As the anthropologists say, by studying a country´s religion, you get a better understanding of its culture. So what do men in pointed purple hoods marching to the dramatic banging of the drums through the streets of Ibiza old town make of the Spanish culture during “semana santa”, the Easter week?
Since reconquering Spain from the Arabs, the catholic church is one of its biggest strongholds in Spain. The “Catholic Kings” Isabella I and Ferdinand II of Aragon made sure that the power of the Catholic Church became present in all segments of public life embodied in the “holy inquisition”. Centuries later, the fascist leader, General Franco, continued this firm alliance between state and Church, and it is only in the last thirty years that the democratic country has moved away from its religious dogmas from the past. Yet, until today many public institutions are still dominated by the Opus Dei fraternity, a conservative Catholic brotherhood, pursuing the concept of penitence as one of their main pillars. And although Ibiza is one of the most liberal and hedonistic places in Spain today, Easter week is still celebrated with a great deal of emotion here as well. As in other communities all over Spain, Ibiza is following the impressive, and yet glamorous medieval traditions of street processions, which are quite a spectacle for the eyes and the ears. If you have only seen images of processions of Pacha gogos dancing in the streets of Ibiza old town so far, the Easter processions will beam you on quite a different planet.
So where do all these men in conical caps come from?
They have their origins in the brotherhoods of each town and village, which were formed in the medieval ages and for which membership has been handed down from father to son throughout the generations. The penitents mask their identity by wearing a robe and a pointed hood and cluster for the processions to walk solemnly behind the floats carrying almost life-size Madonna statues through the narrow streets of Ibiza old town, D’Alt Vila. These “Nazarenos” as they are called here carry either candles or wooden crosses and sometimes iron chains. The other common feature is that each brotherhood walks behind a heavy wooden float – called “pasos” with a Madonna statue or depictions of the gospels.
Even if you are not religious, the monumental backdrop of the medieval city of Ibiza town, the sinister spectacle and the passionate devotion of its followers, the hypnotical trance-like music, the flickering lights and the beautiful Spanish ladies dressed in their traditional black “mantillas” turn the Easter week processions into something beyond a mere folkloric visual reminder of the dark ages. It is a community embracing their traditions and rituals and trying to preserve their own cultural identity in times, where hedonism and globalisation invade their every day lives.
The Easter processions start on Palm Sunday and continue during Lent week on Thursday, God Friday and Easter Sunday.