Postcard from Cadiz, Spain: ‘Show us your shoes’

The headline only makes sense in San Antonio, Texas. A city filled with parades this time of year, although far from religious in nature. Crowds along the streets yell “Show us your shoes” to duchesses, princesses and queens riding high upon their floats throughout Fiesta San Antonio.

Of course, no one does that in Cadiz during Semana Santa. The continual processions are solemn commemorations of Holy Week.

The floats, or pasos, bear statues of religious figures, not real people. So, watching, you find yourself yearning to focus on the hundreds of participants accompanying the floats bearing the Virgin Mary and Jesus.

But individuality obviously is not the goal.

The Nazarenos are disguised under their capirotes designed to funnel their penitent prayers up toward heaven. You begin seeking eye contact with those continually tugging their hoods to keep their eyeholes in a functional alignment. Is that person male or female? Altering centuries of tradition, many members of today’s “brotherhoods” are women. Found myself analyzing all the different shapes of the robed figures: Is that a pregnant woman or a short beer-loving man or woman? And what does a collapsed cap mean?

The teams of costaleros bearing the weight of the pasos on the back of their necks are hidden under the floats’ heavy velvet skirts. Only their shoes are visible, but the alignment of their footwear conveys how closely they are crammed together and the teamwork required to step in unison as they slowly pound the cobbled streets. Once in a while, you can view them switching out the tired team for a fresh one or someone lifting the skirt to check on their welfare. And we stood next to a rare team of women anxiously preparing to crawl under an unusual paso with wheels to maneuver it along its route.

Checking out shoes quickly becomes a spectator habit. Women dressed in clothes of mourning wearing lacy mantillas march in high heels. Then there are barefoot penitentes, some hobbling a bit as the hours pass by. So used to my flat cushiony Skechers that I’m unsure which of those two options would send me into a state of limping faster.

Some members of the cofradias can be seen reaching into their robes to hand out holy cards to children along the way. Some interact with children by tipping their candles onto extended balls of wax growing in girth throughout the week. Children marching often carry baskets of candy to distribute to other children.

The musicians are pied pipers luring you toward processions.

But the goose-stepping uniformed men haunt me somewhat. The stomping of middle-of-the-night marchers on Thursday echoed like storm troopers invading our building. They invoked my childhood fear of the military parade of winged monkeys in the Wizard of Oz except, instead of that rhythmic chorus, there was no music. A woman wailed mournful chants. La Llorona? It took hours to fall back asleep. (Does that amount to a confession that I am still frightened by the winged monkeys?)

The capirotes? They no longer inspire fear, only curiosity about the individual underneath.

On Easter Sunday, the members of cofradias accompanying the float bearing a figure representing the resurrected Jesus wore no hoods. They wore suits. They lost any sense of mystery. Kind of like watching bankers on parade. The camera lens failed to focus on any of them.

While the flower-bedecked gilded floats attract attention and draw the faithful, the faith of the people provides the true beauty of Semana Santa.

Postcard from Cadiz, Spain: Jueves Santo processions stretch toward dawn

As Saint John (I think?) headed down the street, we were returning to our apartment about 7:30 last night. During our meandering hour or two walk we encountered this float bearing the evangelist, Mary the wife of Cleopus, Mary Magdalene, the Virgin Mary and Jesus with the cross a multitude of times.

Their swaying journey on the golden paso was not close to over for the night. Perhaps they were still Cathedral-bound because costaleros in purple t-shirts slipped into the procession to replace the team underneath porting the heavy load within the next block. The back of this float has a small emblem of Hercules on it, which seems appropriate when you watch a team hoist it back up after lowering it.

The Mister spotted the putto with a nail-puller, perhaps indicative of the historical trade engaged in by some members of the velvet capirote-ed cofradia sponsoring the procession. (I have noticed the role of hard-working putti in the church often is overlooked. Yes, sometimes they appear fluttering around in fluffy clouds, but more often petite putti spend eternity supporting enormous statues, altars, organs, columns and even soaring domes.)

I am unsure how many processions were weaving their way around our neighborhood last night, but they do march for hours. Floats pass through the Cathedral, but do not encamp overnight. They must make the return trip to their home churches and squeeze back through the doors.

Our street might not quite be a paso-possible width, but processions were crossing at both ends less than a block away in addition to a square a block away. This crossroads location meant the procession-watchers on foot would come down our little rarely trafficked street in large, chattering groups before and after each passing.

They awakened me in time to hear the brass bands and thudding drums about 12:30 and 2:30. The 4:30 crowd sounded much smaller. At 6:30 this morning it seemed a second more refreshed and sedate shift of faithful followers was filtering out to view the final float trying to reach home before dawn.

How will they all recover in time to participate in Viernes Santo?

Postcard from Andalucia, Spain: Marching toward Semana Santa

It takes a certain build to be able to port an immense paso, or float, through the streets for the numerous processions that will be held during Semana Santa, or Holy Week. Teams of costaleros, the bearers of the floats, must all be of about the same height and have strong necks.

Costaleros are often encountered at practice, as above, with a training base topped with cinder blocks. Rewarding beer breaks appear part of the team-building practice. As the floats are assembled by members of the church confradias, or brotherhoods, what the porters carry becomes increasingly more elaborate.

In the early evening leading up to Holy Week in Sevilla, almost every church throws open their doors for the faithful to file through to view the heavily gilded pasos.

Ornately crowned Virgens appear front and center in displays in numerous shops, but the most tantalizing windows are those of La Campana, a confectionary store operating in Sevilla since 1885. Chocolate and bon bon Nazarenos parade side by side next to elaborately crafted candied pasos. Could not help wondering about the proper etiquette for eating a chocolate Nazareno. Feet first? The way I used to nibble at chocolate rabbits when Mother wasn’t looking, thinking she would assume the bunnies merely were sinking deeper in the shiny green grass of the basket?

Last evening found us in Cadiz for processions of penitentes slowly, dirge-like slowly, marching to mark Viernes de Pasion, or Viernes de Dolores, the final Friday of Lent commemorating the suffering of the grieving Virgin Mary. Wearing their signature capirotes, hoods with tall points revealing only their eyes, the figures appeared quite grim.

Guilty confession: dinner summoned us before any actual pasos appeared heading our way along the crowded narrow streets. There were a lot of penitentes in the advance guard.