Saturday, August 8, 2009

Festival of the Shrouds

A curious festival takes place every year on July 29th in Las Nieves, Spain. In the "Festival of the Shrouds," those who have escaped death during the year lay in caskets and are carried by solemn family members to the small church of Santa Marta of Ribarteme. A mass is said at noon to thank God for keeping them alive and broadcast on loudspeakers, since the church is too small to contain the large crowd that gathers by 10AM. The participants in the "mock funeral service" tell the stories of their near-death experiences. After the mass, the caskets are borne in procession to the cemetery as the church bells ring, and then return to circle several times around the church. Penitents chant, "Virgin Santa Marta, star of the North, we bring you those who saw death," and a statue of the saint - sister of Lazarus and patron of resurrection - is also held aloft, decorated with flowers and outfitted with a small box to accept offerings. The sobriety of the pilgrimage then gives way to a typical Spanish fiesta with street musicians, street vendors, street food, and an evening display of fireworks. The custom dates back to the Middle Ages and was an attempt by the Catholic Church to integrate traditional teachings with the pagan beliefs of the Galician residents of northwestern Spain.

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