Holy Week remains undoubtedly the festive cycle lived with deepest religiosity by Catholic and other Christian communities, rituals and processional imagery with a strong medieval flavour serving as visual methodology to emphasize, in a pedagogical manner, basic concepts and precepts of the aforementioned creed or cult.
The celebration of Ash Wednesday and the ‘strewing of ashes’ marked the end of Carnival merrymaking and the beginning of Lent: a period for reflection and fasting. Such religious quarantine commences on Palm Sunday, preluding the penitent character of Holy Week, determined, in turn, by the paschal full moon of Resurrection Sunday.
Along with conventional chief aspects of the Holy Week in our geographic setting, such as religious services, stations, processions, solemn musical environment, and other rituals, we find the human figure of Jesus, who is born, dies and resurrects (sequential trilogy of Nature, Carnival, and the myth of the eternal return, or even human life).
His death is commemorated on Thursday and Friday of Holy Week, celestial beings guarding him on his mortuary journey, remarkable among them an archangel followed by an entourage of innocent angels. Spectacularly represented as a fully armed warrior, the image of the archangel precedes the Lying Christ in the procession of the Holy Burial, showing a defensive attitude, with slow, mechanical movements, as if performing a measured, silent and unhurried dance. That is the lasting version of Archangels Saint Michael and Saint Gabriel in some locations (Segura and Azkoitia in Gipuzkoa), now lost in others (Elorrio in Bizkaia, and Hondarribia and Zarautz in Gipuzkoa).
The representative figure of Christ as the sun (Christmas or the Feast of the Corpus Christi) is at this time of the year overshadowed by the light of the full moon at his death and the subsequent upheaval of eternal darkness. Time after time folks pay tribute and surrender to the four basic natural elements (an idea thought of by the pre-Socratics, and to a certain extent, in confrontation with the pagan notion of a celestial world, an earthly world, and an underground world): water, which takes greater prominence on the following day as beneficial against every hazard; fire, limiting the beginning and end of Easter, its flames subduing all that once occurred; sounds in the air breaking the sacred silence (wind instruments like flutes or tubas, disturbing drums, or disagreeing, chaotic wood sounds, etc.); and earth, represented by protective vegetals in the shape of bouquets or symbolic crosses (olive, laurel, wood, etc.).
All of the above operate against the dark forces of evil and their hordes (pagans, traitor apostles, Jews, Romans, nocturnal or mythological creatures, etc.), branded as guilty or responsible for Jesus’ fateful sacrifice, in the mind of the people, exercising over them their rowdy disapproval, with figurative burning of effigies, and even mocking and joking about their obscure powers. And the apparition of the mutant devil taking the form of a serpent or a dragon is not uncommon; indeed, the children of Lekeitio (Bizkaia) place, with derision and mockery, threads of traditional marshmallow sweets on the long tongue of a dragon, an unfavourable parade besides which the recurrent and omnipotent idea of the figure of death appears, reminding us of the inexorable human destiny.
Josu Larrinaga Zugadi – Sociologist
Translated by Jaione Bilbao – Ethnography Department – Labayru Fundazioa