Spain's holy parades thrive despite falling faith

Fri Mar 29, 2013 11:50am EDT
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By Fiona Ortiz

SEVILLE, Spain (Reuters) - It is 1 a.m. on Good Friday and thousands of people hush their chatter in Seville's Duque Plaza. A cloud of incense is the only sign of what approaches.

First come the penitents, hundreds of mute figures in cone shaped hoods and long robes. They carry meter-long white candles. Then the centerpiece sways into view - a gilded float with an 18th Century wooden statue of Jesus.

This is The Silence, a brotherhood formed in 1340 and one of the best known of the solemn processions in the week before Easter that are drawing ever bigger crowds despite declining religious faith and Spain's worsening economic plight.

"Some people like football. Some people like bullfights. We like Holy Week," said Manuel Nunez, 30, one of 200 men dressed as Roman centurions to escort an image of the Virgin Mary in Seville's biggest procession, the Macarena, with 3,200 participants. Normally, Nunez works as a Royal Guard in Madrid.

Similar Christian commemorations of the death of Jesus are common throughout Spain and Latin America.

But nowhere is the fervor as intense as in Seville, a city of 700,000 in the Andalusia region of southern Spain.

And the crowds of both onlookers and participants have been growing despite a decline in Catholicism that has led to fewer than half of Spaniards attending church regularly. Some 72 percent described themselves as Catholic in a 2011 survey compared to 82 percent a decade earlier.

An estimated 60,000 hooded penitents will participate in Seville's processions this year, up from just over 45,000 reported in 2009.   Continued...

Resident Mikel Goikoetxea, playing the role of Jesus Christ, takes part in an Easter Passion Play on Good Friday in the Basque town of Balmaseda March 29, 2013. REUTERS/Vincent West