Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Procession of Pain in León, Spain, Stayed Mainly in the Rain

To be totally honest, I was so certain that Friday night's single procession, marking the beginning of Holy Week, would be cancelled, that I had already written another article for today. The forecast was calling for a one hundred percent chance of rain at 8:00 p.m., the time the procession was scheduled to begin. When I left home with my camera a half hour earlier, light rain was already falling.  Then, as I got to the Church of Our Lady of the Market and the Road (Iglesia Ntra. Sra. del Mercado y del Camino), the narrow medieval streets were so crowded with umbrella wielding by-standers that it was impossible to get to the front of the church. There were only maybe a thousand people, but in narrow streets with hundreds of open umberllas, navigation and visibility were virtually impossible.  Sardines are not packed so tightly.  I honestly wonder how many people may have been admitted to the emergency room Friday night due to umbrella-related blindness in one or both eyes.

As I had neglected to bring an umbrella from the United States, my mother-in-law, María Rosa, was kind enough to lend me an oversized pocket umbrella.  It was bright pink, with little light pink flowers stretched in a field along the center. Unfortunately, both my hands were necessary to control my camera, and I never got to use it.  At least, I'm not guilty of putting someone's eye out.

The street was lined with the faithful despite the rain and the promise of heavier rain.  (You can click on photographs in this blog for a larger view.  Hit the "escape" or "esc" key to return to nornal viewing.)

This was the first of the processions of León's Holy Week, Procesión de Dolorosa (Procession of Pain) which always takes place one week before Good Friday on Viernes de Dolores (the Friday of Pain; in English, also known as the Friday of Sorrows.)  The procession marks the start of the ten day Semana Santa, or Holy Week, not only in León, but also throughout Spain. It recalls the pain and suffering of the Virgin Mary throughout the Passion. Of the 33 processions in León during Holy Week, the Friday of Pain is the only day that a single procession takes place.  Unfortunately, the weather in León is unpredictable, and with more than thirty processions, it is inevitable that some will be the victims of weather during the ten days.

At 8 o'clock when I saw no movement and heard no music, I was sure the procession would be cancelled.  The light rain was becoming heavier. Then, a few minutes later, I heard bells ringing and could tell there was movement at the front of the church.  Despite the downpour, and from a distance, I finally saw the cross of the one paso (religious float) sticking out above the umbrellas.  It swayed from side to side for several minutes.  I thought it likely that they would stay in front of the church for a few minutes, just to make a showing without cancelling the event; then they would return inside. But after a while, the procession moved forward through the street and I could hear the band moving in front of it.

In this procession, medieval hoods do not hide the identities of the participants.

Eventually, I worked my way through the streets and found a spot where the procession would pass by.  The soaked musician came first, followed by ladies carrying candles that somehow stayed lit. At the end came the paso, with the representation of the Virgin Mary, covered in plastic.  The procession turned a corner, and it was obvious they had turned back toward the Church.  The procession would soon be over,  hours earlier than scheduled, but they at least had made a showing for the umbrella-bearing faithful.

The paso depicting the Virgin Mary sorrowfully holding the body of her son was covered in plastic to protect it from the rain.  Some pasos date back hundred of years and cannot be exposed to the harsh weather.

Because of the plastic covering, it was impossible to view the beauty of the paso.  The procession soon turned a corner and headed back to the Church.

After such a procession, the crowds huddled into bars for drinks and tapas.  My mother-in-law and I met friends at la Rincon de los Gauchos, a well-know tapas bar, and had wine and an excellent garlic soup for tapas.

We enjoyed wine and garlic soup as my camera dried out.

As I'm writing this the following morning, snow is falling outside, but melting as it hits the ground.  There are five processions scheduled for tonight.  We will see what happens.

The view outside my window as I write this blog entry.  It's hard to tell, but the white splotches you see against the road are falling snowflakes.

I will be blogging about Holy Week from León and much more in the upcoming days.  If you would like to follow along and receive a notification when a new post appears, please subscribe by clicking here and entering your email address.

