Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Holy Week Processions of León -- Faith and Optimism for the Future

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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