Penitents, pedophiles and politicos: Holy Week in Spain

I've committed myself to writing a weekly essay on Spain, and now the week is almost up. (In Spanish calendars, the week starts on Monday, so today is the last day.) This week has been holy week, Spain's great festivity of suffering, and it has been mostly occupied with penitents and pedophiles.

You can see some of the penitentes here. In towns across Spain, guys get dressed up in robes and the conical headgear and masks of the condemned sinners of the Inquisition, supposedly to show that they are repentant of their own sins, and parade in mock solemnity. They look so spooky that, when the Ku Klux Klan was looking for ways to scare people, they imitated the costume.  Every town does it a little differently. In some places they beat drums, in others they blow horns, in most they just march and sway ponderously in processions before the heavy litters, or tronos, of the virgin or the crucified Jesus or both.

I'm not sure why they do this -- if you ask them, they usually just refer to "tradition," as though condemned by inertia to keep doing something they don't really understand. Most of them, at least the ones I've talked to, don't have anything very serious to repent. Meanwhile the Church's pedophiles, and the bishops who protected them, remain mostly unrepentant, though greatly embarrassed that their secret has got out.

But enough about holy week. We can look instead at the unrepentant Partido Popular, whose greater sins have also been revealed in these past weeks. Not just Jaume Matas, until recently the PP's president of Baleares, was stealing millions. Back on the mainland, in Valencia, Madrid and even Galicia, the party was financing itself by selling favors to business interests, collecting the cash as "black money" -- under the table, unaccounted for, illegal. But are they even sorry?

One of the more incongruous aspects of the Holy Week processions is the eagerness of politicians to participate in them. But if they march in full penitente regalia, you might not recognize them. So here in Carboneras, the Socialist Party mayor and councilmen & women march behind the trono unmasked and unrobed, bestowing blessings and implicit appeals for votes with a smile and a wave. What would Pablo Iglesias, that old Marxist and founder of the Socialist Party, say?


Dirk van Nouhuys said...

Some yours ago we were traveling in India, in particular and Kerala, which is about one third Hindu, one third Muslim, and one third Christian. The Christians date back to immigration and proselytizing from 3 – 400 A.D. Kerala has the most effective civil society in India, and there is very little dissension among the communities, but that is another story. Anyway one day we hired a car to take us to see a famous palace. I should say that in Kerala hired cars and the like have mounted on the dashboard a symbol of their community, a Ganesh for Hindus, a virgin for Christians, and a mosque for Moslems. This car had a Ganesh. We were traveling and not thinking about such things and had quite forgotten that it happened to be Easter Sunday. Following a narrow jungle road we found ourselves entering a Christian village. An Easter Parade in many ways like the ones in Spain was going on and we had to wait some time until it passed. But the Indians love color, and instead of the black costumes they were arrayed in costumes including hoods in a riot of bright colors, also including some red cloth blood for the flagellants, and brightly painted cows, which seemed to be as sacred for the Christians as for the Hindus. The same love of color extends to contemporary politics. There are not one but two prominent Marxist parties whose symbol is the hammer and sickle, which you often see painted on walls in green, blue, pink, yellow etc.

Baltasar Lotroyo said...

I'm afraid the image of the black penitente I chose may have given the wrong impression. Spanish penitentes also like bright colors, or at least dramatic ones, and the different "cofradías" or ceremonial brotherhoods distinguish themselves by the colors of the capirote (hood) and gown, which may be the same or contrasting. There are purples, emerald greens, etc., and a lot of whites.