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Holy Week in Malaga - A Personal Experience
Malaga is known for its beaches and for its processions during Holy Week. All of the hotels get full as many travelers come to visit Malaga (so make your hotel reservations well in advance).
Malaga has social clubs called cofradias, that spend all year getting ready to take part in the processions of Holy Week. A large amount of money is spent in these preparations as each cofradia (with 5,000 member each!) strives to create the best presentations.
The cofradias usually exhibit two thrones. One showing Christ, and another of the Virgin Mary. The best artists are contracted to create magnificent decorations, including ornate clothing and capes, canopies and staging. The lifelike wood carved statues can cause the onlookers to get very emotional.
At the front of the throne’s beams is a big bell, about a foot high. This is rung with a hammer by the director of the throne to signal the men what to do. To lift the throne, he rings the bell once. There is another signal to lay the throne on the floor, and so forth. There are between 160 and 280 men to lift and carry each throne, at very close quarters, so the signals by the bell are very important.
To be chosen as one of the men who will carry the throne is an honor. However you have to be a young man and very STRONG. You have to be able to carry 40 kilos on your shoulders for hours. Women are not excluded from this, but there are few women who can carry this weight for hours.
The men under the thrones were ordered according to height, with the tallest men in front and the shortest men bringing the rear. Another thing is that the men in the first row are the most handsome men, to give a pretty face to the throne. The less handsome men were hidden in the group following. The 6 men in the first row do not hold the beams they were carrying on their shoulders. They had their arms crossed across their chests, and had an impassive look on their faces. The men in the following rows have one arm holding the beam and another arm holding the shoulder of the man in front.
The staffs that many of the penitents also hold works of art in silver. At the top they carried the symbols of Christ (IHS). The designs were beautiful and created by artists and craftsmen. Many also carried banners. At the middle of the banner would be an oil painting of the virgin. Some of these paintings were several hundred years old and painted by old masters.
The processions go on every night till the wee hours. The climax is during Good Friday, when there may be more than a million people viewing the procession.
All in all the processions are like a giant pageant, a giant Hollywood production with a cast of thousands.
The first procession starts on Palm Sunday morning. There were hundreds of thousands of spectators, dressed in their Sunday best, from children to the oldest members of the family.
Every cofradia uses a different color combinations for their costumes. First come the men who were holding the banners of the cofradia. Then come children between 3 and 7 years old. If the children aere very young, their parents accompany them on the side of the procession. Later there are older children and teens. Following the children are adults. Many of the adults and older children carry staffs or tall candles. The adults and children not carrying the staffs or candles carry palms.
Then comes the marching band. There are at least 12 drummers, whose beat leads the parade. The marching band has about 100 members, most of them teenagers. They are dressed in another costume that coordinates with the other members of the cofradia.
Following the band comes the throne containing a figure of Jesus, carried by about 180 men at very close quarters. The men step with every beat of the drums. Every 30 feet the director of the throne hit the bell with the hammer to signal the men to stop and put the throne down to rest. The processions go very slowly because of this. They take hours. Many of the men who carry the throne are blindfolded with black handkerchiefs. Apparently these men wear this because they made a special request to God (like to cure an ailing parent). Following the throne is a group of people, many also blindfolded, who also have special requests.
Then there are more penitents, several hundred. Then comes a second marching band, or orchestra. They accompany the throne of the Virgin Mary. The throne is carried by another 180 men. The audience claps their hands and shout “Viva” when the throne passes. After the throne there are more penitents, who bring up the rear.
Then there is also a group of women elegantly dressed in black, wearing the peineta, or high comb, with a long black veil. The women wear transparent black gloves and , of course, black high heel shoes. These women are called the majas.
Each cofradia leaves from their base and starts wending itself towards downtown. At the principal avenue, called the Alameda, they join each other to form one long procession. Each cofradia has to have exact timing so that they reach the Alameda at the appointed time. The places and times each cofradia is supposed to reach is printed in the newspapers, so spectators can see them.
