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Showing posts with label Christianity in Spain. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christianity in Spain. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Another Spanish Holiday

Today is a national holiday in Spain. It is the festival of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, celebrating Mary's bodily ascension into heaven upon her death.

It's hard to keep track of all the Spanish holidays, especially those of religious origin. Often they arrive before I am aware of them, and I am left at the door of a supermarket that is closed due to the holiday. Last month I noticed a sign on a store door saying the store had been closed due to the holiday (the day before) and I still don't know what the holiday was.

But this time I knew five days in advance there was going to be a holiday--there was a sign at the health club that it would be open only in the morning of August 15, "due to the bank holiday." No one at the club was able to tell me what the holiday was, but they did explain that, since they were in "the leisure business," they were permitted to be open--though only until 2:00 PM.  I knew the post office and the banks would be closed, of course, and factories, and probably the large commercial establishments. Even our gardeners had told us once that they couldn't come on their normal day because it was a holiday and they would be fined severely if they worked that day. My big question is always whether the food stores will be open.

So as we drove out this morning to my Spanish class (a private class, in my teacher's home, and therefore not regulated) we kept our eyes peeled for signs of life on the streets and byways. There was a lot of traffic, and sure enough, there were cars in the parking lot at Lidl, and at Consum, and then we saw them even at Mercadona, notorious for always being closed on holidays. After my class we made it to the fitness center for a workout session before their closing time at 2:00. Back home for lunch and then I was content to lock myself in my air-conditioned office for several hours of work--no day off for me.

So I never saw many signs of a holiday. Sure, there had been the usual fireworks on Saturday and Sunday evenings, but that's a common occurrence, especially in the summer, and not limited to weekends. And I remember now that Sunday and Monday were the two performance days for the city of Elche's annual Mystery plays, dating back to medieval times, which I hope I will see some year. If I had driven out after 2:00 I probably would have noticed that commercial life had closed up shop, though I suspect that many more people passed the remaining hours of the holiday at the beach than at church.

So it seems quite fitting to have spent some time today reading an article from the newspaper, in preparation for my next Spanish lesson, about the upcoming visit of the Pope to Madrid this week. Given the volume of demonstrations in the world, I hope it goes without too much open controversy. The gauntlet has already been thrown, however. On a previous visit to Spain last November, the Pope chastised Spain for its "anti-clericalism and a strong and aggressive secularism like that which was seen in the 1930s" [in the years immediately prior to the Spanish Civil War and the Franco era]. Indeed, the only question seems to be whether the Pope will continue his condemnations in his six scheduled open speeches or in smaller groups with journalists, as he carried it out in November.

We will know in a couple more days, but in the meantime, we can only speculate, and read of how the papal visit will deprive hundreds of workers their traditional August vacation, cost many euros, create traffic havoc, and has already seen the erection of more than a hundred portable confessionals.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Domingo de Ramos

This Sunday in Spain is Domingo de Ramos, Palm Sunday, and it dawned bright and early. Earlier than normal, because this year it is also the day for cambio de hora, when we spring our clocks forward one hour to march from Winter time to Summer time. Actually we turned the clocks ahead last night (Saturday) before going to bed, even though the time change occurs at 2:00 AM on Sunday, as it also does in the U.S. It just occurs on a different date than in the U.S. For the past few weeks, there have been only five hours difference in time between Spain and the east coast U.S. Normally there are six hours difference, and now, thank goodness, it is again six hours. It's amazing how that one hour of difference can upset my orientation so much.

So I was feeling good this morning to get back to my regular mental time framework, and then there was the added bonus that the weather was great. I won two games of pétanque, and then we drove into the country to enjoy the day. During pétanque I had let my lower legs see the light of day for the first time in several months, and before driving out I also changed to a sleeveless blouse, exposing my upper arms to the sun for the first time in ages.

We stopped at a do-it-yourself car wash and vacuum station and gave the Ford a long-awaited spring cleaning. Then we just followed the interesting roads and before we knew it, we were in the small village of Torremendo, on the western side of a large lake. The lake turned out to be a reservoir, or a pantano, as we learned when we paused for a café con leche and media tostada while wandering on foot through the village. A man stopped to explain how great the fishing was now at the pantano--among other things, you could catch trucha americana, American trout, whatever that is. However, most establishments sported signs saying ¡Vertedero No! (No to the garbage dump) and I slowly realized that perhaps the man had been trying to tell us that the fishing would be threatened if a regional garbage dump comes to town.

There were lots of people out on the street in this tiny town on Palm Sunday morning. We heard the church clock strike three times on the quarter hour while we were there, and a few families were making their way from church carrying palm and olive branches as a traditional recuerdo of the day. We walked around a little more after our snack and then drove even further inland, to the Region of Murcia, before taking back roads again into the Valencia Region, where we stopped for a lunch of grilled lamb chops. The pharmacy temperature gauge showed 24 degrees (75 C.) as we came through Algorfa on the way home at mid-afternoon, but now at 6:30 I have a long-sleeved sweater on again as the sun is going down. It's spring, but the nights are still cool.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Spain's New Christians

I'm not a theologian, but I would guess that it's correct to say that Christianity started 2009 years ago on Easter, when the Resurrection of a Jewish man named Jesus caused some Jews to revise their faith. They became the first "New Christians."

