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Folklore and Traditions: Religious Performances
Taken from "Folklore and Traditions", one of the series of "The Basque Country, Come and then pass the word" 2nd edition, January 1993 Author: Angel Murua, Published by: Gobierno Vasco, Departamento de Comercio, Consuma, y Turismo. Viceconsejeria de Turismo.
The Basque Country goes from the rowdiness and clamour of the carnival to the silence and recollection of Easter Week, during which whole villages live out and participate in performances of different scenes of the Passion and Crucifixion of Christ.
The simplicity of Easter Week in Segura is rounded off by an enactment of the Descent of Christ from the Cross on Easter Friday. In the enactment a child Saint Michael, with sword and shield, makes hieratic movements as the procession moves on.
In Hondarribia the procession is of a more spectacular nature. In the Parish Church of Our Lady of the Assumption, a packed crowd waits for the Descent of Christ from the Cross. Slowly and with great emotion He is placed in the tomb. A company of Roman soldiers escort the body as the procession - completed by a Saint Michael - stumbles through the narrow streets of the town. The apostles, played by mature men, usually skilled fishermen, carry the objects which distinguish them: the book, the saw, the keys, etc. On Easter Sunday a procession of the first apparition of the Risen Christ is held: on one side of the church stand the Apostles, and in the middle of the aisle stand the Roman soldiers guarding the tomb. At a given moment the priest shouts, "Gloria in excelsis Deo", and all the Roman troops fall as though struck by lightening before the astonished and deeply moved crowds.
The most outstanding religious performance, however, takes place in Balmaseda on Easter Friday. The staging is perfectly, painstakingly worked out, particularly in terms of costumes. The different scenes of the Passion and Crucifixion happen before our eyes: The Prayers in the Garden, the Trial by Pilot, the Apparition to Mary Magdelene, Mary's meeting with Jesus, etc., all represented with remarkable devotion and verisimilitude. A good example of this is the harsh punishment of the robbers throughout the performance, which can last up to six hours. Jesus, bearing a cross which weighs more than forty kilos, reaches the moment of crucifixion with complete exhaustion. This is the culminating point of the enactment, in which the whole village takes part, and which requires a whole year's preparation.
A simpler but by no means less important fiesta takes place in the village of Lazkao in Gipuzkoa, on the first Sunday after Three Kings day, 6th January. This is an iconographic representation of the flight of Joseph and Mary to Egypt. Apart from Joseph, Mary and the Baby, this remarkably realistic group is completed by a charming little life-size donkey. This is the fiesta of Astotxo which nowadays is complemented with a procession through the streets of a living vignette of Mary and the Baby on a donkey, with Joseph leading the animal.
Segura: Descent from the Cross and Procession of Easter Friday. Easter Friday, after 4pm.
Hondarribia: Descent from the Cross and Procession on Easter Friday, at 5pm. Procession of the Meeting with Christ and Mary Magdalene. Easter Sunday, 10am.
Balmaseda: Sacramental Play on Easter Friday, from 9am.
Lazkao: Astotxo Fiesta. Morning of the first Sunday after the Three Kings (6th January) - Convent of the Bernardine Nuns. Other notable Easter weeks in Bilbao and Vitoria-Gasteiz.