The great day ot the Holy Week finally arrives

FRANCISCO CANTALAPIEDRA

Although a good number of processions have taken place in the city centre and in some of its quarters throughout the week, the great explosion of art and religion takes place as from this evening with the commencement of the General Procession. There are many events programmed for the day, although much fewer in number than on previous days. The reasons behind the lower level of activity include the need for all the brotherhoods to prepare for the evenings grand procession, which will take more than three hours. It is possibly the most complete procession in Spain and tells the story of the Passion of Jesus Christ in polychrome wooden images.

Despite the fact that the procession involves all the statues and brotherhoods that take part in Holy Week in Valladolid, there are other activities before the procession that are worth seeing. For example, the announcement given to the members of the brotherhood of Las Siete Palabras (The Seven Words) in the Archbishops Palace. The announcement is read at several places in the city, inviting the faithful to meet in Plaza Mayor at midday. It is also recommendable to go to Plaza Mayor, where representatives of all the brotherhoods, authorities and foreign ambassadors take up their seats to hear the Sermon of the Seven Words, which, according to tradition, was spoken by Christ before He died.

Prize for getting up early. Shortly before 8:30, it is a good idea to go to the area near the Archbishops Palace, where the Archbishop gives the brothers mounted on horseback the parchment they are to then read in a dozen or so places. It is a tradition which, although not particularly old, has found its place in the city, whose traffic level is particularly low today, which makes it possible to hear the horses hooves and the cornet that announces the arrival of the entourage. Many local writers have composed the sonnet that has invited everyone to Plaza Mayor to hear the sermon since 1944. On this occasion, it is the work of the poetess María del Milagro Ortega and it opens with the lines Humanity, you live in anguish / the Word insists on rescuing you. / Today it is distributed on seven pieces / to all from the Cross. Those who get up early can enjoy a coffee with churros at cafeteria Erchus, 50 metres from the former Royal Palace.

What everyone is looking at. At twelve oclock midday, Plaza Mayor is the place to be. The brothers who have read out the sermon enter the Plaza and return the parchment to the man who gave it to them at such an early hour: Ricardo Blázquez, Archbishop of Valladolid since 17 April of last year. He has had the responsibility for the Sermon of the Seven Words, illustrated with statues chosen accordingly and which the brothers present and withdraw as the speaker begins his words. Although it is a purely religious act, it is laden with theatricality and includes notable works, such as the figure of Christ from the statue Madre, ahí tienes a tu hijo (Mother, there is your son), an original piece by Francisco de Rincón, who was the teacher of Gregorio Fernández. While you are there, have a look at the rejuvenated Zorrilla Theatre, today run by the Provincial Council after heavy refurbishment work.

To get your strength back, try the omelette served at La Postal, the elaborate tapas of El Jero (both behind the Post Office) or the squid at La Teja, in Plaza de la Comedia. If you prefer to eat sitting down, try the restaurant Jose (no accent) y Alberto, which serves fantastic dishes of tripe and squid in ink.

A small sacrifice. There are several places and different ways of seeing todays General Procession, which involves 32 statues, 7.000 people and 19 brotherhoods and associations. Personally, I have three favourites: standing, at half past seven in the evening, at the door of the church of Las Angustias, where the entourage forms; a little later, seated in Plaza Mayor; and at around eleven oclock, again standing at the aforementioned church, where three brotherhoods come to bid farewell to the wonderful main statue, which returns solemnly home after the salve and the national anthem. If you choose Plaza Mayor, remember that you have to buy a ticket, a small sacrifice of ¤15, which is non-returnable if it rains because it is actually a donation.

If you need a drink, you can end the day at any of the bars on Pasaje Gutiérrez, an indoor balcony that dates from the 19th century, almost unique in Spain.

Plan for Saturday. As there are no newspapers tomorrow, I recommend the Easter Vigil. Despite its completely religious character, I cannot help but associate it with other more mundane (and even pagan) ideas related to the end of the darkness of winter and the arrival of the light of spring. It is a ritual that starts in the atrium of the cathedral and continues inside for a couple of hours. For me, the culminating moment is when the Archbishop lights the Easter candle (»column of light») on the door and the retinue enters the church while the faithful light their own candlesticks. In the church, there are containers with candles so that those in attendance can follow the ceremony, which remembers the words from the Book of Genesis: «And God said: let there be light and God called the light Day and the darkness He called Night».

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