Plans A and B were being executed and some folks were taking buses and taxis to nearby smaller towns to find a place to stay for the night.
If any country “does” Semana Santa, it’s Spain. I’ve celebrated Holy Week in Mexico and in Ecuador, and I was looking forward to experiencing it aboard the mother ship. I was set up for 3 days in a cheap hotel in the Medieval walled city of Cáceres, which I later discovered is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Thus, on Good Friday I walked into Cáceres from Valdesalor, an easy 7 miles (11 km) after a long 18 miles (26 km) the day before. One turn too early had me wandering (and lost) for a bit, but some helpful hand-pointing from strangers eventually got me where I need to go.
The processions had been going on all week. Various brotherhoods and fraternities are responsible for each procession, which feature certain colors of penitential garb, and bands, which may come from other towns (although the Cáceres drum and bugle corps got a workout that week). Elaborate and sometimes ancient statues of Jesus or Mary are carried ceremoniously throughout the narrow, winding streets of the Old City, sometimes several times a day.
The bands play intermittently, but the beating of the drums echo through the Old City with a dark, forbidding sound. Also, the bearers of the statues carry staffs that they beat rythmically on the ground (and use to support the heavy platform when the procession pauses). That metallic beating of the staffs adds to the sense of room. This is how the end of time would sound.
Saturday was fairly quiet with only one procession, so I spent a lovely day exploring the nooks and crannies of the old city.
Easter Sunday dawned for me with the feeling of spring and celebration. I headed to the cathedral for the 10am Mass. Visitors usually pay to tour these old edifices, unless you come for Mass, then you get in for free.
The doorman perked up and showed me to a small side chapel where Mass was half over and only one man was attending. Amazed, I waited for the next service, which was the old Latin rite, which I hadn’t seen since I was 10. About 30 people came to this one, many with missals for the Latin responses.
No music. No incense. No celebration.
I thought of Easter Mass in Mérida, Mexico, and in Quito, Ecuador, which were huge celebratory affairs with the bishop and choirs and flowers. Even in small churches at home, the people do their best–choirs with rickety old voices sometimes practice for weeks to inharmonious effect.
Meanwhile, the plaza was filling with thousands of visitors waiting for the grand finale, when the statue of the resurrected Jesus would enter the plaza from the Arco de la Estrella while the procession carrying Our Lady of Joy entered from the Grand Via.
On Easter Monday, the city had emptied. I did my few errands and left as well, taking a bus the next long stage and picking up the pilgrim trail to the small town of Grimaldo.