You can view my fine art photography website at:

This blog has been named one of the top 75 fine art photography blogs on the planet.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Keeping Traditions Alive: Holy Week in León, Spain

Last night, I was out with family and friends, doing what many in León do during the evening.  We were enjoying drinks and tapas in the barrio húmedo (drinking district).  Our first stop was Ezequiel, a restaurant/bar on the main street of the city that specializes in Spanish ham, chorizo, and other fine Spanish meats.

Ezequiel keeps Holy Week alive all year long by displaying on its walls the hoods of the various religious brotherhoods that sponsor the Easter processions.  At the invitation of Eduardo de Paz, I will participate in two processions during Holy Week.  Eduardo is one of the prime figures in organizing the processions, and is the founder of the Brotherhood of the Seven Words of Christ on the Cross.

Some of the hoods of the religious Brotherhoods on the wall at Ezequiel.  The center hood is from the Brotherhood of the Seven Words of Christ on the Cross.  I will wear a hood like this in two processions, one on Wednesday, and another on Good Friday.  (You can click on images in this blog for a larger view.  Hit the "Escape" or "esc" key to return to a normal view.)

More hoods of the various Brotherhoods.

My mother-in-law, María Rosa, showed me her framed display of the habits and hoods worn by the various Brotherhoods in León. Each Brotherhood has its own papon (habit and hood).  The styles are traditional from the middle ages.

This should give you a better idea of what a procession looks like.  Again, this the the Brotherhood of the Seven Words of Christ on the Cross. (2016)

After leaving Ezequiel, we went to another restaurant, La Taberna for glasses of wine and  big bowls of garbanzo soup as the tapas.  Before I had finished my wine and soup, one of the members of my party told me that Eduardo was in the back of the bar.  I was surprised to run into him on my first full day in León, but there he was with other members of his Brotherhood. While I didn't ask, they were obviously planning for the Holy Week ahead, but Eduardo stood and greeted me with great affection.  He explained that if I was willing, I would participate in two processions, on Wednesday night marching, and on the night of Good Friday helping to carry one of the pasos (giant religious floats) in the procession.  This is a great honor to which I'm looking forward.

I (right) ran into Eduardo de Paz (left) by chance on a tapas outing my first full day in León. Several months ago, Eduardo invited me to participate in the processions of the Brotherhood of the Seven Words of Christ on the Cross.

When I was here two years ago, I did an interview with Eduardo, then 81, about the significance of the processions.  Rather than making you click on a link to get to it, I'm repeating the blog entry below in it's entirety because if you're not familiar with the processions, their origins, and history, I believe it will lay the groundwork for a better understanding of some of the blog posts to come.

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The Holy Week Processions of León -- Faith and Optimism for the Future 
(originally published March 23, 2016: two years ago today)

At 81 years of age, Eduardo de Paz is known as a gentleman of quiet and profound faith.  The twelve brotherhoods he serves respect him as a leader, a source of knowledge, wisdom, and strength.  Over the years, he has witnessed decades of change: sometimes for better, sometimes worse.  

 Eduardo de Paz has been a member of the religious brotherhoods of Spain for 69 years.  He is a member of six brotherhoods in León, two in Malaga, two in Seville, one in Madrid and one in Saragosa.  He founded one of the most important brotherhoods in 1962. (You can click on photos in this blog for a larger view.)

“We are now in a bad time,” he says.  “There is a lack of religion.” 

Then, just as quickly, he expresses optimism. “In time, people will be more involved,” he pronounces.  “Of that, I am certain.”  He explains that the processions he has been a part of since the age of 12 are tools for teaching.  In centuries past, the gigantic religious floats (pasos) portraying the Biblical story of death and resurrection were the media of their time.  They told the story of Easter in a way that mere words could never express.  Today, he says, they continue to serve the same purpose.  They create an excitement and inspire people to participate; they introduce people to the brotherhoods and traditions.

Many hours are spent preparing, cleaning, repairing, and assembling pasos (floats) for the processions.

Those who become members of the brotherhoods treasure the experience.  A father often registers his son into the brotherhood upon his birth.  One of Eduardo’s son’s, Eduardo has achieved the honor of Hermano de Oro (Brother of Gold) for 50 years in the brotherhood.  The other son, José Luis will achieve the honor next year when he turns 50, also having a half century in the brotherhood.

