portugal (1503-1539) in 1526. Today, portions of the palace still function as an official royal residence of the Spanish monarchy.

In addition to actual history-making events, the palace and grounds of Real Alcazar have lent their magical atmosphere to diverse film and television projects from Lawrence of Arabia in 1962 to several seasons of Game of Thrones.

And lo, the azulejos. What tiles are found throughout.