Last night, Good Friday, I attended a procession though the narrow streets of the coastal town of Denia in Alicante, Spain. It was a moving occasion, very well organized and all visitors were really made to feel welcome, even though this was clearly an act of devotion by and for the local people, not at all a tourist stunt.
The procession set out from the tiny San Loreto convent, now home to only 4 nuns, and wove its way through the streets accompanied by the town band, not playing out of tune like in Coppola’s movies, but playing with accurate intonation and excellent ensemble skills (sorry, but I’m a music teacher…)
The statue of the Virgin Mary was wheeled through the streets by a group of young people and followed by a group of women elegantly dressed all in black with the Spanish headdress and a long veil, “ la peineta y la mantilla”.
Then came the image of the body of Christ: a powerful statue laid across a platform, escorted by young people, priests and other local citizens and town officials.
Local people and tourists lined the narrow streets to watch the procession and then fell in behind to continue through the streets in silent vigil.
The end of the itinerary brought the images back to the convent, where prayers were said and readings were made from the Bible.
In this next photo you can see high above the altar the empty niche where the body of Christ lies during the year. During this ceremony several persons removed the image from the platform, wrapped it in cloths and anointed it with oils, and then carried it with care and reverence up to the niche, where it will remain wrapped in the cloths until Easter Sunday.
I have seen similar processions in Spain where emotions run so high you wonder if the focus moves from the subject, Christ, to the participants and their sacrifice. In some processions the image is carried on a terribly heavy platform and is borne on the shoulders by up to 30 men, and even sometimes they crawl on their knees with this terrible weight. In other areas, the crowd push and shove to get close enough to touch the image, spoiling any sense of order.
In Madrid on Good Friday I have seen people walking barefoot through the streets, and some even with chains on their feet, and others following the procession on bended knee.
In Denia all these excesses were avoided: at all times the procession maintained its simplicity and dignity.
During the final act, back inside the convent there was silence inside the church but considerable noise from people in the street enjoying their Friday evening and filling the table in the terrace cafes and bars to enjoy tapas and a glass of wine. On the one hand this noise was distracting, but on the other hand it showed that the Christian rite has its place as a natural part of society, not isolated from it, and it reminded me that expressions of religious faith and secular celebrations can live in peace side by side.
I think there is a mistake in my first sentence. I did more than just attend the procession: thanks to the generosity and openness of the Denia townspeople, I was actually a part of the procession, not just a passive spectator.