The evening of Holy Thursday is sometimes referred to the “Noche de Procesiones”, or the “Night of Processions”, which should give you an idea of its importance in the Holy Week calendar. According to the gospels, on this night Jesus celebrates his Last Supper, is apprehended in the Garden of Gethsemane, and is taken away for trial. So, some of the most solemn and mournful parades take place. This fits perfectly with the angle that most appeals to the Spanish: the tragedy of the passion.
All over the country the streets fill with serpentine processions that go into the late hours of the night and even until dawn. InMadrid, there were three on the agenda, and of those three, there was one which particularly interested me, the Procession of the Poor Jesus which departed from one of the oldest churches in the city, San Pedro (St. Peter’s). The biggest attraction here was getting the float of the image of Jesus out of the church. Because of the low-lying door, the bearers have to literally get on their knees and crawl out for about ten feet before standing again. It is one of the highlights of the Madrid Semana Santa, there aren’t many, and I didn’t want to miss it.
The only thing that seemed was going to prevent me was the weather. At 4:30pm, it was sunny and looking to get sunnier, but an hour later the first drops of rain started dropping. Much of the sky was dark, but the edges were clearer, so I was hoping the storm would blow over. It did. In our direction.
By about 6:00 the downtown ofMadridwas witness to a terrific downpour. I didn’t have an umbrella with me. I have one, I just don’t know where it is. So I ducked into a building doorway and thought about my next move. A friend of mine, who lived nearby, invited me over for a beer while I waited for things to happen. She is about as anti-clerical as you can get, but that didn’t keep her from being neighborly as she provided me with a little shelter. We had a couple of beers and she told me about her plans for the future. It was like talking to Karl Marx before going to church.
When the rain tapered off, we moseyed down to the square where a sizable crowd had gathered around the church entrance. It was 7:15 and the main gates hadn’t even been opened. The skies were being indecisive, but the crowd kept its faith. My friend had to go to work, so I stayed on and about forty-five minutes later, the first signs of a procession appeared. Rows and rows of processioners emerged from the church with their tall royal purple KKK hoods on.
Then there was a rather long pause before the float began to stick out. I really can’t understand how these things take so long to get going. They’ve had all day to get prepared. The crowd became restless but eventually the long poles of the float edged out. Once, it came time for the statue of Jesus to come out, the bearers lowered their bodies and inched forward until it was safe to stand again. It all happened more quickly than I expected, but it was impressive all the same. Once back on their feet, there was a large round of applause. The bearers advanced slowly and jiggled the float as they swayed it from side to side. This is what the Spanish call “dancing” the float.