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 Cadiz, Spain: Palm Sunday floats sway through the streets

His reputation preceded him. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem astride a donkey, his miraculous raising of Lazarus from the dead was fresh in the minds of many. They swarmed into the streets to greet Hosanna, paving his way with palms and even their cloaks.

Jesus’ progress probably was faster then than when he was waiting. Waiting. Waiting outside the door of the Cathedral in Cadiz for yet one more procession to commence.

A lot of waiting is involved for all participating in the processions commemorating Domingo de Ramos, or Palm Sunday. The dirges are slow-paced. And the costaleros porting the heavy floats on the back of their necks need breaks, as their duty lasts for hours and hours.

Upon re-levitatating the pasos following the brief “restful” squats, the team of about 40 porters are greeted with applause by the faithful lining the streets. Hoisting these ornate beauties is a major feat, as some weigh in at more than 4,000 pounds. It was not surprising to witness a mother peeking under a skirt of a float at rest to check on the health of her son.

The capirotes, tall caps funneling messages to the heavens, worn by the nazarenos appear a bit uncomfortable for the participants struggling to keep the holes aligned with their eyes. Some of the penitents bare their feet to help them identify with the suffering Jesus endured during the week following his initial triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

The videos are not action-packed but will give you a feel for the swaying motion of the men carrying the pasos and the accompanying music. A large percentage of the population in Cadiz must grow up playing horns.

The processions from various churches to and from the Cathedral last most of the day. Drums still echoed down the street hours after sundown.