Las Fiestas en Honor del Santísimo Cristo del Paño - Friday 5th October
We set the alarm to wake us at the crack of dawn. The alarm actually went off before the crack of dawn; it was still dark outside as the noises of external activity permeated our little casita. Having done the occasional boot fair in the UK, these early morning starts are not too terrifying, and after a cup of tea, we both set about getting our gallery ready for business.
Seemingly overnight, many other stallholders had set out their wares along almost every street leading into Plaza de España, and visitors started to trickle in as sun rose. In that half light, just before dawn, a small procession weaved through the square, and candles flickered. The Rosario de la Aurora is the first procession of the day and marked the start of the main religious events.
During the morning, both Andrew and I took turns to take a look around the village as more and more people poured out of coaches and coursed their way down the hill and into the village, passing sweet traders, stalls laden with leather goods and religious icons, and temporary hamburger stalls.
The Cristo de Paño sits beneath a canopy outside the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Encarnación and almost as soon as the day begins, modern-day pilgrims queue to pay homage and touch the silver throne that carries the image of Christ and the Cross. As we mentioned in an earlier post, the image carries with it the promise of miracles, and it is believed that Federico Garcia Lorca attended one of the Cristo del Paño festivals and the event inspired his play, ‘Yerma’. The central character, unable to bear children and increasingly desperate, joined the pilgrims in the hope of her own miracle:
"Si tu vienes a la romería
A pedir que tu vientre se abra
No te pongas un velo de luto
Sino dulce camisa de Holanda
Vete detrás sola de los muros
Donde están la higueras cerradas
Y soporta mi cuerpo de tierra
Hasta el blanco gemido del alba".
Yerma, Act 3, Federico Garcia Lorca
"If you come to the pilgrimage
To ask your womb to open
Do not wear a veil of mourning
But a fine Dutch shirt
Go behind the walls alone
Where the fig trees are closed
And support my earthly body
Until the white moan of dawn. “
Although the streets were lined with market stalls selling all manner of products, this busy weekend is very much a religious festival, and a very important one in the Spanish Catholic calendar.
As morning turned to early afternoon, visitors to the village started to take their places around the main square. After mass at midday, the image of Cristo del Paño leaves the protection of the canopy and is processed through the narrow streets, and as it started its journey more and more people filtered into the square. We had had a fairly busy morning, attending to interested passers-by, but nothing prepared us for the arrival of the procession. We had been advised to keep a close eye on our merchandise, as it is all too easy for items to disappear into the wrong hands. The tiered seats that had been erected on two sides of the square filled up; the Bar Plaza was filled to bursting point, and still visitors crowded around us. Slowly, the huge throne bearing the image, and adorned with flowers appeared in Calle Real just above the square. It was shortly before this that Carlos closed the shutters on his Coviran store leaving visitors without easy access to liquid refreshments. I was at one end of our gallery, furthest away from the door to the casita, and Andrew was inside when a man, wearing a crisp white shirt, a pair of chinos and, rather surprisingly, no shoes and socks asked Andrew for a beer. Well, activity surrounding the arrival of Cristo del Paño was reaching fever pitch so, panicking slightly, Andrew said yes and sold an Alhambra Especial for 1€, given that Coviran had a banner outside their shop offering beer for the same price. Nothing like healthy competition to keep prices low! Shoeless man, armed with his newly purchased beer, came hovering around behind me and I became rather twitchy. Meanwhile, 3 desperate-looking women crowded around the door of the casita, effectively blocking Andrew’s exit. He gave out a rather plaintive plea for help as I made a grab for his camera that was lying on a chair. These 3 ladies were all clamouring for booze and the sudden demand for arithmetic skills sent Andrew into a whirl.
Out of nowhere, we had suddenly become a bar, selling beer, Tinto de Verano (good job we had red wine and Casera Limón) and anything else we had to hand. At one point, a small queue appeared and women, in particular, who all seemingly had just trekked across the Sahara such was their desperate plea for drink, cried out for cold fluid. “Sin alcohol….sin alcohol…” I heard repeatedly, “cerveza…..tinto…”. I had to restrain myself from yelling “We’re not a bloody bar!”
Meanwhile, the image of Christ and the Cross turned three times in the square, and was met with hearty cheers. I had wanted to take a decent video of the image’s arrival, but instead I was stuck in the kitchen sloshing alcohol into what remained of our plastic cups, longing for the procession to move off followed by our ‘customers’.
Finally, the glorious silver throne moved slowly out of the square, and the crowds shuffled along behind leaving us time to breathe. I had heard of other houses on the route opening their doors to serve beer, and now we know what the day has in store I think that next year we’ll be ordering crates of beer, preparing tapas and going the whole hog.
Despite that brief and rather terrifying interlude, the day was fabulous. Andrew’s lovely canvas bags, printed with his pen and ink drawing of the castle and the church, sold steadily. The local Spanish found the prices of my oil paintings a little tough to chew, but the main purpose behind our make-shift gallery was to play a part in the festivities, given that we currently live right in the centre of the village. Our neighbours were able to see a little bit of what we do to keep ourselves amused, and we had plenty of opportunity to chat to all and sundry.
So, Saturday and Sunday still to go, and more people descend on the village to attend mass and walk the Ruta del Gollizno. Already, we have made some sales on this gorgeous sunny morning, and our wonderfully stylish and characterful neighbour, Manolo, who lives alone next to our new house has just driven by in his battered old Renault and passed out a plate of freshly carved Jamón de Trevélez. If we had not felt a sense of belonging before the fiesta, then we certainly do now, and it is a great feeling.