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Monday, March 26, 2018

Zamora's Medieval Treasures: Holy Week

The monument to the Merlú (an important Holy Week rite)
welcomes visitors to Zamora's Plaza Mayor.
Photo 2017 Jessica Knauss 
I was raised in the American secular/Protestant tradition, so when Spanish people ask me about Easter, I tell them it's a single day when we bite the ears off chocolate rabbits. (I briefly lament how unimportant Easter has become in Awash in Talent, Part III.) On the other hand, when I ask Zamorans about Easter, they usually launch into thirty minutes to an hour of rapturous memories and excitement for this year's processions, ceremonies, and music with strong recommendations about which events not to miss for any reason.

Zamorans participate in a mock funeral procession for the Burial of the
Sardine, Ash Wednesday. Absurdity to kick off Lent.
Photo 2018 Jessica Knauss 
This is the first time I will be in Spain for all of Semana Santa (Holy Week). (Yes, Easter lasts a lot longer than one day in Spain.) I was laid low by what I hope is my final bad cold of the year during Carnival, though I was able to see the Burial of the Sardine, the final nuttiness before the strict sobriety of Lent.

The Brotherhood of the Holy Burial was
founded in 1593.
Photo 2017 Jessica Knauss 
Honestly, Lent in Zamora hasn't seemed that dreary. It's at least partially because everyone's so stinkin' excited about Holy Week! I had to find out more about the origin and meaning of these celebrations! My research included talking to Zamorans, library books that are, for the most part, poems in praise of Holy Week, and a visit to the Holy Week Museum. This is how beloved this "week" is: Holy Week lasts more than one week! It begins on the Thursday before Palm Sunday, known as Passion Thursday, and continues through Easter, and I've even had some inklings that it might go on through the Monday or Tuesday after.

Processional crosses give me a strong medieval vibe.
All photos in the Holy Week Museum 2018 José Pablo Palencia Morchón 
In the Middle Ages, the Church sought out ways to get the message to the lay population. How could regular people take part in a text-based religion when hardly any of them could read? In northern Europe, Passion Plays and Mystery Plays took hold because the people put themselves in the holy roles. These traditions survived the Protestant Reformation because there are no images involved, only flesh-and-blood people acting as obvious proxies.

Redención by famous float sculptor Mariano Benlliure, 1931
Holy Week Museum 
In Spain, lay people get involved in reenacting scripture using the images--sculptures and crosses--in their churches. The first evidence we have of Holy Week in Zamora comes from a thirteenth-century text written by Alfonso X's brother indicating that Zamorans had a tradition of "making presentation of Our Lord" on Palm Sunday. What does this mean? It's likely they were already doing what they did yesterday, which was this year's Palm Sunday: carrying a beloved statue of Christ through the streets of Zamora. The first such processions might have been as simple as some of the iconography we see in Alfonso X's Cantigas de Santa María: a church official carrying a small image with few adornments, surrounded by clerics and laity, probably singing and dancing.

Christ of the Lagoon, 16th century
Holy Week Museum 
Enthusiasm spread rapidly, and by the fourteenth century, the first cofradías (brotherhoods) were founded. These societies, first formed according to medieval guild occupations, are associated with a church, or more specifically with one of a church's images. On the appropriate day of Holy Week, according to whether they have a Virgin of Sorrows, a Crucifixion, or any number of other saints or scenes, it's the brotherhood's responsibility to take their image out in procession, normally on an elaborate float. The oldest such float I saw in the Holy Week Museum is from 1522.

Gethsemane with realistic leaves that rustle in the breeze
Holy Week Museum
During the busiest days, several brotherhoods can undertake multiple processions at any and all times of day. Most processions leave from their home churches, but some leave from the Holy Week Museum where the float is on display.

The Last Supper, 20th century
Holy Week Museum 
The floats, mobile works of art, can portray any and all Biblical scenes having to do with the Passion, and can have anywhere from a single half-sized statue to a crowded life-sized Crucifixion with thieves, Romans, and Mary Magdalene, to a Last Supper complete with table settings for thirteen. There is usually plenty of room on the sides of the float for candle holders and bouquets of fresh flowers. Some floats have evolved special features such as crucified Christs with articulated arms so that they can be taken from the cross and placed in a tomb. The floats must balance decorative exuberance with the width of the church door and the narrowest street on their processional routes as well as weight distribution.

Underneath the float, neck pads for the float bearers
Holy Week Museum 
Weight distribution is important because the floats are carried on the necks of the brothers (cofrades--women can do it, too, in some brotherhoods). The role of float bearer involves physical strength and sacrifice as well as anonymity because the most spectators will see during the procession are their well-shined shoes.

