This is a good video taken from the crowd of the Macarena Paso I describe below during a procession in Madrid last week.
27 May 1996
Semana Santa — Processions
We went to a couple of processions during Semana Santa (Holy Week). A little after six on Thursday the 4th of April we walked to the centro to see a procession. We got just beyond Plaza Mayor and hit the crowds. Tristan had to stop and pet the horses of the nation guard. The guardsmen where dressed in fancy blue and white uniforms with epaulets and ropings, fancy buttons, and ornate silver helmets. The crowds were already very large and it looked difficult to get the procession that was starting at seven, so we waited where we were. Tristan was getting impatient, since it was 7:30 and the procession we were waiting on would not start until 8:00. I finally sent her to play on the scaffolding set against a building about 25 feet from were we were standing. This was entertaining enough to keep her occupied. From that vantage point she could see a glimpse of the procession we were on our way to see as it passed north of us. The procession we were now waiting on started and it was painfully slow. The crowd filled the streets and plazas as far as you could see. The police were in front trying to clear a path for the procession. As you gazed out across the sea of people standing in wait, mist rose from the crowd as the twilit waned, giving the impression of a cool misty evening in olden times. The mist, however, was the cigarette smoke rising above the crowd.
The lead cross bearer wearing a black hood like a Clansman’s hood would process 10 or 15 steps and stop. The procession of hooded fellows following would process up and stop behind, each had a large candle of at least 5 feet in length in his hands. The hooded men are called “nazarenos”. The line of nazarenos, two by two created a line two long blocks in length. At last four men bearing ornate silver scepters (about 8 or 10 feet high) with candles atop appeared at the top of the street followed by a group of 6 or 8 nazarenos. Then the paso appeared moving very slowly then being set down to rest. A mist rose in front of the Cristo, which was incense that was waved in front of the paso as it processed. This paso was an ornately decorated float with gold sides in shapes of fine ornate serving wear or tea sets. At the corners were fancy silver posts with lanterns containing four candles each. In the center stood a larger than life size statue of Jesus bearing a cross of timber with ornate gold capped ends. After a pause of maybe five minutes the paso would arise with a sudden jump as the men under it picked it up, followed by applause and encouragement that came from the crowd for their effort. It moved slowly forward, at most 200 feet, and then was again set to rest. The paso was at least 8 feet wide and twice that in length. The tip of the cross, marking the highest point, was about the same height as the length when the thing was picked up. I would guess there were 18 to 24 men carrying it, you could not see them under the float. It looked as if it could weigh up to 3000 pounds. There was some singing during the rest period.
After the Cristo had passed a space of a block was left and more hooded nazarenos in, some in dark blue and others in dark green hoods, rounded the corner at the top of the street. It had taken more than an hour for the Cristo to pass and the following procession was not any quicker. The nazarenos procession was of the same length as the pervious, but as the four silver scepters appeared at the top of the street we could hear the sound of marching drums and brass playing. At length another paso appeared lit up with as many as 50 to 100 large candles of 2 to 3 feet in length stair stepped on the front of the paso. The sides were an ornate silver in more finely worked impressions than that of the previous. There were five large bouquets of white flowers along each side and a fancy candelabra the curled and twisted its way down the back of the float (like something from Dr. Seuss), creating a balanced symmetry with the cascade of candles in the front. There were five or six twisted silver posts on each side of 8 to 10 feet in length that supported a canapy covering the paso. In the middle was the Virgin Mary with a pretty, tearful face, morning her Christ, who is bearing the cross, somewhere up ahead. She wore a nice gown with a cape that was spread to the back of the paso between the candelabras, terminating about 3 feet passed the end of the underlying structure, and lined up with the end of the candelabras. In contrast to Cristo’s paso, the Virgin’s was animated, always swaying to the cadence of the drummers when in motion. She seemed to dance. She would move slowly and then in a burst advance forward very quickly, then be set to rest. At rest there would often be a flamenco singer singing either from the crowd or under the paso. A crowd member would yell “Macarena” (the name given this virgin) and the crowd would yell “guapa” (pretty). After the fourth “Macarena” the crowd would chant “guapa, guapa, guapa y guapa”.
