I don’t know what happened. All of a sudden, a rush of energy and tears were flowing down my face. I was laughing. I was overwhelmed with caring and compassion for humankind.
Saturday was Cathedral, museum, and Procession Day in Granada. We skipped breakfast, walked out of the Parador de Granada Hotel at 11:00, and caught the bus down from Alhambra to the Plaza Nueva. From there we walked the side streets toward the Cathedral, and stopped at a tiny pizzeria for a slice – breakfast. We continued along what seemed an alleyway that was lined with little restaurants, bars, and cafés. We rounded a bend, and there was the Cathedral. Grand. Looming, but not majestic. It took more than 180 years to build, and its architecture expresses three different styles. It’s bell tower is shorter than it had been planned – cut off – because the foundation of the building was Gothic while the bell tower was Renaissance. A Gothic foundation couldn’t support the weight of a Renaissance tower.
We waited in line for tickets and marveled at the human statues standing so still waiting for tourists to give them change in exchange for a photo. There was one that I thought really was a bronze statue until Enrique pointed out he was looking at, not a book as I had first thought, but at an iPhone. I gave the guy a big tip for his creativity and got a photograph.
We did the Cathedral tour; I wasn’t impressed although it’s a really significant Cathedral. Second largest (next to the Cathedral in Sevilla) in Spain and it has the authentic tomb of the Catholic Monarchs and the remains of three other Royals, one of which was Michael who would have been king of both Spain and Portugal except he died at age two. His was the small coffin at the side of the tomb.
From the Cathedral we walked to a museum of the Inquisition in Spain, and specifically in Granada. It was fascinating and disappointing. Fascinating because it had a collection of torture devices used in the Inquisition along with vivid descriptions. I was amazed at how sexually "erotic" so many of the tortures were: The prisoner was strapped naked on this device or naked to that device or placed naked in a cage in the public square for all to see. Anal and vaginal probes were used as well as nipple clamps for men as well as for women, and hot pokers were prevalent. These uptight, prudish, and "pure men of Christ" played out their dark sexual fantasies. Reminds me of the pious evangelist who is having an extramarital affair or the Pro-Life zealot who encouraged his mistress to have an abortion. Hypocrisy is timeless I guess.
The museum also had a section about the Jewish population of Granada and how they were persecuted during the Inquisition. For many the Inquisition was inspired as a way to rid Granada of its Jewish population and to punish those Jews who had converted to Catholicism. Ironically, they were considered heretics and had to confess their sins. Their punishment? Often death, but for sure the confiscation of their property and their wealth. Amazing. But I was disappointed because the information around the Inquisition and the Jews was very limited and pretty superficial.
We kept watching the time, well, I kept watching the time, because at 5:00 one of the most famous and beautiful processions – the "Maria, Virgin of Alhambra" Procession – was scheduled to begin. A Procession is a parade with usually two bands and with church participants, many in colorful costumes, and carrying religious symbols and artifacts. Lots of candles and robed men and women. Children too. The focus of the processions is to carry the religious float-statue from the church to the Cathedral. I say float-statue because I don’t have the proper words. It’s a huge life-like statue depicting a scene in Christ’s life especially around the crucifixion and resurrection. Easter. There are often two or more figures on a float, countless candles, other elaborate gold or silver ornaments, and lots of flowers. These statue-floats weight 2,000 to 3,000 pounds.
In this procession on Easter Saturday, it’s two statues – Mary overcome with sorrow as she holds a crucified Jesus. The statues, as with so many others in other processions, were crafted in the 1700s and have been carried to the Cathedral for what seems forever. This procession begins when they open the church in Alhambra. The marching band plays and the participants take their places as the Stevedores (they are the young men who carry the float-statue on their shoulders, Stevedores, that’s what they’re called) leave the church and begin their march to descend through the Gate of Justice, down the switchback narrow roadway, and then on to the Cathedral.
It was 4:00 and we hadn’t eaten since our slice of pizza in the morning. We ducked into a side alley and found a delightful little restaurant for a fast lunch. 4:30, we returned to the street and began walking up to get close to the beginning point of the procession. The procession should begin at 5:00 and it should arrive at the Cathedral at 9:00 — four hours later — to travel a distance that would take 30 minutes to walk. The street was filling up as we continued to climb the street to get closer to Alhambra. Finally we found a place and we sat on the stoney curb to wait. It was 5:00. We hear the band playing.
5:45 — "Hey, it’s Colombia … no it’s Spain!" The procession finally began. Now I have no particular affiliation with the Catholic Church, and I am not particularly enamored with other expressions of the Christian religion or with any religion. Religious experiences and a personal relationship with God/Goddess/All That Is and with my Soul? Yes. So I am curious and I am enjoying the procession. Many of the marchers wear pointed hoods. They were hoods used by knights in the medieval times. They looked akin to Ku Klux Klan hoods. Spooky. Or like dunce caps. Funny. Others are obviously church dignitaries and elders. They march very slowly, and they stop frequently. The Stevedores are carrying lots of weight, and they have to stop and rest regularly. Suddenly everything stops. No movement for 10, 15, 20 minutes. What’s wrong? People moved into the street to look. Nothing.
Suddenly movement again. Applause begins flowing down the street ahead of the approaching float. The Stevedores, carrying 2,500 pounds on their shoulders, had to kneel down and walk on their knees for 30 feet or more to get the statue through the Gate of Justice! On their knees! A stoney path for 30 feet! On their knees! OMG. Devotion. Responsibility (returning to their promises to God). Stunning.
The statue came along. The statue of Mary in her sorrow was amazing. Without warning tears streamed down my face and I was laughing with joy. Not for the church, but for the honor and responsibility of the Stevedores and joy and caring and compassion for humankind and humanity. It wasn’t about religion, it was about a religious – a re-aligning – experience that transcends form.
I thought I would include a photo of the float-statue, but I didn’t. My photographs didn’t capture the richness or the beauty. It fell far short of the reality. So no photo.
I came away with understanding beyond accessing, with understanding that involves inference, appreciation, and valuing valuation. These processions have value historically and ritualistically for people of the Catholic faith, but I think they can have value for so many more and for so many other reasons -– reason other than the obvious.
For me, Saturday and the procession was unforgettable and it was life shifting and life changing. More than memorable. Magical.