The Silent City – Semana Santa in La Laguna

Posted: April 19, 2009 in Life, Photos, Spain, Tenerife, Travel
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Plent of cloak, but no daggers

Plenty of cloak, but no daggers

The city was unusually quiet. Despite the fact that one of the most visually striking processions on Tenerife was due to take place within the hour, the streets were almost deserted. The thought crossed our minds: “Have we got the dates wrong?”

As it happened to be Good Friday, or Viernes Santo as it’s called here, and we were in the ecclesiastical capital of Tenerife, La Laguna, it seemed highly unlikely that we were in the wrong place or possibly even the right place but at the wrong time to witness the most evocative religious processions on Tenerife’s fiesta calendar. But the eerily quiet streets did plant a seed of doubt.
Last year we watched the ‘Silent Procession’ on a bitterly cold night when the wind howled through the city’s perfectly preserved old streets. This year we’d opted to watch the ‘Magna Procession’ for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it takes place at 17.00, so it’s better for photography. Secondly, because it takes place in the afternoon we thought it would have been substantially warmer than La Laguna by night.

Boy did we get that one wrong. Despite there being intermittent breaks in the clouds allowing the sun to occasionally shine through, once again an icy wind was patrolling La Laguna’s old quarter.

As we criss-crossed the streets heading toward the Iglesia de la Concepción I was reminded of the explorer Sir Richard Burton. Nearly 150 years previously he had commented on La Laguna’s streets being devoid of life except for house leeks growing from roof tiles. He had put it down to an outbreak of yellow fever; however I’m not sure he would have noticed much difference today. The house leeks are still there, but this time the Laguneros had probably deserted the city for the beaches of the south.

Just as we were seriously starting to wonder if we really had got the time wrong, a cloaked figure appeared from a side street, his robes billowing in the breeze as he rushed past. We turned a corner and were further reassured to see people lining the streets. There didn’t seem to be as many spectators as in previous years, but that was a plus in terms of finding a good spot for taking photographs. Unfortunately the ‘sunny’ side of the street was facing into the sun, so I chose to stay shivering in the shadowy side of the street for the sake of getting better shots.

At 17.00 on the dot, the iglesia’s bells rang out and the hooded brotherhoods began their solemn parade through the streets. I’m not religious, but there’s something about this particular parade which touches me deeply. I don’t know if it’s the mixed emotions I feel at the sight of the costumes, or the fact that it takes place in deathly silence apart from the sound of chains dragging along the ground and the occasional haunting accompaniment of the sound of Spanish trumpets and a rhythmic drumbeat that conjures up the notion that I’m at a public execution which I suppose in a way, I am.

Some brotherhoods drag full sized wooden crosses

Some brotherhoods drag full sized wooden crosses

As legions of devout worshippers in pointed hoods filed past I have to admit to a feeling of unease. Through the camera’s eyepiece I seemed to be continually meeting anonymous eyes staring back and, silly though it sounds, it unnerved me. Possibly because I felt as though I was intruding in something that, although it takes place in public, is something very personal.

The youngest members of some of the brotherhoods must only be about three or four years old and yet they already seemed to understand the importance of the day; their expressions matching those of their elders. For the duration of the procession, they neither whinged, nor made a sound. They’d already been indoctrinated into the island’s traditions and will no doubt do the same with their own children when the time comes. It’s hard not to be moved by the overwhelming feeling of family and community that is represented by these age old ceremonies.

The appearance of possibly the most striking image in the procession, barefooted monks whose ankles are shackled together marked the end of the ‘Magna Procession’.

As always it was a remarkable sight to witness and yet it is still one that many visitors completely overlook.


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