As the Christ figure waddled away down the street, I thought about going over to see the one that had left the Colegiata deSan Isidro, a church which for years had beenMadrid’s de facto cathedral. San Isidrois the city’s patron saint. But there was no way of getting over there. The sidewalks in the center of town can be very narrow and they clog up easily. You can go for a hundred yards and suddenly find yourself in a bottleneck. And then what do you do?
I had changed my mission and was trying to meet up with my friends Jorge and Susana and their two children. To do this, I had to change my route and loop around the confusing network of back streets of the old town. There were people everywhere, some were a part of the usual evening crowd, but many were Spaniards trying to catch a glimpse of at least part of the events.
I shoved my way through the multitudes until I reached center of the Plaza Mayor where a statue of King Felipe III serves as a perfect meeting point. We made our plans from there.
Before going on to the processions, it was decided that some hot chocolate was in order for the kids, so we walked down to the Chocolatería San Ginés, the city’s most famous hot chocolate café. A huge line flowed out the door. This was not surprising at all. San Ginés was teeming with customers all the time, what could we expect on that evening? This dissuaded us from going in…or even waiting.
We went down past the old outdoor bookstore at the corner of Arenal and turned left and into the church San Ginés, one of the most famous and oldest in Madrid. Of the original mudejar structure, basically only the brick bell tower survives. It was rebuilt in the 17th Century and renovated in the 18th Century, which explains its predominately neo-classic appearance within.
Scores of people were going in and we wanted to see what was up there. It turns out they were all paying homage to the Christ of the Redemption, which is located in a mysterious chapel to the right as soon as you enter. Long red candles rise from the altar, giving it an almost spooky feel to it. The kids were pretty freaked out by the experience.
We went back to the chocolate place. The line was shorter but not much. Still, Susana decided to stay there with her kids as it was the highlight of the evening for them. Jorge and I roamed around the center a little longer but realized it was nearly impossible to get any closer to the processions. They had cut the route short due to the inclement weather and the streets were jammed below the Plaza Mayor. So we returned, but not before stopping in the Convent of the Carboneras del Corpus Cristi, which has a small temple with a famous depiction of the Last Supper. But the most striking feature was the iron grid separating where we were from another room where several cloistered nuns sat and prayed. And by cloistered, I mean they basically never leave. To say this was a throw back to another time in history is no exaggeration. It was dark and gloomy inside and the sight was one of both impression and depression. I didn’t now what to think. But I felt we were intruding, so we left.
Then we went back to the San Ginés café. On the way, Jorge and I mentioned all the church buildings in the center ofMadridwe had not been to, but all the bars and restaurants we had. There was a marked difference. We walked by the San Miguel market which has turned into one of the hottest tapas spots in the city. It was packed too.
We joined the others at San Ginés. They had found one of the characteristic marble tables and the two children were happily dipping their churros, the fried dough sticks, into the dark and thick chocolate. This legendary food venue has been treating people to this delicious combination since the 1890s. And I thought to myself “They’ve got the perfect business.” They basically serve just two items: Hot chocolate and churros. And they make millions.
The rain and the mob scene had dampened the procession mood. The churros made up for the letdown.