05 September 2010

Nuestra Señora de los Santos

Every Spanish town and village has its own local version of the Virgin Mary; ours is Nuestra Señora de los Santos, Our Lady of the Saints.  They are represented by luxuriously dressed statues, wearing a crown of stars, and occupying pride of place in the local church.  They are often named after the location of an apparition, such as Nuestra Señora del Pilar who appeared on a marble pillar in Zaragosa, or a desirable quality, such as Nuestra Señora de la Merced (Mercy).  Nuestra Señora del Carmen, patroness of the Carmelite order, is especially popular amongst fishermen and seafarers.

Sanctuaries and shrines dedicated to Our Lady can be found all over Spain, and pilgrimages to these places, which are known as romerías, are typified by a festive atmosphere, in total contrast to the solemn parades of Semana Santa (Easter Week) with their penitents in pointy hats.

Alcalá is currently in the middle of a series of events dedicated to its patroness, including the feria, the doma vaquera and even the Alejandro Sanz concert.   The culmination of these events takes place next Sunday with the romería to the Santuario de la Virgén de los Santos, a few miles out of town.

Early in the morning hundreds of people will walk, ride, drive or hitch a ride on a wagon from Alcalá to the Santuario.  Thousands more will arrive by car from surrounding towns and villages.   At midday, following a series of blessings and services in the chapel, the statue of the Virgin will be brought out and paraded round the grounds, accompanied by Alcalá´s indomitable brass band and hordes of people on foot and on horseback, all taking turns to carry the platform on which the statue is mounted, and all trying to touch her at some point.   This will be followed by a big open-air party, with plenty to drink and a giant caldareta (caldron of stew).

Yesterday they drew lots for rooms at the Santuario where families can stay during the celebrations.  Demand always exceeds supply, and the unlucky ones will set up camp in the olive groves or drive back into town at night.


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