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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Easter (05/30/05)

TITLE: A Protestant in Catholic Spain
By Sally Hanan


The winds of excitement loped across the Spanish mountains and valleys in long legged leaps.

“ Semana Santa (Holy Week) is coming!” they shouted. “Stop your work, prepare your heart. Fast and pray.”

My host family explained to me that the week would be filled with reenactments of the last happenings before Jesus’ death. The town would be bursting at its stitched seams.

Intrigued, I joined the eager crowd on Sunday, that first day of Easter week. Some had waited where I stood for hours to see ‘their’ Virgin pass by. Their anticipation was catching, and as soon as the first waves of music curled around the corner I found myself pushing and peering forward as much as the next person.

At first all I saw were priests, dressed suspiciously like Klu Klux Klan members; covered in long white robes from head to toe, with a colored pointed hood and only their facial apertures showing. I leaned forward more, eager to see what came next, my 35mm Konica grasped tightly in my sweaty hand.

A wooden Jesus appeared, kneeling in prayer in the garden. He was carried on the shoulders of some twenty to thirty barely visible penitents; such was the amount of cloth hanging over the sides of the float. Huge drops of blood poured from his agonized brow as his ‘friends’ lay sleeping. After he passed, the crowd fell silent. I didn’t know why until I saw that ‘Mary’ was coming. Long poles around her held up the canopy that protected her head. Cloth flowed down her back and fell softly over the rear of the float. Everything shimmering bit of gold, silver and rich embroidery shouted of royalty. She swayed with each slow step of her bearers until she stopped in front of me.

“Look at all of the flowers and crucifixes around her,“ my host mother whispered in my ear. I tried to move a little closer, but the crowd was like a cheap florist’s mixed bouquet - too tightly wrapped together. The float was a bed of colorful flora; precisely placed crosses of silver, wood and gold atop.

“That statue is La Dolorosa (Mary in pain). Look at her face. Oh how beautiful!” She crossed herself and wiped away her tears, commiserating with the Virgin in her grief.

I could hear my breathing; silence seemed the only fitting honor we could give to Jesus’ mother. She was blessed among women, yet suffered greatly, yet believed.

A tenor’s voice broke the silence. Puzzled, I looked to where the resonant sound came from. Up on a balcony a man was singing a flamenco love song to La Dolorosa, his wife beaming with pride beside him.

The crowd cheered the serenade, and then, as the effigy returned to its slow motion forward, the street around it filled with adulating worshippers. A horde of hands and lips tried to move closer to touch or kiss the passing sculpture, as if in doing so some of Mary’s blessedness would come into their lives.

My gaze swung to a small group of women walking barefooted behind the float. For some reason they were allowing their feet to experience pain on the cobbled way, as a personal demonstration of penance for their sins. Their legs and the incense bearers’ laden hands swung in time with the orchestra’s sad religious music.

Without knowing why, I found myself caught up in a glut of emotion. As a Protestant I had repeatedly seen my parents’ scorn for the religious icons of the Catholics, yet being there in the middle of such passion, mockery was finally set aside and a degree of understanding attained.

These women understood the pain of a mother. These men understood the pain of a woman. Mary’s son was going to die, and she would never hold her firstborn again.


By Easter Sunday afternoon it was all over.

Emotions had unwound. Tourists slowly began to peter out, more disappearing with each scheduled country village bus. The traveling food vans pulled their metal window covers down, shutting off the server's smile and the smells of fried batter, chorizo and powdered sugar. Each statue was placed with great care back in its church’s chosen corner.

And I? I placed my thoughts and emotions back behind my hard exterior, but I knew that God had softened me within. My heart had been temporarily opened to the beautiful, the spiritual, the wonder of Christian symbolism. It would never be closed quite as judgmentally tight again.

To see some photos of semana santa in Seville, Spain, copy and paste this link into your browser address window http://www.semana-santa.org/ and then click on fotografias.

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This article has been read 1367 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Helga Doermer06/06/05
Sounds like it was a powerful experience. You captured it well in words.
dub W06/08/05
A wonderful story of your experience - very well written. This, with the pictures, should be reprinted in any number of Protestant and Catholic Magazines.
darlene hight06/08/05
This is an awesome entry! Very well done! Very creative!
Debbie OConnor06/09/05
Outstanding writing. It felt like I was there and it sounds like a very powerful thing to witness. I'm off to look at photos. Thanks!
Very vivid and riveting picture of your experience. I think Dub is right about finding a mag for it. Nice job.
Shari Armstrong 06/09/05
A very good description of the scene - Very vivid.
Amy Michelle Wiley 06/09/05
Very vivid descriptions.
Val Clark06/10/05
Yes, it was a great description, reivetting. We do need our preconceived notions challenged.
Suzanne R06/10/05
I could picture it all. I loved your imagery - espeically of the cheap florist's bouqet so tightly packed together, and also the personification of the winds of excitement loping over the mountains. The way you kept the reader looking as a tourist (with your 35mm Konica grasped firmly in your sweaty hand) was great. In fact, everything was excellent. Sounds lifechanging. Thanks for sharing it with us.
Maxx .06/10/05
Ahhh, Sally! I didn't guess that this was yours! Most excellent writing. Very good.
Gabrielle Morgan06/10/05
Loved your story. It transported me back to Madrid where I had the fortune to observe an Easter procession. Also reminded me of when I was in Rome, Italy, with a protestant woman friend who was very much against Catholic idolatory, as she termed it. I took her into a Catholic Chapel with statuary and masterpiece paintings and was surprised to see she was moved to tears. Amazing how the spirit leads!
Joanne Malley06/11/05
Very well done. Coming from a Catholic background I can relate. Thank you for your message that not all symbolism is idolatry--it's just a visual way for some to connect spiritually. I enjoyed seeing the procession with your beautiful descriptions. :)
Sandra Petersen 06/11/05
You caught me with your first sentence and held me throughout. This was so wonderfully worded that my imagination had me standing right beside you. I loved the words that indicated how closely the crowd was packed and the description of the mothers who chose to walk barefooted behind the statue of Mary. Wow!
Lynda Lee Schab 06/11/05
You bridged the gap between two "religions" in a beautiful way. Wonderful writing, as always. I also wouldn't have guessed this was yours. Way to stretch yourself.
Blessings, Lynda
Pat Guy 06/11/05
You made me want to be there! I would love to experience one of the many ways people worship around our world. Every culture has a dimension to contribute to the worship of the God of all creation. Loved it!
Linda Germain 06/12/05
This is powerful and extremely well done. Your descriptions are perfect. Excellent writing!
Linda Watson Owen06/15/05
Sally, this is wonderful! I've had a similar experience when our son married a Catholic girl. The ceremony and church were beautiful beyond words, both spiritually and physically .