Saturday, March 22, 2008

Semana Santa procession in Santiago de Compostela

In a winding medieval street in the old quarter of Santiago de compostela, the rain is falling in a misty drizzle and the dark is cut only from the haze of the lights shining from the top of the cathedral. There's a strange silence and few people are on the streets. We walk for a few minutes and gradually feel a rumble through the ground. The rumble grows to an audible, rhythmic, deep bass. As we approach the source of the sound we arrive in a small square, surrounded by the tall shadowy columns of the ancient architecture. A crowd has gathered but is entirely silent. From around the twisted corner the sound is getting louder, and the bass is echoing off the walls. Slowly they appear, walking in procession. A group of twenty or so robed figures, with bare feet and white peaked hoods with holes in the eyes, these hoods bring only one thing to mind and it sends a shiver down my spine. The source of the sound is now also clear. Each hooded processor is armed with a thick metal fork, 6 foot high and, with two prongs at the end. As they slowly walk, in solemn unison, they bang the pitch-forks on the ground, a little slower than the pace of a heart beat, this sound is as terrifying as the image of their disguised faces. On their shoulders is a stage, on top of which is a model of the Virgin Mary. Somehow I feel both terrified and angry at the mix of images I see in front of me. The procession moves on, and with it, the chilling, ritual echoes of the staves on the medieval paving slabs. We're all left in stunned silence, in need of a sit-down and a quiet drink. It feels like we've somehow crossed paths with the same place, a millenium ago. Belief is strong here, and it's left me shaken.

I didn't have my camera and I don't think that a photo would be able to capture the dark atmosphere. This video, doesn't show the full picture, but gives an idea of some of the imagery. I should also note that what has left me shaken is somehow what the imagery has now been linked to. My knowledge of the history of such costumes is sparse and the current stereotype of the white hooded figure leads to prejudice which presumably has nothing to do with what I witnessed yesterday. This is similar to how the Swastika, when seen all around India, feels hardwired in my mind to bring up other, unrelated feelings. I think that it's this misfiring of crossed wires which makes the spectacle somehow more confusing for me.

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