 Eduardo's grandson, Jorge de Paz helps his grandfather into the robes that are unique to his brotherhood. Jorge was registered into the brotherhood upon his birth by his father, José Luis.

Eduardo poses in front of the Basilica of San Isodoro with Gonzalo González Cayón, the Abad (President) of another brotherhood, founded in 1572.

Eduardo, who founded the Cofradía de las Siete Palabras de Jesús en la Cruz (Brotherhood of the Seven Words of Jesus on the Cross) in 1962, says that the people of León take the processions very seriously.  Almost every family will have someone involved.  Thousands, young and old, men and women, will march in the processions. Those who participate will not only help bear a float or play a musical instrument, they will also have an opportunity to pray and become more involved in religion.  Spectators, too, continue to be drawn to the spectacle of a procession, with some drawing tens of thousands of onlookers.  Holy Week is the busiest time of the year in León.

 This paso being prepared for a procession is dedicated to Eduardo, who was the first Abad (President) of his brotherhood. He remain an honorary Abad.

A plaque on the processions honors Eduardo for his service to the brotherhood.

Eduardo explains that the processions of Malaga and Seville are flashier, with many pasos displaying an excess of Baroque gilding, silver, and embellishments. Maybe, he says, this is why the processions of the South are better known. In the North, he declares, people are more serious and tend to favor less ornate pasos.  While still having its share of golden platforms and ostentation, the pasos of León are just as often made of beautifully carved wood without the excess of ornamentation.

Thirty-six processions are conducted over the ten days of la Semana Santa (Holy Week), some small with only a few hundred participants, others huge with many thousands actively involved.  When I asked Eduardo about the future, he was as optimistic as ever.  While the brotherhoods and processions evolve to meet the needs of their times, he does not see a time when processions will not continue to serve the faithful.  

A moonlight procession much as it might have looked one hundred years ago, and as it may appear one hundred years from now.

When I asked Eduardo if processions will still be flourishing in 100 years, he responded, “Certainly!”

I will continue reporting on Holy Week in León as the week progresses.

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I will be blogging about Holy Week and much more during the upcoming days.  Please subscribe to my blog by clicking here is you would like to be updated when there is something new.

This blog has been named one of the top 75 fine art photography blogs on the planet.


Thursday, March 22, 2018

Murals: Street Art in León

When I was in León, Spain last summer, I photographed a mural adjacent to the famed Gothic cathedral in the city's center.  I had my iPhone with me and it served very well to produce an image that has since received some attention and been featured in an exhibition at the Shrode Gallery at the Mitchell Museum in Mt. Vernon, Illinois.

Modern and Medieval:  This image was taken in the summer of 2017.  My iPhone was ideal for producing this wide angle view. (You can click on images in this blog for a larger view.  Hit the "Escape" or "esc" key to return to normal viewing.)
As I walked about the city's center yesterday afternoon, I returned to la Calle de las Palomas (Street of Doves) to see if the mural was still there.  It was.  There were also two other murals that I hadn't photographed at the time, one of a lion, and in the center, famed boxer Muhammad Ali.  I had my Nikon D7200 with me this time and photographed all of the images on the three adjacent walls.

A closer shot.

The lion mural is directly across from the painting of the man with the Afro and comb.

The image of Muhammad Ali is in the center of the other two murals.
When I was in León for Holy Week in 2016, there was another work of street art near the Church of Santa Nonia.  I've walked most of the streets of central León.  There may be other major works of street art, but if so, I haven't found them.

I photographed Eyes of Santa Nonia on the morning of a Holy Week procession in 2016.  When I was here last summer, it had degraded considerably, but was still there.  Street art is ephemeral and  must be enjoyed while it is there.  Photography helps preserve it.
I will be blogging about Holy Week and much more during the upcoming days.  Please subscribe to my blog by clicking here is you would like to be updated when there is something new.

You can view my fine art photography website at:

This blog has been named one of the top 75 fine art photography blogs on the planet.


