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Holy Week in southern villages
In Easter many villages parade their figures of Christ and/or the Virgin Mary during the Holy Week processions. Far from the ostentation of the Easter processions in Seville and Malaga where faith mixes with economic and status interests, many villages celebrate their Semana Santa in a much more austere manner.
The first documents about Catholic processions appear little after the conquest of the city by the Crown of Castilla and the following conversion to Christianity after overthrowing the Islamic authorities that predominated in the region during seven centuries.
The implementation of the catholic religion and the arrival of new settlers from other catholic regions promoted the first processions to support the religious conversion of the general population.
This kind of celebrations acquired more relevance after the Trento Council, celebrated between 1545 and 1563, bringing the Catholic Church to enforce the cult to the sacred figures in an attempt to fight against what they considered the heresy of Marin Luther's protestantism. A key factor that gave strength to this image cult was the fact that most of the population was illiterate.
During the Baroque Age, new religious brotherhoods are created and receive a major boost with the inclusion of many local nobles in the organizations. At the time, the processions were composed of two main groups, one called “brothers of light” that were eight or ten members in charge of carrying on their shoulders the religious figure mounted on a throne, and the “brothers of blood” that were a comity of penitents that flagellated their bodies during the procession.
The other main reason for the growth of the brotherhoods in the Baroque Age was the fact that the cemeteries were property of the church. Forming part of a brotherhood made it much easier to be buried in “sacred ground” while the brotherhoods also granted the memorial masses to help their soul in to heaven avoiding, as they believed, a long wait in the purgatory.
During the Enlightenment Age many of these religious celebrations were considered superstitious and exaggerated, for this reason, the authorities tried to enforce some regulations with unequal result.
The invasion and plunder of the church assets by the Napoleonic troupes in the first years of the XIX century, left the brotherhoods in a complicated situation that would worsen after the Independence war and the implementation of the Mendizabal seizure law of 1835. This would cause the closing and dismantling of many monasteries, forcing many brotherhoods to find other alternatives to continue with their parades. At the same time, the municipalities seized the cemeteries from the church making them public, this caused the loss of many members despite the brotherhoods tried to lure them by buying special burial sights.
With the proclamation of the II Spanish Republic in 1931, many churches and the monasteries where plundered by peasants and villagers, who tired of the oppression and the alignment of the church with the local powerful families, saw the religious institution as an enemy of the people which would bring to the destruction from part of the religious images and assets.
Only a year later, with the outbreak of the civil war in 1936, further riots will destroy more church belongings and many brotherhoods will loose the few assets they were able to preserve from the first attacks.
With dictator Franco in power after the war, he did an important effort in promoting the National Catholicism to discredit the previous Republican Government, considering the previous Government an enemy of the Catholic faith. His regime started financing many of the brotherhoods and opened the possibility to create new ones in the main cities, whereas in the villages it was more a question of fear to disobey the church authority, and as such, the regime.
For the next 35 years, Holy Week processions would thrive in all corners of Spain thanks to the enforcing of Catholicism.
With the arrival of democracy in 1975, there was a considerable fall in liturgic interest despite the shadow of the old regime has lurked in the minds of the people. But it would be with the 2007 economic crisis that many brotherhoods would start to struggle for the loss of their members in the major cities. In the rural regions the case is a slight bit different. Though the local economies still depend in many cases on life stock and agricultural assets, the emigration to the cities have taken many of the young population to seek for a better and more comfortable life in the cities, leaving the villages with an aging population affecting the continuity o the traditions.
During the production of this feature, at least three villages stopped celebrating their parades in these recent years, many others may not take long to disappear.
By Xabier Mikel Laburu