The Basilica of Jesus de Medinaceli is surprisingly one of the newest of the classic churches (it wasn’t consecrated until 1930) and yet one of the most popular in the capital mainly because of the cult of the statue of Jesus the Nazarene.
This figure, more commonly known as Jesus of Medinaceli, was actually made in Sevilleback in the early 17th Century and later was stolen and taken to Morocco where it was held for ransom. Once returned, it was moved to Madrid by the Duke of Medinaceli and placed under the supervision of the Trinitarian monks, also known as the capuchins. The monastery remained until the late 19th Century, but when appeared the order would lose its house, a new church was commissioned by the same noble family. The Christ figure barely survived the Spanish Civil War.
Now it has become one of the most sacred icons in the city, for the religiously faithful, that is. It stands above the main altar but every first Friday of the each month, the gates to small chapel are opened and the many flock to go up and adore it. The biggest date is the first Friday of March where the numbers could rival those of youths lining up to buy tickets to their favorite rock group. Jesus Christ Superstar. That’s right. Some people even wait in line for two days and then sell their place to the highest bidder. I kid you not.
Well, that’s where we were going. To the basilica to see the end of that procession. The church is right next to the backside of the famousHotelPalace, one of the most elite in Madrid.
The street is aptly called the Calle de Jesús, and the police barricades ran along the sidewalk to keep people from invading the asphalt. But they were deserted, so we knew nothing would be there any time soon. The procession was out somewhere in the streets of Madrid.
We made plans to meet some friends in the Taberna La Daniela, which is right in front of the main entrance of the church. Perfect. No better place to wait. We learned from one of those expert procession-watchers (generally women over the age of 50), who told us that when the statue returned, a paso with the Mary on it would come out from the church to greet it.
La Daniela specializes in the cocido madrileño, a chickpea-based stew that is one of the capital’s most typical dishes. The cocido is traditionally a poor man’s recipe made of garbanzos, bones, lard, bacon, hen meat and a bit of beef. It has since become a rich man’s delicacy in some of these places. You don’t eat a cocido for dinner, but you can have some tapas, and La Daniela has plenty of them. We had some cocido croquettes (I was let down), some fried slices of eggplant (outstanding) and a decent mini tortilla. We had a couple of cañas, small glasses of beer, to accompany.
Jorge’s mother was with us too. She loved going to the processions. We got to talking about the old Catholic tradition of abstaining from meat on Fridays during lent and especially on Good Friday. I remembered it was like that in my home as a child, though I had largely dropped the observance. She added that when she was a girl, you could get out of not eating meat by paying an indulgence. Yes, of the kind that Martin Luther compalined about centuries ago. The Church still could teach that even sinlessness had a price.
Outside the television reporters gave the latest news on the procession and then departed before the arrival of the image itself, which was kind of odd. But I guess they didn’t have time to wait around.
A little after 9:30, the gates of the basilica opened. The float with a statue of Mary standing on top of it, slid out and waited as the first nazarenos and priests appeared. Then came a handful of women dressed in black mourning wear and mantillas. Most of the other processioners turned off before and entered the church from the side gate. The drummers announced the nearing of the float with Jesus. Soon you could see it, draped in an emperor purple robe, golden crown of thorns and dark face. It leaned forward characteristically. Characteristic of what I am not sure. But it is. The two floats met, the band played the national anthem, and then the one carrying Mary was drawn back inside before the other one followed it. The float with the Christ of Medinaceli was very large, which must explain why it was maneuvered by a mechanical cart beneath instead of the bearers. It was the only time I saw this set up.
A few minutes later, the image of Jesus was gently pushed inside and the doors closed behind it. The procession had rather subtly come to an end.
And Good Friday too.