My WTF face upon discovering that some floats travel on wheels
Holy Week Museum 
Given what I know about float bearers, and the penitent interpretation I gave them, I was disappointed to find, in the Holy Week Museum, that some floats move along on wheels.

The costume of each brotherhood stands next to its float in
the Holy Week Museum. 
There are always more brotherhood members outside the float to accompany it along the route. Here we come to the most potentially disturbing sights of Holy Week. While one Zamoran surmised that because the images are often covered in gore, they might frighten children from other countries such as the United States, I think it's the cloaks and headdresses the members wear that are sure to strike the wrong note with an unprepared American.

Costume of the Brotherhood of the True Cross
Holy Week Museum 
The idea behind the brotherhood costumes was that the members are marching in penitence. If people in the street could see who they were, it would be like bragging, literally taking a "holier than thou" attitude. Therefore, many of the brotherhoods use capes to cover recognizable clothing, and a hood that includes a cone to disguise the wearer's height. A certain radical group in the United States understood the advantages of anonymity as they carried out their acts of violence and hatred and appropriated the costume without permission. Holy Week celebrants all over Spain don't have to change their traditional costume because one notorious group in a foreign country uses it for evil. Even knowing all that, some of the costumes are hard to get used to.

This brotherhood's costume is based on shepherds' cloaks.
Holy Week Museum 
On the other hand, some brotherhoods use cloaks derived from their original occupations in the Middle Ages and early modern times. They often have intricate embroidery, and anyone could say they're gorgeous.

Holy Week Museum
Some special roles in the procession, such as carrying certain crosses, are so desirable that a brotherhood member must put his name down before he's even taken first communion and might be allowed to fulfill that role when he's in his forties or fifties.

Holy Week Museum 
These traditions appear to have survived intact since the thirteenth century. However, Holy Week fell into neglect during the nineteenth century because of a statewide expropriation of Church possessions. It made a spectacular comeback at the end of the nineteenth century because of organizations like Zamora's Pro-Holy Week Society. This society runs the Holy Week Museum and provides all kinds of other support for Zamora's most convivial week of the year.

Veronica at the Holy Week Museum 
King Felipe II (a serious dude who reigned 1556-1598) admonished the Bishop of Zamora against the way Holy Week was being carried out at the time: "There is great disorder in the churches during processions and young people go about with too much ease and disrespect... At the temple doors, in the streets and plazas where most people gather, they spread out delicacies on boards to break the fast... When they come to watch the night processions, some take advantage of the dark to commit dissolute evils, so that these are the days when God is most offended."

A shop displays its Holy Week wares. Note the folding seat
for when you're waiting hours and hours for a procession to come by.
Photo 2018 Jessica Knauss
In spite of the royal warning, and its modern somber appearance, this spirit of fun has carried through to present day Holy Week. Every Zamoran I spoke with thought of it as a time to get together with friends they've had since forever to eat, drink, sing, and have a lot of fun. My anecdotal evidence indicates that a majority hardly treats it as a religious event at all.

Buy your kiwis and get the scoop
on Holy Week happenings.
Photo 2018 Jessica Knauss 
Hundreds of years ago, the Church was highly successful in getting the lay public involved in Easter. Holy Week turned abstract concepts into tangible acts people could witness with their own eyes and even participate in. One solid sociological theory suggests that community is built through shared ritual. Even if it's lost most of its religious significance, these community bonds are stronger than ever after centuries of wild enthusiasm for these group efforts.

Another shop displays its Holy Week wares.
Photo 2018 Jessica Knauss
The most touching phenomenon I've discovered about Holy Week in Zamora (declared international touristic interest in 1986, UNESCO world immaterial cultural heritage in 2015) again has to do with its many brotherhoods. In other cities, rivalries spring up between brotherhoods and tint the "week" with a competitive (in my mind, negative) streak. In Zamora, no such rivalries exist. Many people are members of multiple brotherhoods. This would be impossible anywhere else, I'm convinced. I'm so proud to be in Zamora for Holy Week. It's sure to be unforgettable.

Recruitment poster for one brotherhood
at a Zamora bus stop
Photo 2018 Jessica Knauss 
Happy Easter!

Monday, March 19, 2018

Zamora's Medieval Treasures: Romantic Ruined Castrotorafe

The structures at Castrotorafe were made with red Zamoran bricks.
All photos in this post 2017 Jessica Knauss 
Castrotorafe's complex history highlights even further the sense of past glory evoked by contemplating its ruins. It's not just Castrotorafe Castle that's fallen into disrepair. The entire village was declared a ghost town as early as the seventeenth century.