Also it is interesting to see what happens when the men of one throne see the throne of another cofradia at street crossings. Each throne acknowledges and salutes the other throne. The men lift the throne from their shoulders as high as they can with their arms. Then they go back and forth about 6 times. The spectators love to see this maneuver and clap their hands.
The Foreign Legion
The Spanish Foreign Legion is similar to the French Foreign Legion, and it is also stationed in Northern Africa, to guard the outpost cities of Ceuta and Melilla. The Foreign Legion is composed of VERY STRONG young men dedicated to their cause. They wear short sleeved uniforms even during winter. You can see that they are heavily muscled, and you would not want to tangle with any of them. They have a reputation of being fierce fighters, with nothing to lose. Beside the church, they have their mascot, a young goat, which the crowd loves to watch. Every year these soldiers come to Malaga by ship and perform an honor guard service at the church, to guard the statues of Christ and the Virgin Mary. They also participate in one of the parades.
Early in the morning during Holy Week, you can go to the Church of Santo Domingo, where the legionaires perform honor guard duty. There is only a short line to enter the chapel. They only allow about a dozen people to enter at one time. The chapel is small, inside you will find a statue of Christ crucified resting on a small inclined platform on the floor, and there are pieces of cloth that cover everything except the body of Christ, so you can not see the crucifixion.
There are 5 legionaires present. The more senior legionnaireare behind the statue of Christ and there are 2 legionaires on each side of the statue. They are at attention, but looking up at an angle of 45 degrees. Their uniforms are green, with short sleeved shirts, a wide black belt, and black boots. Beside them they have their rifle. They have a little cap with a red tassel so show they are legionnaires. On their back they have a shiny little shovel (in northern Africa you need this to remove sand). The young men are heavily muscled. After about a minute they change their position in a little ceremony with their rifle, that was quite impressive .
After 5 minutes a second group of 5 comes in and they have another ceremony of the changing of the guard, which is also very impressive, and something you would never see in the US. It is all very dramatic, and there was a TV reporter filming everything. The audience was very quiet, which is saying something because Andalucians love to talk, and here they were intimidated and quiet.All of the legionnaires are extremely fit. They are very strong and you can see their arm muscles rippling under their green military outfits with short sleeves. You do not want to mess with a legionnaire. They are known to be very fierce warriors.
Later at night they participate in one of the processions. Their marching movements are very beautiful and precise. They march with their chins way up. During the procession they also sing religious songs, which is unusual because the rest of the people participating in the processions are silent. So you could say that the legionnaires are extremely entertaining and the people of Malaga have a love affair with them.
Every day from Palm Sunday on, the processions go on. The peak of activity is on Good Friday. At night the stores turn off their lights and the street lights are also turned off in the procession routes. The only lights are from the candles on the thrones and the candles carried by the penitents. This makes the processions much more dramatic. The streets are crowded with hundreds of thousands of spectators, and the emotion of the moment makes many cry. This is really an awesome experience.
Holy Saturday is relatively quiet and there are no processions scheduled on that day. Easter Sunday has one long procession that starts from the Cathedral and includes all the cofradias and is more happy. This lasts for hours.
Every year the cycle is repeated and there are few variations, except that the cofradias may have newer thrones or refurbished thrones. Every tourist who experiences Holy Week in Malaga long remembers the event.
All in all the processions are like a giant pageant, a giant Hollywood production with a cast of thousands. The costumes they make for these processions are outstanding. Many are in velvet, others in brocade or satin. No wonder the Malagueños are very proud of their Holy Week processions, because they are really unique in the world.
The Holy Week processions are one of Christianity's largest pageants and they affirm the Christian faith. They acknowledge the death of Christ on Good Friday and His resurrection on Easter Sunday. Participants and viewers of the processions review the last week of the life of Christ because each throne of Christ is a tableau and history lesson. On Easter Sunday the processions show the optimism of the Christian faith.