Semana Santa - Martes Santo in Granada
It’s been a strange old week.
On a very positive note, we have been on holiday for Semana Santa, one of Spain’s most important religious festivals marking the Passion of Christ in the run-up to Easter weekend. The school where I teach is closed for the week as all the students tend to disappear back to their familial villages for the festival.
We had a lovely weekend with friends visiting us from London, and despite the last vestiges of wintery weather doing their best to dampen our activities, they failed. Rain and chilly temperatures prevailed and the first Semana Santa processions on Palm Sunday hung in the balance as organisers waited until the very last minute to decide whether or not to begin the lengthy routes through the town. The risk of rain at this time of the year must be an inordinate headache for the organisers of the Semana Santa processions, as everything is timed to the minute so that the various tronos can pass through the narrow streets without bumping into each other.
Of course, as soon as our friends’ last day arrived, Spring also arrived. The clouds disappeared completely leaving crisp and endless blue skies and an unexpectedly warm sun. Having dropped our friends, Laurie and Shaun off at the airport, we did a few chores and stopped off at Miguel’s, our favourite little bar in Nigüelas, for a caña and some tapas. The sun was warm on our faces, and we felt that we had, finally, seen the back of a long winter here in Andalucia. It was then that I received the worst kind of news regarding a member of my family. Here is not the place to go into any detail, but the news hit me for six.
On Tuesday, in light of this, it became almost imperative that we got out into the clear air to leave behind work, emails, social media, the telephone and other trappings of daily existence. It was a beautiful day, and after a relaxed morning we drove out to one of our favourite spots - the Sierra de Huetor, the range of stunningly beautiful mountains to the north-east of Granada city and from where you can get unrivalled views of the entire stretch of the Sierra Nevada to the south. We cannot describe how beautiful this particular walk is, but we have written about it in a previous post although, this time, we did take a rather shorter route given that Andrew had pulled a muscle in his leg on his morning’s run. The first part of the route leads to the Cueva del Agua, and the views from here are truly breathtaking. To stand here in total silence, with views that go on forever, with air that is so clear that you can almost feel that it has rejuvenating and healing qualities, is as close to any spiritual experience you are ever likely to encounter. We, both of us, could have stood here endlessly, watching the shifting shadows cast by the sun on the virgin white snows of the Sierra Nevada: dazzling whites, blues and gentle pinks, colours gradually evolving and fading. This vast space, with endless skies and layers of landscape following one after the other into the distance, puts a lot into perspective and reminds you just how small we all are, and how much we should value that which surrounds us.
Following our walk, we drove into Granada to see some of the evening’s Semana Santa processions, and what followed could not have been more perfect.
Neither Andrew nor I would ever describe ourselves as even remotely religious. I find it hard to reconcile many of the things that occur in the world today with some beliefs and writings from 2,000 years ago when the bulk of the population believed that the sky could fall on their heads at any given moment. Religion thrived because it was about money and power, and intelligent people were able to control less-intelligent people by spinning yarns designed to frighten those less intelligent people into submission and subservience.
However, there are elements in our world that do transcend the ordinary and can transport us somewhere else, even if for only a moment. Music and art has that power, landscapes and nature too.
It’s interesting that, when I have chatted to some of my students at school, so many of them claim to find Semana Santa boring, and that there are just too many people. Young people are driving change here, and these same students profess not to hold any religions beliefs. But is Semana Santa solely about religion? Is the music that most moves me, for example, music such as Rachmaninov’s Vespers, solely about religion in today’s society? Certainly not. The composers of the time wrote this stunning music because they got paid; it is unlikely they had an epiphany every time they picked up their quill.
Andrew and I weaved through the side streets of Granada to get to the best vantage points to see the processions, and we both agree that there is something hugely moving about the whole experience. This is a difficult concept to tie down, as these processions tell the story of something we consider to be mythical, and nothing more. But the sight of a shimmering trono depicting one of the scenes leading up to the crucifixion of Christ, emerging from smoke emanating from incense burners, and surrounded by the hooded Nazarenos, evokes some strong emotions. The huge and ornate floats are borne by 30 or more Costaleros concealed beneath and shuffling along in time to a beat marked by drums and the strident sounds of brass instruments. The throngs of people ebb and flow as the processions weave their careful ways through the tight streets; residents lean out over the balconies of their apartments, and vendors scurry around with handfuls of garish helium balloons.
This is a festival and what we noticed more than anything else was the unity within the sea of people washing in and around the historic streets. Young and old, families, generations, friends of all ages vie for a position to see the procession pass. The intoxicating sounds and scents, splashes of colour and shimmering of candles, and silver and gold; the solemnity and meticulous organisation; the pride and tradition and custom all coming together and it is this that religion brings to Spain - that sense of unbreakable family unity, of community and a coming together. I think what moves Andrew and I most of all is the overwhelming spirit of respect and humility, traits that seem so sorely lacking in so many parts of the world.
It matters not a jot that you don’t believe in religion of any kind, but this festival does have the power to move. It reminds us of the power of community, of friends and family and respect. It’s important to take stock, to look at the landscapes around us, bask in silence, breathe clear air and be surrounded by those we love and who love us.