HOW TO ENJOY A SPANISH EASTER

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The Independent Travel
This Coming week is the best time in the whole year to see the Spanish mania for religious festivals in action. A few years ago I was hitch-hiking around Andalucia in early spring when I stumbled across Easter in Cordoba almost by accident.

The evening had suddenly turned warm, as if for my benefit, and I walked down the narrow streets under balconies overflowing with flowers. The Mezquita, its great courtyard full of sweet-smelling orange trees, was taking in the late evening sun.

But when I turned round, I noticed something afoot. Huge crowds sprang up, of children, courting couples and grandmothers eating ice-creams. Then the slow steady sound of a beating drum began, sombre, a funereal note. The first conical hats appeared round a corner, and ghastly, faceless figures, dressed from head to toe in white satin, came marching.

What the hell was this? The Ku Klux Klan? In fact it was a band in uniform joining the dirge, and paving the way for Christ on his cross, mounted on a great sarcophagus of engraved wood, covered by red carnations.

The whole city of Cordoba was out, to see the wobbly carriage of their Lord inching past, supported from beneath by a crew of pallbearers who were being advised on directions by the Guardia Civil, whispering through chinks in the sarcophagus.

The hooded marchers came on and on, carrying candles. But the supreme moment was yet to come: the arrival of the Virgin Mother herself. Heralded by trumpets and horns reedily lifting their tone, the crowds literally gasped in stupefaction at the sight of her trolley as it crept into view.

Like a huge four-poster bed, with canopies held aloft by uprights in the form of silver candelabra, blankets and bolsters of white carnations, and amid it all, the Virgin herself, the whole colossal edifice trundled into view.

Suddenly, the crowd looked nervous: how would their Queen get round this particularly tight corner? The upright supports swayed and swung with growing violence. The older generation crossed themselves with fear.

They needn't have worried. The ship steadied. And then in the Virgin's train come a dozen straight-backed women in black, wearing high lace mantillas. Expressionless - authentically sorrowful - they stepped forward, to be followed by more hoods, more candles.

And so it went on through the night; the marchers and their loads rumbling through the main streets, now standing still, now moving on, ever accompanied by the beating of drums and the solemn devotion of the people of Cordoba.

Jeremy Atiyah

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