Spanish version

3.- XIXth and XXth Century


During this century the cofradias suffered several blows.

As this was a century of changes, the Processions and the cofradias suffered up and downs depending on the ideology of the government that had the power in each moment.

On the one hand, different progressive governments expropriated again churches and convents with their consequent loss of power over the population. The cofradias had no money to go on with their Processions and at the end of the century there were only five "pasos" left.

The images were carried on top of a sort of carriage by several men, called "anderos". Usually they were clergymen or distinguished laymen.

During the French Invasion many churches and convents were robbed and destroyed. But Jose I allowed the Procession of Good Friday. Only men could participate and they had to wear black suits or uniforms.

When the Bourbon dinasty returned to the country, Fernando VII restored Absolutism, which was well received by the Church. They could not imagine that a decade later the convents and monasteries would be dissolved and their goods taken by the Government.

As the cofradias had no money, it was the Town Hall that covered the expenses for the Procession. They expected problems with the members of the cofradias and therefore it was forbidden that penitents, wearing "capirotes" and with covered faces took part. This was the end of the penance processions.

For a time the trade-associations started participating again, but it was too expensive for them and they lost interest.

During the time of Queen Isabel II some splendour returned to the Processions as the royal family and many noble people liked to visit the churches during the Holy Week and also participate at the Processions. It became a question of class. Even King Amadeo I continued with this custom as he wanted to increase his popularity among the Spaniards.

During the last years of the century, some Processions started again, with both aspects, the religious and the festive one.

It was also then when the Duchess of Medinaceli bought the chapel of Jesus Nazareno so that it was not destroyed and gave it to the Capuchin Order. They began  to promote the worshipping of the image. One way of doing this is still very popular today:  the first Friday of each month the faithful visit the church and kiss the feet of the image.


During the times of Canova´s government the Church had regained power but was still living in a reactionary world. Masons, liberals and all progressive movements were considered dangerous. With this background, Processions are again considered a way of promoting the Catholic religion and also a way of playing an active role in society.

On Palm Sunday it was traditional to buy palm branches at the church entrance. Afterwards these branches were put on the balconies.

It was a time when some "pasos" contained many images, like "The Last Supper" with Jesus and the twelve Apostles. This "paso" was transported on wheels and not on the shoulders. The Processions were all between high noon and 14:00. It was a typical sight to see women taking part in the Processions, walking behind the images wearing the Spanish mantilla, black silk dresses, black patent leather shoes and carrying a prayer book in their hands. Usually they belonged to the upper classes.

Some of these "pasos" are now in Avila, where they are still used for their Processions.Palmas

It was also in those times when King Alfonso XIII pardoned several condemned to death as part of the Holy Week activities.

In 1929 it was the first time the "Silent Procession" took place, which can be considered as predecessor of the one we can see today. It started at 22:00 and finished a little bit after midnight. From the very beginning it became very popular and many people participated.

Many cofradias dissappeared during this time and the few that remained did not survive the Civil War. It was a time of confrontation, many churches were burnt down, images destroyed and priests and monks killed or expelled from the country. Many images were hidden and recovered after the War.

After the War, the Holy Week was a commemoration of the Passion with a sense of poverty and penance. The cofradias tried to recover lost brilliance with new images and more Processions. New cofradias appeared and some old ones were reorganized. Franco´s regime also wanted to conquer the people through religion, foster its traditions and impregnate daily life with it.

In the first years, the images, being of little artistic value, were embellished with beautiful flowers.

Many cofradias profitted from the new regime which gave them economic means. The army also participated in the Processions with musical bands. It was a time when religion was provided with pompous ceremonies. All political propaganda acts started with a mass, many times this was more a political reaction to precedent years than a religious ceremony.

The image of Jesus de Medinaceli had been sent to Geneva and was returned to Madrid in 1939.

An organization was founded, Hermandad de Cruzados de la Fe (Brotherhood of Crusaders of Faith), that was in charge of the Processions, edited several magines and many other activities.

In 1941 the "Silent Procession" took place again. It was a great success and from then on, during its celebration,  all official buildings were illuminated, all shops had to turn off their neon signs and even the lights of private homes had to be switched off.

From the 50´s on people were more or less obliged to live Holy Week. On the radio and later on television, all programs were dedicated to religion and Processions. All restaurants, bars, cinemas and theaters were closed. There was nothing else to do.

All this was going to change slowly from the 60´s on. People could afford their car (the famous SEAT 600) and the Holy Week was an opportunity to leave Madrid and go to the seaside or to places, like Sevilla, were this celebration was much more popular and famous.

We cannot forget the influence of the II Vatican Council and its more progressive tendency, which collided with the tendencies of the Spanish hierarchy. Many cofradias lived still in the past and it was difficult for them to adapt to the changing times.

The transition to current Processions started in the 70´s. The new archbishop of Madrid-Alcala, Vicente Enrique y Tarancon, not very popular among the conservative Spaniards, was in favour of the independence of the Church from the polital regime and a democratic society. After the polital transition to the current democracy the meaning of the Processions and the activities of the cofradias got a deeper religious sense without the luxury of the past. More young people took part. Also women participate activily in the events. Specially in Madrid the influence of the local television channel cannot be forgotten. They started broadcasting some Processions in the 90´s and since then their popularity has increased from year to year. Today Processions are a part of the Holy Week in Madrid. Many people take part, some because of their religious faith, others to maintain a tradition, but all with great respect.

Even though Holy Week in Madrid is not as popular as in Sevilla or other Andalusian cities it is something the visitor should not miss.

@Copyright 2008, 2009 Mª Dolores Diehl Busch. All rights reserved.
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