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Holy Week Holds Its Own in New “Materialistic” Spain

March 30, 1991

VALLADOLID, Spain (AP) _ Like much else in Spain today, Holy Week processions point up the contradictions of a country rushing toward the future while clinging to its past - a mixture of the sacred and the profane.

Radio and television stations broadcast religious music, Masses and the major processions, lumped in with regularly scheduled soft porn films and variety shows featuring frontal nudity.

Spaniards who may not have set foot in a church for months watch the processions with a mixture of devotion and pride.

In lively Seville, devotees pelt Virgin Mary statues with flowers.

In austere Valladolid, bagpipes wail in front of statues of Christ.

″It may seem ironic, but since the early ’80s and the return to democracy, there has been an upsurge of interest and participation in Holy Week here,″ said Maria Aurora Viloria, cultural section chief of Valladolid’s regional newspaper, El Norte de Castilla.

″Participation by young people in the brotherhoods is on the rise, but the church does not seem quite sure what to make of it. Is it a return to religion, or a recovery of tradition?″

She said about 22,000 people would take part in the city’s processions this year.

Although Spain is an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country, it legalized contraception and divorce shortly after Francisco Franco died in 1975, ending 36 years of dictatorship.

Socialists have governed with a comfortable majority since 1982. Limited abortion was legalized in 1985.

But Maundy Thursday - when Christ washed the disciples’ feet - and Good Friday are holidays throughout most of Spain, when many of the nation’s nearly 40 million people leave the cities for the countryside and the beach.

The Roman Catholic Bishops Conference recently denounced scathingly the materialism it said was eating away at Spain’s spiritual core.

The country enjoyed the highest rate of economic growth in Europe from 1987 to 1989, and the effects of prosperity are evident in this north central city of 350,000, where a Renault automobile plant is the biggest single employer.

When Jose Luis Lera was growing up in Francoist, agrarian Valladolid in the 1940s, the city shut down from Holy Wednesday to Easter Sunday.

″There were no movies, no theaters, no nothing - and that lasted through the 1970s,″ he said. ″Today if I wanted, I could go see ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ on Good Friday as the most sacred procession is making its way through our Plaza Mayor.″

After long being imposed on society by the church and by Franco, Holy Week processions looked certain to be the first victims of democracy.

But the opposite has occurred.

Over four days for the past 400 years, beginning Holy Wednesday, members of religious brotherhoods don long robes and pointed hoods and lug crosses or heavy floats bearing religious effigies through the streets as bugles blow and muffled drums roll.

Some brotherhoods, like Valladolid’s Our Lady of Piety, began as charitable organizations. Before the prison was relocated, the brotherhood stopped there to release a prisoner every Maundy Thursday. Now, they stop at the main hospital to greet the sick.

Their polychrome, baroque effigies of Jesus carved by local 16th-century craftsmen Gregorio Fernandez and Juan de Juni are national treasures housed in parish churches.

When the Virgin of the Macarena leaves her parish in Seville at midnight on Maundy Thursday, crowds cry out ″Hello there, beautiful 3/8″ as the 10-foot- high statue in elaborately embroidered robe passes by, illuminated by hundreds of candles.

At the Bar Otero across the street from the Magdalena parish church in Valladolid, modern penitents clutch their hoods under their arms and take turns at a video game while waiting for their group to assemble.

Once the long procession begins, hooded marshals in front communicate with those in back via walkie-talkie.

Maria Teresa Andres Ojeda, a 21-year-old secretary, participates in a Valladolid procession dressed all in black with a high comb supporting the black lace mantilla covering her head - the traditional Holy Week outfit for serious Spanish ladies.

″If I wanted to now, I could wear robes and a hood because the church ruled a couple of years ago that women could be penitents, too,″ she said. ″But I like the mantilla better.″