Epiphany, ‘Los Reyes Magos’ (the Magic Kings) the first festival of the year - a
children’s festival par excellence, riotous and ceremonial, a magnificent celebration
of the gift. In the intensity of this evening festival Almería is a match for any
city! Each year sees variations in the ceremony and the caravanserai of the kings
passing through a city packed to its seams with families. Children and adults alike
scramble for sweets dispensed in bucketfuls as the entourage passes. The event has
two episodes: the almost solemn festive procession of Los Reyes Magos amongst many
candles, serenaded by a band from Alcazar to town hall where both bishop and Mayor
welcome them as honoured guests. This over, an amazing caravanserai departs from
the theatre on La Rambla (Avenida de Federico García Lorca) to thread a riotous way
through city streets.
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
The effigy of the Virgen del Mar is carried by four men escorted by riders in traditional
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 - unbelievable commitment!
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
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-enacted in the village square
the two processions having taken opposite routes through the village.
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
re-enacting the ‘Encounter’ as a fertility rite, a renewal. It embodies the hopes
of agricultural communities for prosperity and fecundity both of themselves and the
land on which they depend. Many inhabitants here now arrived from Eastern European
communities to work in food production. Impressive as the theatre of the city rites
is, this one is profoundly moving in its simplicity and directness reminding the
author of Easter in his own childhood village in Wales, even though such enactments
would be anathema there.
As everywhere in Spain there are many other local festas that over time we shall
add to our pages.