Tag Archives: Semana Santa

Favourite Places in Spain, Siguenza in Castilla-La Mancha

“…Sigüenza, ninety miles from Madrid, remains a quiet spot in an empty landscape.  It sits among narrow valleys celebrated by Camilo José Celar in his ‘Journey to the Acarria’”  –  Christopher Howse – ‘A Pilgrim in Spain’

I am sharing with you my favourite places in Spain; last time I was in the north in Cantabria and today I am two hundred and fifty miles south in the town of Siguenza in Castilla-La Mancha…

Click on an image to scroll through the gallery…

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Eye-Spy

CleopatraRock Sculptures St MaloIceland ReyjkavikCatalonia Spain Door DetailSemana Santa Siguenza

 

Looking Back on 2014

Wroclaw Arial View

January always seems to be a good time to go away if you ask me and this year I found some cheap Ryanair flights at only £50 return to Wroclaw, the fourth largest city in Poland and as we had previously been to Krakow and enjoyed it there we quickly the decision was quickly made to visit the historic capital of Lower Silesia.

We enjoyed a wonderful weekend in this charming Polish city and enjoyed it so much that we have made arrangements to go to Warsaw early in 2015.

Semana Santa Holy Week Siguenza 3

Twelve months previously in March 2013 we had travelled to the small town of Sigüenza about one hundred kilometres north east of Madrid on the road to Zaragoza and Barcelona and we liked it so much we decided to return for a second visit.

One of the reasons was to see the  Semana Santa for a second time.  This is one of the most important traditional events of the Spanish Catholic year; it is celebrated in the week leading up to Easter and features a procession of Pasos which are large floats of lifelike wooden sculptures of individual scenes of the events of the Passion.

Ireland Dingle

There is a pub quiz question that comes up regularly and which I always get wrong, which is ‘what is the nearest country to the United Kingdom’ and the answer of course is Southern Ireland or Eire but I always forget about the border with Northern Ireland and blurt out ‘France, it must be France’.  Not surprising then that until now I have never visited the country.

2014 has been a big year for me as I reached the birthday milestone of sixty years and I was planning something special to celebrate the occasion and then some friends asked if we would like to visit Ireland with them and that seemed special enough so we set about making travel plans.

Thomas' Place Kalami Corfu

In 2004 I celebrated my fiftieth birthday with family on the Greek island of Santorini.  On the final night I treated everyone to a birthday celebration meal in a taverna and drank far too much Mythos Beer, Ouzo, and Metaxa Brandy and rashly declared that we would do the same thing in ten years time when I would be sixty.  I went to bed and promptly forgot all about it.

My children didn’t forget.  As 2014 got ever close they kept reminding me about the offer that I had made that night and so eventually I had no option but to deliver on the promise.  Sadly the Boss Bar in Santorini  closed down sometime between 2004 and 2006 and so I needed to find a suitable alternative and decided upon the village of Kalami on the island of Corfu which we had enjoyed a couple of years previously.

Turkey Souvenir Shopping Bag

The end of the Summer usually means the Greek Islands for our travels but this year we were breaking with tradition and although close by to the Dodecanese we were visiting mainland Turkey instead.

At the end of the holiday I drew up a balance sheet of our visit to Turkey.  I had enjoyed the antiquity and the ruins, the temples and the ancient cities; the long walks along the coast; the friendly people; Bodrum; our excellent apartment courtesy of our friends Steve and Kath and the weather.  On the other side of the balance sheet was the dogs, the litter and IMX Travel but overall I declared the holiday a resounding success and look forward to returning to Turkey as soon as the travel itinerary allows.

Budapest Travel Group

At the end of the year we travelled with friends  to Hungary and its capital city Budapest.  We had been before in 2007 but only for a couple of days which wasn’t nearly enough time to see the sights of this magnificent city so had no objections to going back for a second time.

Budapest was an absolute revelation, I had not been expecting anything so grand, it was easily as good as Vienna and in my opinion much better than Prague, the scale of the city eclipses Bratislava and Ljubljana and I liked it as well as any other city I have visited.

2014 has not been our most prolific travelling year – that was in 2007 when we managed to get away somewhere twelve times, once every month.  Airline tickets were cheaper then and we didn’t have grandchildren so I doubt we will doing that again soon.

