Posted by: puebloman | August 20, 2009

St Roque rocks – nights of fire

Entry of San Roc into Cutar If you want to be God Almighty in an Andalucian village you’d better get off your backside and do something for the community. Only local Gods are worshipped here – the many goddess manifestations of the Virgin, the multidudinous versions of Jesus and of course local gods, protectors of specific villages who are pacified and won over by the people of the pueblo who honour and make sacrifice to them. This panoply of gods and goddesses feels more like the society of classical Greek Gods who fought with each other and whose women renewed their virginity in the sea, than it is of the distant rituals of the church of Rome. The virginAnd this in the most Catholic of countries! Milton, writing in the seventeenth century observed that, while God Almighty might be perfect, he’s not much good as a mate to have a drink with, and to tell your troubles to (I paraphrase Milton). Anthony Beavour (The Spanish Civil War) shocks us with the statistic that at the start of the Civil War less than 5% of Spaniards attended church – a lower proportion than in Norway. Franco of course changed all that by force. That the Catholic Church has historically stood for the opression of poor people is not lost on Andalucians. You will not find a single picture of the Pope in the Axarquia.

Local Gods, however, have earned their place in the village church. Almachar’s Santo Cristo de la bande verde saved his pueblo from an earthquake. Cutar’s San Roque saved Cutar from the plague. That is why women continue to lavish care upon their images and deck them with flowers, and why their men bear them through the village in thrones set on great hurdles and why the village designates them feast days. They represent the puelbo itself and this is a tradition of Roman culture , itself derived from classical Greece, whose communities were always protected by local gods.

Cutar’s mid summer Fiera is in honour of St Roque. It begins with a series of exploding “bomb” rockets. In defiance of northern namby-pamby health and safetyitis, a man holds a rocket in his right hand, lights the touch paper with his fag and waits until redhot flaming sulphur spirts all over his hand until releasing it. These rockets regularly set fire to the opposite hill where the scrub is dry as tinder, so instead of banning the activity, the local fire brigade and red cross stand by in expectation.

After dark as a prelude to a three night orgy of noisy partying, paella and wierd musical and other acts on the improvised stage in the car park, San Roque, looking suspiciously like Jesus, is taken from the church on his “trono” (throne). So is a verson of the virgin. They are paraded round the village to hand held candles and Roman candles, the men bearing the saint and the women the virgin. The two groups meet outside the church, where they perform a stately “Okey Cokey”, a sort of ritualised mating dance though I’m sure that mating is the last thing on their minds.

No one knows why they do this. The procession, punctuated with the cry “Viva St Roque” as a sort of football chant, finishes with the same motto lit in fire. A rare and truely pagan night.

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