“I went on the balcony and was mesmerized by a giant statue of a holy figure, lit by hundreds of tiny candles and staring up at me from a distance.”
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Caroline Hollister is a communication studies junior and Mustang News study abroad columnist.
As I sat in my apartment on Saturday, I was shaken (literally) out of my wifi-induced stupor by what sounded like an army marching on the plaza outside. I went on the balcony and was mesmerized by a giant statue of a holy figure, lit by hundreds of tiny candles and staring up at me from a distance. It was led by what looked like political authorities and members of the church burning incense in the air, followed closely by a marching band.
As the procession neared my apartment, the slow drumbeat sounded less like the ominous approach of Sauron’s army and more like a majestic, celebratory welcoming of royalty. I was forced to take in the variety of instruments amplified by the plaza’s amazing acoustics, the strong herbal smells of the incense clouds engulfing my balcony and the sheer sight of the God-like figure still on its advance toward my apartment. I looked out at the bystanders below, expecting to see my awe-struck expression reflected in all of theirs, but found myself at a loss. Instead, people ventured knowingly out of homes, cafés and the corner grocery store to casually watch the parade, as if they had seen this before and anticipated the event happening that day.
What made this occasion even more unreal was that I was alone, so I had no one to share my confusion and excitement with (I took a video of the parade and then turned the camera on myself to capture my look of disbelief — no shame).
To convince myself this was real life and not a product of staring at my laptop screen for an hour or eating one too many spoonfuls of Nutella, I did some research. As it turns out, Feb. 1 is the day of the patron saint of Granada, San Cecilio. While most Granadinos take part in the cultural celebrations of the day (including the parade of San Cecilio through the streets of Granada), it’s not a public holiday, so the majority of festivities take place on the closest following Sunday. On this day, it’s a tradition to partake in a pilgrimage up to Sacromonte, the traditional Gitano quarter of town, to visit the catacombs and monastery there.
After making sense of what I had witnessed (and making myself feel better about that last spoonful of Nutella), I wanted to see what Sunday’s celebration was all about, so I researched more about the “pilgrimage” to Sacromonte — I needed to validate participating in a long uphill hike for myself and for my roommate.
A short summary: People say St. Peter sent San Cecilio, along with two other envoys, to Spain for evangelization. They were gathered in the catacombs of the mountain beneath Sacromonte when they were surrounded by Romans and martyred. San Cecilio’s disciples supposedly wrote this story on a lead sheet and hid it between two stones, one white and one black, which were thrown into the Darro River. These relics were found in 1595, and an abbey was then built over the catacombs in commemoration. The pilgrimage, or “romería,” dates back to 1599 when a plague devastated the city, and as the tradition says, appealing to the saint was what saved its citizens.
The “pilgrimage” was not as strenuous as the word denotes. The day was clear and beautiful. We followed the crowds through the historic neighborhood up to a large field in the hills where flamenco dancers performed. Volunteers were handing out traditional bread, fava beans and water to all who attended. There was also a stand with a wide variety of dried fruit, nuts and candies.
It was amazing to be part of a festival so deeply rooted in tradition. It was a weekend I’ll remember forever.