28 April 2011

April is the cruellest month

I'm not sure quite what T.S. Eliot had in mind when he wrote that, but it certainly applies to Alcalá de los Gazules this year. What is normally one of the most pleasant months weather-wise has been almost a complete washout. We have had the odd fine day, sandwiched between five-day stretches of Levante, a vicious east wind that rattles the house and coats everything in fine pink dust, and torrential rains that have tested our new storm-drains to the limit. And to top it all it´s been several degrees colder than usual, while Northern Europe has been basking in warm sunshine!

But to the devout Catholics of Alcalá, April´s cruellest blow was the heavy rain which caused the cancellation of the processions on Thursday and Friday of Holy Week, or Semana Santa.

The week leading up to Easter is the most important period in the Spanish religious calendar. All over the country there are services and street processions organised by local cofradias, or brotherhoods.  Sometimes the processions are silent, lit by thousands of candles; sometimes they are accompanied by a solemn band.  Some of the biggest attract hundreds of thousands of people, like the one in Seville.  The faithful carry heavy platforms or tronos on their backs, bearing images of the Virgin, covered with flowers and candles, or of Christ on the Cross.  Some followers are on their knees, others flagellate themselves to enhance their penitence.  Many wear capirotes, capes and tall pointed hoods to disguise their identity, a custom later adopted by the Ku Klux Klan in the Southern United States.   It´s all a bit overpowering and strange to an atheist like myself.

Wednesday´s silent procession did take place here in Alcalá, but unfortunately it clashed with Real Madrid playing Barcelona in the final of Copa del Rey.  There were rumblings of disapproval in the brotherhood about the number of men watching the match in the bars instead of joining in the procession, and following Madrid´s victory (another cruel blow!) their supporters definitely did not observe a reverent silence.

The Fiesta de San Jorge, postponed from last weekend because St George's Day fell on Easter Saturday this year, starts tomorrow.  Alcalá's patron saint is due to be paraded round the streets on his white horse, followed by three days of merriment on the Plaza Alta, complete with bulls running through the streets.   And the weather forecast?  You've guessed it - yellow alert for heavy rains and thunderstorms over the next three days ...

Some images of Semana Santa in Alcalá from previous years:

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