Finally I have fulfilled a long-held ambition to walk among the penitents in Valladolid
Lunes Santo – Monday of Holy Week, Valladolid, a city in Castile.
I am in a sacristy filled with women, dressed head to toe in black, and busily re-pinning their lace mantillas, tweaking a pin here, straightening a pleat there.
These are the “Weeping Women of Jerusalem” who join the Holy Week Processions of Spain, where they march between hooded penitents.
Tonight I join them, fulfilling a long-held ambition. I’ve bought my first mantilla, secured with 45 hair grips and half a can of spray into the classic peineta, a high tortoiseshell comb worn under the mantilla.
I’m a guest of the Real y Venerable Cofradía de la Preciosísima Sangre de Jesucristo, the Royal and Venerable Confraternity of the Most Precious Blood of Jesus Christ.
Tonight, we march behind one of their two images of the Crucified Christ – Cristo del Olvido, Christ the Forgotten. He is desolate, his head hanging low, his sorrow accentuated in the silence, accentuated by the strident beat of the drums, the high pitched whine of the cornet.
His presence brings the hidden into the open, His suffering, our sin. The confraternity’s chaplain, standing in a makeshift pulpit in the street, talks of human pride, hardness of heart and of Jesus’s transforming redemption.
Then we reach the Procession’s high point – an encounter with the Madonna of the English College, Our Lady Vulnerata, whose name means “the wounded one”. Her face is slashed, her arms sliced short, yet her expression is tender, maternal sweetness.
She suffers with Her son, sharing his Passion. My eyes well up. “Full of emotion?” whispers a Spanish acquaintance. “Enhorabuena! Congratulations.”
This isn’t joy: my feet ache, my wrist is hurting, tiring of the large stick, topped with a small silver Cross, I carry. I’m useless at striking it to the ground, as the others do, every three paces.
Perhaps that’s the point. In a Lent of skipped fasts and broken promises, finally it feels as though I have managed something a little penitential.