Just six overseas trips this year and oddly, although I often say that I won’t go to the same place twice this year half of our travels were to places that we had enjoyed previously – Sigüenza, Corfu and Budapest and I think we will try and avoid repeat visits in the future if we can.

So now the serious business of planning for 2015 really begins.  We will start with a city trip to Warsaw in February and then see where the rest of the year takes us…

Travels in Spain – Sigüenza and the Spanish Civil War

Siguenza Cathedral Civil War Mortar Damage

“Does the bloodshed of 1936 mean that the traveller can no longer relax at a café table in Sigüenza?  If so he cannot relax anywhere in Spain.”  –  Christopher Howse – ‘A Pilgrim in Spain’

After a long day in the car no one said a great deal but I am fairly certain everyone was pleased to be back in Sigüenza.  It was late afternoon and the sun was still shining so we did the obvious thing and walked to the bar on the Plaza Mayor and ordered some beers.

As the memory of the pointless journey began to slip into instant obscurity and as we sat and chatted amongst ourselves I looked around the Plaza and paid more attention to the details.  The colonnaded façade of the Town Hall, the weathered stone symbols over the doors – the heraldic emblems of previous owners, the street signs, the metal railings and the stonework of the tall cathedral as it began to cast its shadow as the sun shifted position in the sky.

Siquenza Cathedral South Tower

We were sitting close to the South Tower which reaches into the blue and has small-fortress like windows at regular intervals and the description fortress-like is rather appropriate because they bear the marks of shell damage inflicted on the building in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War. The Battle of Sigüenza took place from 7th August 1936 to 15th October 1936 and although it seemed difficult to imagine this peaceful and languid afternoon there was heavy fighting here then.

Sigüenza occupied an important strategic geographical position in a narrow valley on the main road and railway line between Madrid and Aragon and Catalonia.  This is not a surprise, the Romans, the Moors and the Catholic Monarchs of the Reconquista had all previously fortified this place.

Early in the conflict the town had fallen under the control of the Nationalist insurgents but was liberated by Republican loyalists in late July and the town came under the control of the left-wing extremist ‘Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification’ or POUM (a Trotskyisk organisation allied to the Left Opposition in Moscow against Stalin) and the Anarchist elements of the Republican army who were a dangerous and incendiary mix of discontented and revolutionary trade-unionists, communists and anti-clerics.

Sigüenza now became a victim of the ‘Red Terror’ which was a period of Republican atrocities during the Civil War including the killing of tens of thousands of people including many members of the Catholic clergy and the desecration, burning and looting of monasteries and churches.  After taking control of the town Republican forces turned their anger against the religious hierarchy and structures, they celebrated their success with a blasphemous procession through the streets and then set fire to the Cathedral of Santa Maria.

During the Civil War twelve Bishops were killed, the first was the seventy year old cleric in Sigüenza, murdered by firing squad along with the Dean and the Chancellor of the Diocese, their bodies burned and hastily buried a couple of kilometres outside the town and left to be discovered by advancing Nationalist troops.  A further sixty or so people quickly suffered a similar fate.

In September the Nationalist army was ready to attack as regulars and crack Foreign Legion troops manoeuvred into position, an air bombardment further damaged the cathedral and the town was completely surrounded.

Reinforcements turned back because of bad weather and failed to arrive and the situation quickly became critical for the defending troops.  Losses were high and eventually the three hundred surviving militiamen and four hundred civilians took refuge and fortified themselves in the Cathedral (I wonder at this point if they regretted burning it down?)  They held out for a week as Franco’s superior forces overran the town but eventually were obliged to surrender, some of the militia tried to make a run for it but they were all gunned down trying to escape.

Siguenza Cathedral Civil War Spain

The Nationalists took control of the town but the Cathedral was almost completely destroyed by a combination of the vandalism of the Republican defenders and the ferocious bombardment of the Nationalist besiegers. It was rebuilt, repaired and restored in the 1940s.

