Our first excursion into town, because we were staying a fifteen minute bus ride away, was just Ajay and I. We needed to extract cash from the nearest ATM or bank. That was in the city centre, five kilometres away. As we were searching for the bank (we were offline in the city) we stumbled across a statue near the beautiful old church in the centre of town. The statue was a recently erected one with of a person wearing a conical shaped head mask, holding hands with a smiling child. It was very bizarre, given that our only exposure to this type of costume came from American movies where the KKK are involved. We were eager to show our kids this statue and see what they thought of it. But that would have to wait a week, since we were more interested in exploring the beaches near us, than the city centre.
My dearest friend, Vienna, came to Vinaròs for a visit so we made our first family visit to town. The first building we noticed getting off the bus once in the city centre is the big 1500’s built church for Our Lady of the Assumption. I led the kids around the back of the church and casually showed them the statue. Their faces were exactly what we were thinking when we first saw it – a “What the…?!”. Even now, if I bring up this image with my teens they can’t help but smile at the stark contrast of what these costumes mean in Spain compared to what they mean in America.
As we browsed the boutique shops in the central area we noticed little figurines of the statue being sold as souvenirs. There were all sorts of colours: blue, black, red, green. And all of them were carrying a big candle – not a weapon as we had previously thought.
Vienna googled it for us as soon as soon as she had wifi. It turns out that throughout many parts of Spain many people participate in holy processions during Holy Week, where they don these gowns and hoods.
Holy Week is the week leading up to Easter Sunday. Catholics have many services beginning from the Monday, each day, all the way up until Easter Sunday. In Vinaros there are two main processions where different organisations create their own custom colours and participate along with their custom made float.
These hoods were initially designed during the period of the Reformation (from 1400’s) to hide their faces in shame because of the crimes they had committed by speaking out against the Catholic church. They were a sign of humiliation.
Later they became part of a ritual of self-flogging during Holy Week as part of their penance at the end of Lent. The brutality of self-flogging caused this ritual to be outlawed in the 1700’s but the costume and the procession persisted. Now each clan walks with their own float as a sign of honour and respect for the death of Christ, which marks Good Friday.
Although we had the opportunity to see three processions, one was at 5am. None of us were keen to wake up that early. The next one was on a stormy night so we skipped that. We finally made it to the last procession on Holy Thursday.
It began on time with the first group singing a hymn signifying the sadness of the religious occasion. The next group were wearing the hood and cloaks. They surprised us because many of the participants were walking holding hands with their child or carrying a young child. They held an extremely long candle and walked to the beat of a drum. It was a very slow procession and many long pauses as though in mourning or meditation.
As the groups progressed in their different colours, it was more of the same. But each group was carrying their own float that portrayed some part of the Christian story of Jesus’ suffering while carrying the cross or it was a statue to a patron saint. One of the groups had a boat that had Jesus calming the storm with St Peter. They moved rhythmically to the beat of the drum and the carriers would swap shoulders at regular intervals to ensure they didn’t hurt themselves. It was so well organised.
The procession was a beautiful and memorable occasion where the pain of Jesus’ suffering was commemorated with great remorse and sadness. This would definitely be a great experience for any Catholic.