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Good Timing and Blue Skies Are Good Signs for Easter

I arrived in Madrid yesterday morning.  I flew in from Chicago. My mother-in-law, María Rosa, flew in from Guatemala.  However, our timing was excellent! 

Despite the size of Madrid's Barajas airport, despite the large crowd going through baggage pickup and customs, my mother-in-law was the first person I saw as the automatic door to Luggage Carousels One through Six slid open.  She had already retrieved her suitcases, and within a couple of minutes, I had mine.  Two years ago when I came for Easter, it was the same; she was among the first I saw when I entered the luggage area.  She had been scheduled to arrive a couple of hours before me, but various delays put us together at the most opportune time.

It could have been worse, I assure you, much worse.

Had I chosen to go on the same flight  one day earlier, it would have been a disaster.  My plane was scheduled to depart for Madrid at 5:30 p.m.  However, I arrived at Chicago's O'Hare Airport at about 10 a.m.  I was surprised that there were about a hundred travelers in line before me and the airline desk hadn't even opened yet. An employee of the airline told me that these were passengers from the previous day's flight, which had been cancelled due to mechanical problems.  She suggested it would be quite a while before passengers for today's flight would be served, and that I might enjoy waiting in the Starbuck's on the lower level.  When I returned an hour later, there were a couple of hundred more people waiting in line, and there was still no one at the counter to serve them.  As I watched, more and more people kept arriving and the line kept getting longer and longer.

Passengers of a delayed flight that I was fortunate not to be on. (You can click on photos in this blog for a larger view.  On a full size computer hit the "Escape" or "esc" key to exit full size.)
To make a long story short, when I finally went through the security gates after 3:00 p.m., those passengers from yesterday's flight were still waiting.  Before I boarded my on-time flight, I heard someone say that parts for the plane still hadn't arrived and that the poor passengers would be delayed for a second day.  I felt very fortunate, indeed, not to have chosen to leave a day earlier.

María Rosa and I took a bus from Madrid to León, in the north of Spain, where she has an apartment.  Since I didn't sleep on the plane, my moments of consciousness during the five hours on the bus were few.  However, at one moment, I awakened to look out the window and see that we were surrounded by recently-fallen snow.

A view out the bus window somewhere between Madrid and León.
We arrived in León just before 4:00 p.m.  I opened my eyes just before we pulled into the bus station, and was surprised to see sunshine and clear streets.  For me it was a promising sign that the weather might hold out for the upcoming Easter processions, which can easily be cancelled because of inclement weather.  As I was planning my trip, most of the extended forecasts had called for snow or rain in León.

This is the view from my mother-in-law's apartment window last night.  Note the crescent moon and the clear skies.

The same view of the Plaza de la Inmaculada this morning.  The skies are blue and the temperature is 41 degrees F. (5.5 degrees C.).
The extended forecasts still calls for rain and even more snow over the next few days, but this isn't stopping the people here from preparing for the amazing Holy Week processions that occur the ten days leading up to Easter.

A Legos model of a Holy Week procession in a shop window near my mother-in-law's apartment is a tradition in León. The scene changes from year to year.  The shop was closed when I went by in the early afternoon, and the shop lights above the display were not lit.  I'll return for better photos when the lighting is better.
A closeup of the window scene.

I'll also be writing more about food and the amazing tapas here in León.  The city has been named: Capital Española de la Gastronomía 2018."  Or in English: 2018 Gastronomic Capital of Spain. (See my post from October of 2017). It's only my first full day in León, but that hasn't stopped me from having a drink and trying out some tapas.

These tapas of toasted bread, cheese, meat and other toppings served at the Cambalache restaurant are typical of what you might get when you order a drink.
This baked ravioli is another of the tapas at the Cambalache.
This red wine is a Rioja.  Rioja is one of the great wine producing regions of Spain.  If you order a glass like this, the cost is only about 1 Euro ($1.25), and you get a tasty appetizer (tapas) like those above at no additional cost.
As I said, I'm hoping that good timing and blue skies are good signs, but come rain or shine, I'll be blogging about Holy Week, tapas, and much more over the next three weeks.  If you don't want to miss any of my blog entries, please enter your email to subscribe to my blog.  You will automatically be updated when I post something new.  Also, feel free to make comments below.

