I left Spain for a flying visit to the UK with ears still ringing from Órgiva’s annual Cristo festival. By 2.30am the previous Saturday our enthusiasm for our town’s seemingly insatiable appetite for fiestas had worn a little thin. As the sound of the last of thousands of euros worth of fireworks ricocheted around our valley, we understood a little better how living in a war zone must be. The “guns”, which had been blasting at intervals for two days, finally fell silent in those early hours.
The last crescendo marked the return of the virgin Dolores (the Virgin Mary when in pain and grief) to her place in Órgiva’s 16th century Baroque church, bringing an end to the annual Processión del Cristo de la Expiración, or Dia del Señor, which marks a “sighting” of the man himself in the town. Gunpowder features heavily in Andalucia’s troubled history and almost 500 kilos of fireworks was estimated to have been spent throughout the 48 hours of Cristo, during which Christ on his cross is taken from the alter and paraded around the town, accompanied by the town band, military drummers, women in black, hoards of locals, displays of emotion and, of course, Dolores. The sometimes terrifying and isolating salvos of rockets with their accompanying white smoke are said to keep the devil away while the pair are off guard.
Who is to say whether the performance is religion, theatre, culture, a boost for local businesses and tourism (the hotels were full), or all of the above. But it was a bit of a disaster for one high street bank a few years ago, when the force of the rockets blew in its windows.
This year’s spectacle suffered the misfortune of dramatic Spring storms, which brought hail and rain onto the parade and forced the two effigies to return home a little ahead of schedule. A friend involved in the carrying of Dolores (who, unlike her son, didn’t have the protection of a raincoat) described her remarkable, and comical, turn of foot, velvet robe streaming behind her, as her bearers, some of whom had sneaked a few bar stops during the procession, ran the last leg to the church steps.
The days since Cristo have been but a temporary ceasefire. It’s Semana Santa (Holy week), so the rockets are active again, breaking the peace of a glorious early morning. Dolores held a feast for her followers at her “club” in town last night, and the (by then risen) Christ will be paraded again on Easter Thursday. I bought a box of earplugs at the airport in anticipation.