Epiphany, ‘Los Reyes Magos’ (the Magic Kings) the first festival of the year -
Closely following Reyes Magos comes the festival of Almería’s patroness, La Virgen del Mar. This has parallels with Les Saintes Maries in the Camargue in that an effigy of the virgin, believed of 16th century origin, was found on the shore here by gypsies. It is now kept well clothed in a city church but for this festival is returned to the fort at Retamar. From there it is carried in procession to a specially built shrine. The day starts early and junketting continues until late. The religious ceremony is attended by many disabled people in hope of a miracle. Fundamentally though, the gipsy contingent with their horses hold court here. This is in late January.
Ceremonies start from this tower announced by the firing of maroons heard from far afield.
The effigy of the Virgen del Mar is carried by four men escorted by riders in traditional Andalus trappings.
From top left: the tower with Serra de Cabo de Gata; Andalus escort for the effigy; effigy approaching the shrine; the effigy is presented at the entrance to shrine; effigy at home inside the shrine with its mosaic image on wall behind; traditional trap; personage in formal garb.
Everywhere in Spain the greatest festival of the year is Easter. Secularisation of the state seems in no way to have diminished the fervour of this prolonged sequence of events. In Almería city pomp is the province of Brotherhoods but in the rural community of Fernán Pérez its real significance is perhaps more clearly expressed in this oldest of paso celebrations in the area. ▼
◄ Holy Saturday
Palm Sunday ▼
One of the surprises of Almería’s Pasos to this author is the extensive participation
of women officiates of a wide age range from puberty to elderly within the ‘brotherhoods’
who walk for hours in formal dress with high heeled shoes -
Almería’s Pasos have great style. Each brotherhood has its marching band though on Good Friday 2009 some were quite differently beautiful. For one a trio sang the most gorgeous music and another had a clarinet trio. The excitement of these was the contrast and the beauty of chamber music’s particular symbolic stillness. Though marching bands dominate, the Good Friday brotherhoods in particular manage their drama brilliantly almost in silence.
Palm Sunday is children’s day. They perform with charm skill and stamina to match their elders.
Mary effigies are gorgeously decorated, surrounded by so many candles they need a candle lighter in attendance. Though there are diversions the overall mood is one of fervour and involvement from those watching as much as those performing.
Local tradition has it that there is always rain at Easter. This is hardly surprising for a festival rooted in ancient fertility rites and is frequently true here.
Good Friday’s brotherhoods recreate a theatre of imagination. A cortège proceeds silent but for the ringing of handbells, an ancient funeral tradition used for plagues; penitents are in black, carry black candles and the city lights are off. Others follow with the lights returned, amongst these the bishop of Almería and some politicians and officials; only the final Mary Magdalene has a marching band. One has a trio of singers whose gentle beauty of sound emerges from silence and is again subsumed by it; a trio of wind preceding the Mourning Mary cortège again emerges from silence whilst the Magdalene with an amazingly clad military band brings up the rear.
People wait patiently; sweet vendors parade sustenance but they are the only parade. Rain falls, umbrellas rise and we all go home.
Fernán Pérez has reputedly the oldest of the pasos in the area and is without pomp but religious. The village remains agricultural and this colours the rites.
No marching band. The men carry the Virgin the women the Christ effigies. As they process the women sing an old Easter hymn & chant Christ is risen.
The encounter between Mary & the risen Christ is re-
At the encounter as Mary Virgin bows the church bell rings out and she follows Christ back to the church whence both emerged. A mass is held.
These gentle rites at Fernán Pérez bring to mind just how much the Roman Catholic
Church absorbed ancient traditions preceding its existence from all over Europe and
the Middle East. In this village setting it could just as well be an Adonis ceremony
As everywhere in Spain there are many other local festas that over time we shall add to our pages.