Spain had its own New Christians in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. They were moriscos, Moors, who were forced to abandon their faith and officially become cristianos nuevos, New Christians. After years of fighting, the Moors had been finally defeated by the forces of los reyes católicos, Ferdinand and Isabella, at Granada in 1492. Many fled, but those who remained in Spain converted, at least on the surface.

Ironically in this week preceding Easter, Semana Santa to the Spaniards, I read that it was the 400th anniversary of the expulsion of the moriscos from Spain. In 1609, on April 9, Felipe III signed the decree authorizing the greatest exodus Spain has ever known. About 300,000 inhabitants were sent out of their country, which figures to be 4.3% of the population of the time. The same percentage today of Spain's nearly 46 million inhabitants would put the number at approximately 2 million people.

Spanish historians are reexamining the record of this great expulsion and note that on the same day Felipe signed a truce with Dutch Protestants in the Twelve Year War. They say that Felipe was telling the world that even though Spain had compromised with the heretical Protestants, it was still Catholic enough to deport more than four percent of its own population.

Today, with modern immigration, there are once again Muslims in Spain, and many of the customs of the early moriscos are alive in the country. One of the ways that 17th-century Christians were able to detect moriscos was through their bathing habits: Moriscos washed themselves once a week, on Friday, while Christians of the time limited their baths to twice a year. Other morisco habits were cooking with olive oil instead of animal fats, eating many vegetables and fruits, using perfume, and dressing in colorful clothing. In such ways does the culture of the vanquished live on.

Already a hundred years after the expulsion, in the eighteenth century, the deportation was regretted and called "the ruination of Spain." Today Spain is preserving its Moorish culture with pride. The 400th anniversary of the expulsion was noted, but not celebrated.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Burying the Sardine

The first street parade I saw in Spain appeared without warning just below our living room balcony on a Sunday afternoon in spring five years ago. We sprang from the dinner table to watch colorful floats, marching bands, and young people in vibrant costumes parade down the main street of town. At the time we didn't have the slightest idea of why the procession included a large papier-mâché fish borne on the shoulders of four young men, but we came to believe it was a custom unique to Roquetas, which until 25 or 30 years ago was a small fishing village.

Since then, we have learned that this particular parade, Entierro de la Sardina, happens annually, on Sunday or Ash Wednesday, as the culmination of Carnaval, just before the beginning of Lent. There are parades like this in towns and cities all over Spain, and the fish is not unique to Roquetas. In fact, they carry a large fish--a sardine--in all the Entierro de la Sardina parades. This year I have done some research and discovered that they do, in fact, burn and bury the sardine each year at the conclusion of the parade. That would explain why it always looks a little different each year.

The funeral procession for the sardine has a spiritual significance. The sardine itself seems to represent sins and vices, the sense of abandon expressed in the festival--and it is true that the noise, dance, and some costumes rival those I have seen in Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans. The cremation of the fish represents cleansing and liberation. The interment of the sardine, then, is a symbol of the burial of the past and subsequent rebirth of spirit--renewed, transformed and more forceful and powerful.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Alcazaba in Almería

The Alcazaba in Almería rises high over the city and cannot be missed when approaching Almería from the west, which is the direction from which you drive when coming from Roquetas. We've been to the Alcazaba a few times before and found it to be a pleasant and ever-changing experience. The grounds of this ancient fortress and castle, dating from the 10th century, are well-maintained, with the terracing, water pools, gardens, and patios common to Moorish dwellings. Now that spring seems to be arriving in southern Spain, I was hoping to see some colorful flowers, different from the ones I had seen on previous trips in high summer and mid-winter.

Every time I had previously visited the Alcazaba there were several workmen present doing restoration work, and some areas were off-limits for visits. The only workmen I saw this time were gardeners who were busy pruning the various green plantings--bougainvillea and lavender hedges provided most of the color at this time, but I know that later there will be lots of roses. I hope the current economic crisis has not halted restoration of the Alcazaba, which has gathered much support from the European Union (EU citizens receive free admission, but no one checks passports).

It's impossible to walk the entire grounds in one visit. This time I saw a complete restoration of a Moorish home, with central patio and surrounding salon, bedrooms, and cooking area, all furnished with typical mattresses, tapestries, pots and ceramics, with detailed signage, though only in Spanish. One larger room is always devoted to a contemporary art exhibit, and though I've not yet attended, there are occasional musical concerts within the grounds.

As with most historical sites in Spain, no single civilization can lay exclusive claim to the Alcazaba. Though the structure currently standing was built in the 10th century by the Moors and exhibits mostly an Arab face, the Romans got there first, specifically the Carthaginians. Roman baths were being re-excavated the last time I was there, and last Friday the area had been cleaned up but is still waiting for some interpretation. The Christians laid claim to the area briefly during the 12 century and again later at the end of the 15th century, Los Reyes Católicos, Ferdinand and Isabella, expanded the fortress to defend their faith against the Moors. This visit I made it over to the far side of the monument, where the high stone walls have the usual round holes carved out to let cannon balls through, in case predators attempt to approach. They make good peep-holes these days through which one can view the lovely Almería harbor. But the cross on the top of the cannon hole serves as a good means of reminding modern visitors that it is not the Muslims alone who have waged holy wars.