My first sight of a huge trono (‘throne’ or float) of a scene with a life-sized Christ carrying the Cross, borne on the shoulders of nearly 200 men, was breathtaking.
It had been preceded by two columns of hundreds of people wearing traditional penitential robes, pointed hoods covering the head except for the eyeholes, white gloves and carrying lit, metre-long, thick candles. Some chose to process barefoot. Then I heard the sound of a bell being struck and the trono lurched into view around the corner, the men carrying it moving forward in unison – tightly pressed together, a support beam on one shoulder and the gloved hand of each man on the shoulder of the man in front. The strain of their burden showed plainly on their sweat-drenched faces, and they encouraged each other to keep moving, to keep their strength. Some wore blindfolds, meaning they could not see any progress (however small) in their journey.
Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Malaga was unlike anything I have experienced. Every day and night was different. Life in the city is utterly transformed to allow the processions of tronos to move around the city, preceded by long lines of penitents and accompanied by brass bands. Occasionally an onlooker would break out into spontaneous saetas (flamenco verses in song) as a trono came near. Rose petals would shower down from balconies like red and pink clouds of butterfly wings. There was an air of gaiety and celebration, with special exuberance shown for favourite tronos.
A complex timetable is published, collapsible seating lines the main streets (booked up months in advance), key streets are cordoned off, crowd barriers are erected and people start lining the streets hours before the processions start – and people whose apartments overlook a route have parties so their friends and family can have a wonderful view. There are 42 Confraternidades in Malaga, each of which has a throno of a scene from the Passion of Christ and a throno of Mary – always under a canopy. The processions begin at the home bases of each Confraternidad, (which may or may not be a church depending on the size of the church), the consequence of which can mean the float bearers may carry their burden for up to 8 hours duration; no route was shorter than 6 hours duration; and up to three processions were moving around in the old city at any one time.