Easter Traditions

Representing the resurrection of Jesus and coming as it does in the spring, Easter is mainly associated with symbols of life and rebirth; flowers, food, bunnies, and eggs, for instance. In France as well as in the U.S. this weekend, kids will enjoy hunting for eggs as part of the annual celebration. Interestingly, the long-held French custom dictates that les Cloches de Pâques (“Easter Bells”), which are silent from Good Friday until Easter Sunday, find themselves without much to do. So, the Bells fly off to Rome during those days and bring back treats for the children. The influence of American television, however, has introduced the Easter bunny who now plays a prominent part in the festivities.

In Catalonia another Easter practice focuses instead on Good Friday and the suffering and death of Christ: Processó de la Sanch [pronounced sahnk] or the Procession of Blood. Origins date from 1416, when a Dominican priest from Spain named Vincent Ferrier began giving impassioned sermons about sinners preparing for judgement and punishment. Huge crowds would follow him around, at times even crying at his descriptions of the Passion of Christ on Calvary. From there, as I understand it, this developed into a reenactment of the Way of the Cross. Somehow or other this march then merged with the idea of penitents giving solace to prisoners on their way to be hanged or beheaded. In the six centuries of its existence, la Sanch has been outlawed several times by the Catholic Church. But in 1950 it came back with the Church’s blessing in cities like Perpignan, Canet, and Collioure.

Last night we were able to observe la Sanch which began at nine p.m. at the church Notre-Dame-des-Anges and processed through parts of the old town. The number of participants is quite impressive; there must have been at least a hundred or so. It is somewhat unsettling for those of us familiar with the Ku Klux Klan, though, to see people in the red and black caperutxas costumes with their conical hoods, long robes, and glowing torches. Apparently the original idea of concealing faces was to protect the identity of the prisoners and executioner. A red-clothed regidor ringing an iron bell leads the procession, followed by groups of people carrying heavy, flowered scenes of the crucifixion called misteris. Statues depicting the Virgin Mary were added in the eighteenth century.We were lucky to be here for this age-old custom.

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