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Happy pilgrims – Romeria de Torrijos

October 11, 2010 – 1:31 pm

So, in the end, it did go ahead. Our local romeria – the Romeria de Torrijos, in Valencina de la Concepcion, near Seville – managed to avoid the rain (well, mostly). After the correctly-predicted torrential downpours of Saturday, yesterday had strange weather, some hot sunshine, but a chilly breeze too, which as I mentioned in a recent post can present a sartorial challenge. After panicking after forgetting outer layers for everyone, in case of cold/rain, we were fine. And I just about managed to negotiate the muddy fields in my Fit-Flops – probably gave my legs even more of a work-out, in fact. The sensible, local people, whether dressed in their flamenco dresses or not, had all donned their cowboy boots – the rustic version of La Feria, complete with matching brown leather purses on belts round their waists. It’s a look which I like – very El Rocio.

This romeria is one of thousands held across Andalucia, and Spain, every year. Most towns and villages celebrate such an event, when the local Virgin is carried from her church to a sanctuary out in the countryside – sometimes on a mountain or in a cave. Romerias are great causes for celebration, with the usual appetite for eating, drinking, singing and dancing to excess, while the religious aspect is arguably less important than the social. It’s a contradicion I find interesting, and also perhaps slightly uncomfortable. I am no fan of the Catholic church, especially in light of recent uncovered dark secrets, so I do feel a bit hypocritical enjoying an event whose raison d’etre is 100% religious.

The story goes that a chicken found a painting of the Christ tied to a column (known as the Cristo de Torrijos, and locally venerated) in a wall of the Hacienda, which is now housed in the chapel of the Hacienda de Torrijos, the venue for the pilgrimage. This all happened more than 400 years ago, and the actual romeria has been taking place in its current form for nearly a century. It has been declared a festival of national tourist interest, and is the fifth-most important romeria in Spain. I still haven’t managed to find out exactly how these are rated – if anyone else knows, I’d love to hear.

It was only my second year there, so I’m still a novice, and I messed up our timing and missed my favourite part – the desfile, when all the beautifully-dressed, supremely elegant horseriders process in groups, sometimes five abreast, down the avenue leading to the Hacienda. The women wear tight jackets, and long side-saddle skirts, in beige and brown, with their hair swept up into impeccable updos, crowned with bijou hats set at a jaunty angle. If I wanted to prance around in big, frothy, princess dresses when I was a little girl, that is what I want to wear now. Not sure my horsemanship skills are up to it, though. We saw several horses being ridden by young boys who couldn’t control them properly, and that’s incredibly dangerous with small children around. Horses are unpredictable at the best of times, and if not properly managed, they will cause serious injury. Rant over.

Anyway, when we arrived we parked in an already-muddy field on the edge of the village, near the Hacienda, where our car would remain should it rain again, I was informed by my husband. We joined the throng heading down the avenue, ducking out of the way of passing tractors pulling their gaily-decorated trailers and Wild West wagons (pink, red, turqouise, orange; pastels aren’t an option in Andalucia). Each trailer is followed by groups of people singing, and among one of these I happened to see a friend. She invited me and my family to come to her carriola (trailer) for a cerveza and a tapa.

After a very pleasant, if slightly boggy wander round the fields, woods and paths of the Hacienda, admiring the horses, carts and riders, we went to find my friend. My children immediately climbed into the trailer and ran around delightedly, while I talked to her about her group. They’re all neighbours – ten families – and they had decorated the carriola the day before. They had pooled money – 100 euros per family – to cover the cost of the food and drink for today, plus a free-for-all communal buffet lunch which takes place today in the village’s main square. She said that the ones who got the most enjoyment out of the whole affair are her children: it is a “point of reference” for them as they grow up, she explained, an annual experience, a local tradition. These quasi-religious events are still hugely significant and important in Andalucia, though not for everyone; I know plenty of local people who never go to this romeria; they skip town for the whole weekend (today is a holiday in the village, making a four-day puente when added to the national holiday tomorrow) to avoid the noise and chaos.

So we missed the Virgin arriving on her ox-drawn cart; we missed the procession of immaculately dressed men, women and children on their Arab horses; we missed the mass inthe patio of the Hacienda, outside the chapel; and we left before the dancing started, as the sky was threatening rain. But we got a taste of the romeria (literally – some tapas at my friend’s carriola). It was only my second time, but I love the whole communal atmosphere, in a pretty, historic, countryside setting, with scenes like something from a Wild West movie. Hopefully I and my family will be back for many more, eventually dressed up and in our own shared carriola.

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