After she passed, Tristan wanted to follow, so we did. The crowds were large and you were pressed and pushed as the crowd moved forward. It was 10:00 p.m. when we started following. As the people moved over the uneven, cobbled streets in a shuffle, their heads and shoulders moved side to side. The movement, as heads seemed to crisscross up ahead, looked like the teeth of a shaver moving in slow motion. When you looked at the whole crowd moving as far as you could see, it looked liked the sea agitated by sideways currents and gentle winds. The temperature was pleasant, the night air clear, and dead still. The candles remained lit, even with the sudden jerk of rising the paso, which violently shook the canopy, and candleabras.
At each church we passed, which was three while we lasted, the Virgin would stop, turn to face the door and do a little dance, stop, rest, start again, turn and go on. Tristan started getting tired and whiney, but we wanted to see were the procession would lead. There was one stop were the musicians and the carriers went into a couple of bars and got sandwiches and drinks. We got Fantas and rejoined the march, which began without many of the musicians, who were still munching on their bocadillos. We were amazed how the tiny bars served all those people. The procession continued on and we met up with the Cristo in a Plaza, the Virgin turned and went into the plaza up to a church door and again paid her respects. As we continued on, the hour was 1:30 AM when another follower told us the processions don’t finish until 3:00 AM or after. Laurie and I wanted to stick it out, but we could see Tristan was not going to last another 2 hours or more plus a 30 minute walk home. We gave up and went home. Laurie and I saw a couple of other processions. They were similar and always packed with people. I get tired of the crowds and being in constant physical contact with total strangers. We left off at that.
The celebration of Semana Santa (Easter Week) was much different in Madrid than it was growing up in New Mexico — there were many masses and processions during Easter week in Madrid, whereas, we never did more than go to services on Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday and attend a Holy Thursday or Good Friday service some years. There is a walk to El Santuario de Chimayo in northern New Mexico that many people take part in, some people walk 90 miles from Albuquerque to Chimayo, but I had never seen processions with the large paso (floats with statues of the Virgin Mary and Christ on them), and we had not been to musical masses in 16th century cathedrals until we lived in Madrid.
27 May 1996
We have gone to three musical Misas. Two were Misa Solemnis held in a Gothic cathedral behind the Prado. These Misas where played by the chamber orchestra. The church was built in 1502, and looks like it on the outside. The inside is in good condition. The chamber orchestra was superb, and the acoustics in the old church were perfect for the music and voices, The Hallelujah Chorus was particularly moving, and the priest gave a special dispensation for the congregation to applaud, at which they did for some 5 minutes or longer, this was a bit moving also. The conductor was a woman, which is a little out of the ordinary, but obviously she is very good. Laurie noted that the music seemed to make the retablos, stained glass and sculptures come alive. I was to absorbed by the music and great acoustics to take notice of those subtleties, but between the music I did gaze upon the art, stained glass, and sculptures. The sound is very rich, full and spiritual sounding in the old cathedral. I realized that we were really hearing the music performed in its natural environment (since I would believe the music was written to be performed in a cathedral) and the natural reverb and echo from the massive open spaces gave the voices and instruments a really beautiful, mystical quality we never hear in an auditorium.
The third musical misa was a misa flamenca in a church originally built in the 1200s and then moved and rebuilt in the 1600s using some of the rock work and stained glass from the original building. The misa was very loose and spontaneous which made it very authentic. It was a special celebration for the church’s Virgin. The priest sang a good portion of the misa and was accompanied by an old guitarist who was very good. There were two singers besides the priest and three other guitarists. The priest sang a companilleros, granadinos, and fandango grandes. The first two were a real treat as you don’t hear them often. One singer did caña, soleares, seguiriyas, and fandangos grandes, while the other singer did fandangos por provencias and tangos. The misa flamenca was long at one hour and 30 minutes, but it was really great.