All of this was of course in complete contrast to the serene atmosphere of the late afternoon as families sat together in conversation, young lovers walked hand in hand and visitors stopped every so often to point a camera and eventually the sun began to dip and we finished our second drink and then left and made our way back to the hotel because we hadn’t left ourselves long to change and get ready to come back out again to watch the Semana Santa parade which I previously posted about here.

Semana Santa Holy Week Siguenza 3

Holy Week and the Semana Santa in Sigüenza

Semana Santa Holy Week Siguenza 1

The Semana Santa is one of the most important traditional events of the Spanish Catholic year; it is celebrated in the week leading up to Easter and features a procession of Pasos which are floats of lifelike wooden sculptures of individual scenes of the events of the Passion. 

At the heart of Semana Santa are the brotherhoods, associations of Catholic laypersons organized for the purpose of performing public acts of religious observance and to perform public penance.  They organise the street parades and also undertake many other self-regulated religious activities, charitable and community work.

In Sigüenza the Semana Santa is organised by the Brotherhood of the Vera Cruz which dates from 1536 and whose members carry the heavy wooden sculptures dressed in armour and military uniform from the days of Spanish Empire in Flanders and the Netherlands.

Only a member of the Brotherhood may take part in the Parade and although membership is open to any baptised person there are some complex internal rules that generally limit who can participate in a procession.  Very often these permissions are passed down through families like a precious heirloom and I have read that in some cases it can take many years to be granted a permission – even longer than getting membership of the Augusta National Golf Club in the USA or the surviving Hereditary Peer’s Club at the House of Lords in London.

Semana Santa Holy Week Siguenza 2

The Parade started more or less on time (which is generally rather unusual in Spain) in a dark public park at the bottom of the town and set off slowly in the direction of the cathedral, swaying and sweeping and accompanied by the rhythmic throb of heavy drums and the mournful wailing of trumpets .

First came the men in black cloaks and pointy hats who, although bearing a sinister resemblance to the Ku Klux Klan, in fact precede this rather unpleasant racist organisation by several hundred years, and whose robes are meant to depict the Nazareños or people from Nazareth.  They walked slowly as though their shoelaces were tied together and their conical hoods swayed slightly from side to side as the occupant struggled to see through the two tiny eye slits as they coped with the restricted vision of the hood.

The hoods are called capirotes and were originally designed so that the faithful could repent in anonymity, without being recognised as self-confessed sinners.

After the man who had the responsibility of carrying a rather heavy and unwieldy looking cross came the first of the religious floats, weighing several hundred kilograms each and carried by at least ten strong men who even so had to stop quite frequently to take a breather and rest the floats on wooden poles and on account of these regular stops the progress of the Parade was quite slow.

Semana Santa Holy Week Siguenza 3

The theatrical display of pageantry and celebration moved slowly along a straight flat road but soon turned left and had to tackle a long energy sapping climb up a steep street that led to the cathedral and required ever more frequent stops.  Each time the float carriers set the structure down on their stout wooden poles, breathed a well deserved sigh of relief and took a few moments to recover their composure.  One thing was certain – these things were heavy – very heavy indeed.  Eventually some clever person in command (clever because he was not carrying the heavy lump on his shoulders) tapped a pole on the ground which meant resume carrying position and then tapped it a second time which meant commence walking.

The magnificently presented sculptures were punctuated with bands of drummers who beat out a steady pulsing rhythm in time with the marching of the men in military uniform carrying the pasos and then the penitents in silken gowns of pristine white and occasionally purple flowing around their ankles and they all marched, sometimes shuffled, slowly and in sombre fashion to the top of the hill and eventually to the cathedral square where one-by-one each of the floats were taken inside the main doors and manoeuvred carefully into position on top of the church pews.

Semana Santa Siquenza

Northern Spain – Sigüenza and the Semana Santa

Siguenza Semana Santa 2013

The first Semana Santa (Holy Week) Parade of Easter 2013 was due to begin somewhere close to the cathedral at eight o’clock and because this was something we didn’t want to miss we left the Posada in good time and made our way to the town centre via the Plaza Mayor.

A modest crowd was beginning to form and a one legged crowd control official was hopping about from one side of the road to the other rather like a man trying to herd cats and trying unsuccessfully to make sure people, who mostly interpreted these crowd control measures to be optional, stayed behind the flimsy pavement barriers.

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