The land had been settled since time immemorial, enjoying special prosperity during Roman times because of its position on the Silver Road between Mérida and Astorga. It's still a stop on one of the pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela, and when I was there, our tour group spotted two lone pilgrims.

The Esla River, which has a history with another impressive monument, sustained human populations here for thousands of years.

Much of the town wall survives, giving an impression of a vast fenced-in territory.

In the twelfth century, Castrotorafe entered and fell out of royal favor, with the first documentary evidence granting a town charter. A later expropriation perhaps occurred as punishment after the people of Castrotorafe sided with Portuguese separatists.

The current castle was likely built by Don Juan, one of Alfonso X's sons, who declared himself King of León in spite of his brother Sancho's status as King of Castilla y León.

The town and its castle belonged at different times to the Order of Santiago and to various nobles, all of whom ended up disappointing their kings.

In 1475, the town was taken by forces against Isabel la Católica's rule. By promising Castrotorafe to the Mayor of Zamora, Isabel finally prevailed.

Castrotorafe's long history came to an end sometime after the wars of Castilian succession. In 1688, we find the first written notice that the town had been abandoned and was in need of repair.

In the nineteenth century, Napoleonic troops bothered to sack the church when they passed through. That's the last time Castrotorafe was sideswiped by history. Various organizations are trying to prevent further deterioration at the site, but in 2010, one of the castle towers fell.

The recent drought has created long swaths of dried-out ground cover, and Castrotorafe likely won't be suitable for picnicking without mouthfuls of dust until the rains return. Even more than Castillo de Alba, the ghost town of Castrotorafe evokes a distant past never to return.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Zamora's Medieval Treasures: Romantic Ruined Castillo de Alba

A corner of Castillo de Alba's homage tower overlooks Ricobayo Reservoir
All photos in this post 2018 Jessica Knauss 
I'm pleased to report that I've seen more than ten castles since I arrived in Castilla y León in the middle of September 2017. Yes, there are so many castles here that it's hard to keep count! I've seen beautifully maintained Gothic masterpieces of defensive architecture and lovingly restored bulwarks of several different architectural schools. But the castles that give you the most immediate sense of the passage of time are those that have fallen into ruin.

In this post and the next, I present two ruined castles of Zamora province. Whether they provoke wistful nostalgia for what's gone, a Romantic remembrance of a brave past, or just seem like good places for a picnic, there's no denying that ruined castles present a unique pleasure when you get to climb around on them. In the case of Castillo de Alba, the climbing is literal.

Castillo de Alba is perched on a hill tucked into a valley. To get the full effect, you have to feel a cool breeze on your cheek and hear the shepherd calling gruffly as his sheep move along to the symphonic tones of their bells. I'm not exaggerating. That's what I experienced while taking this picture.

Every area of Castilla y León has a signature stone fence style. Looking at this one, there's no mistaking we're in Alba y Aliste.

The name Castillo de Alba (Alba Castle) might lead to some confusion, as a village that grew up in the castle's shadow is also called Castillo de Alba. The fertile hills and valleys of this area have been occupied by humans since pre-Roman times, and the current castle of Castillo de Alba was first constructed in the twelfth century as an important defense on the border with Portugal on the site of a Neolithic fort. In the thirteenth century, Alfonso IX of León granted the castle to the Knights Templar, and they held it until the crown took it back to grant it to a noble dynasty. Finally, Enrique IV of Castile and León created the County of Alba y Aliste and declared the castle its seat in 1489.

The town of Castillo de Alba seen from the castle 
You approach the castle via a steep and picturesque mountain trail.

At the top of the trail, you're confronted with the largest surviving chunk of the castle, which used to be one of the towers. Its imposing robustness gives the sense that the people who constructed this castle wanted you to stay away!

Looking closer, you see the modern caretakers want you to stay away, too! And with good reason. Rocks are falling off the castle structure at random moments and the approach is steep and inhospitable, such that if you aren't an experienced climber, you might get stuck on top of the castle and have to be rescued.

Luckily, I was with a Castilian who is apparently part mountain goat, and I made it to the top of the castle and back down again to show you these photos.

Inside the most intact tower, it's a Romantic tangle of overgrown nature.

The castle has an irregular floor plan that adapts to the hillside that protects it so well.

A lot of the outer walls remain. It's sometimes not easy to distinguish what is construction and what is natural rock formation.

This sliver of corner is all that remains of the homage tower.

The castle became neglected when the border with Portugal stabilized and noble and royal interests focused elsewhere. Rest assured, Romantic warriors! It was never defeated or destroyed by humans.

Next week, not just a castle, but an entire ghost town!