You can view my fine art photography website at:

This blog has been named one of the top 75 fine art photography blogs on the planet.


Thursday, March 8, 2018

Being There: Easter is Coming -- So, I'm Going to Spain...

I have been honored in a way that few Americans might understand.

I've been invited to march in one of Spain's traditional (and amazing) Holy Week processions.  To put it in perspective, for me, this is akin to Eliza being invited to the ball.

But I will participate fully so as to gain knowledge and understanding that can only be achieved through, as Peter Sellers playing Chance Gardner might refer to, as "being there."

I photographed most of the Holy Week processions in León, Spain in 2016.  I will be in León again this year for Easter, not only to photograph these amazing demonstrations of devotion, but also to participate. This is one of the major processions, organized by the Brotherhood of the Seven Words of Christ on the Cross.  It is with this Brotherhood that I have been invited to participate.

I have been both a reporter and photographer at many happenings and events in the United States and throughout the world.  However, viewing an event through a lens or interviewing others about their participation is not the same as experiencing it for yourself.

The Processions start on Friday the week before Easter, with as many as seven processions in a single day, everything ending on Easter Sunday.  They are sponsored by Catholic Brotherhoods, many of them centuries old. The processions take place both night and day.  The robes and hoods date back to the the medieval period.  Hoods were originally worn to protect the identity of the penitents as they carried the heavy religious floats (pasos) on their shoulders.  In this manner, only God would know their identity.

Just as Ernest Hemingway often gained knowledge of what he wrote about by being actively involved (such as volunteering to drive an ambulance in the Spanish Civil War), I hope that changing my viewpoint from that of by-stander to active participant will allow me to gain a much deeper understanding of the processions and what it means to march along directly with the members of a Brotherhood.

Some of those carrying the paso show their devotion to penance by walking the many miles and hours of the procession barefoot, just as my wife's grandfather did almost a century ago.

I will be blogging throughout Holy Week, hopefully with new insight into the processions and rituals, but also about tapas, and more!  If you want a reminder every time I put out a new post, click here and submit your email adddress.  Also, please feel free to post comments.

Tapas are one of my favorite subjects to blog about, so not only will you be getting religion, but also, food!

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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

More Photos from Antigua

I thought I'd share a few more photos from Antigua, Guatemala.

As I mentioned in my last post, the windows of El Sitio are one of my favorite subjects to photograph in Antigua. (You can click on photos for a larger view.  If you're using a computer with a full size keyboard, use arrow keys to toggle through images.  Use the ESC button to exit photo view mode.)

Birds of Paradise and Lilies make El Sitio a perfect subject for photography.
Cherub fountains are all over Antigua.  This one is at the hotel La Quinta de las Flores.
Another fountain at La Quinta de las Flores.

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Monday, January 8, 2018

2018: A Good Start to the Photographic Year

As I mentioned in my last blog entry, I opened the New Year on the Pacific Coast of Guatemala.  Since then, I've spent time in Antigua and Guatemala City.

While I haven't had time to go through all of the photographs I shot, I thought I'd share a few that I've had time to process.

My feet in the black sand of the Pacific coast.  Technically this was shot at the end of 2017, but not processed until I returned from the beach in January.

My family and I had a wonderful breakfast at the Saberico Restaurant in Antigua, Guatemala.  Michael, the owner told us he uses organic and sustainable food.  Everything was also delicious.  This is an amazing restaurant that you don't want to miss.  In addition, I discovered that it had much to offer photographically. The bicycle and lemons were begging for a photo. (You can click on photos in this blog for a larger image).

A wider view of the same scene.

Eggs ready to be made into breakfast at the Saberico Restaurant.

These boots stuffed with plants are at the entrance to the Saberico Restaurant.

Agua Volcano from the rooftops of Antigua.

Antigua chimneys are unique to Antigua and the surrounding area.
Whenever I can, I like to photograph the windows at El Sitio in Antigua.  El Sitio promotes the arts and culture in Antigua.  It is also the site of my first international photographic exhibition a couple of decades ago.
I hope you've enjoyed a few of my first images of the year.  I assure you that there will be more to come.

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