One of the things that fascinates me about Spain, and I have touched on it here oft times before is religion.
When I grew up Spain was one of the most staunchly Catholic countries in Europe. Whilst most Spaniards would still probably consider themselves Catholics today, in the same way many Britons would say they were C of E, the fact it the modern Spain is a secular nation.
Coupled with that is the role of the Catholic Church in the pre Civil War years, under the Franco regime and to an extent in the post-dictatorship era. This leaves many Spaniards unwilling to enter a Catholic church or to have anything to do with a clergy so aligned with the Fascist past.
So it is not surprising that on Sundays or high days and holidays the Catholic Churches preach to a few. It is a situation well known in Britain.
However there is a profound change in the nation come Semana Santa when the Easter week parades take to the streets and the crowds flock to see the processions. The same can be said for when a town or village’s patron is duly honoured and the image is carried high to much local devotion.
What makes Spain such a special country is that if a large number of people are gathered in one place then it is seen as reason enough to have a party. Hence fiestas always accompany the days in which the patron is honoured.
Now make no mistake the honouring of the religious patron, be it one of the numerous ‘Virgens’ or a saint, is a serious and devout businesses. There is an unbreakable link between the people of a town, village or even small neighbourhood to their patron, they are ‘familia’ and it would be a foolish man or woman who treated such veneration with disrespect. Yet this devotion should not be confused with organised religion.
I have just been writing up a report on El Burgo in the Serranía de Ronda. There was much consternation in the village last August when during the annual fair the statue of San Agustín fell to the ground and was smashed injuring a woman in the process. The accident happened as those carrying the village’s patron performed a dancing movement accompanied by the municipal band. Apparently the throne on which San Agustín stands rotates to face all points of the compass but last year he crashed at the feet of the villagers before it could be completed. For such a small community of just hundreds this would have been seen as an exceedingly bad omen so it is no surprise that eight months of major restoration work have been undertaken to ensure the statue will be ready to again take to the streets on August 28.
Do the people of El Burgo flock to the church on Sundays? Of course not.
Will they be on the streets on August 28 to venerate their dancing saint? Of course – every one of them.