Holy Thursday arrived in Seville, Spain on March 29, 2018 with the traditional pomp and circumstance. Donning capes and tall conical hoods (the capirotes), the nazarenos marched through the streets of the city to the central Cathedral as they have done for hundreds of years.
Holy Thursday procession in Seville, Spain March 29, 2018
But the hundreds of men in white hoods held a very different meaning for some people in the crowd. While the nazarenos may have focused on their penitence during holy week (Semana Santa in Spain), the scene meant something quite different to the lone American Jew watching the march.
As an American
Americans have long associated people dressed in white robes and hoods as belonging to the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), a racist and anti-Semitic group that continues to have some support in parts of the country. The Southern Poverty Law Center considers the group to be both the most infamous and oldest hate group in the USA. The group epitomizes hatred and violence.
As such, most Americans instinctively cringe when they hear about the group or see their members in the infamous hoods.
It is hard not to have the same immediate reaction when seeing that attire in a very different situation.
As a Jew
Jews cannot come to Spain and not consider how few Jews remain in the country. The expulsion of the Jews in the summer of 1492 is marked in collective memory, much like the Holocaust of 1939-1945.
The cleansing of the Jews in Spain had an earlier start in Seville, as it was in that city that the Spanish Inquisition really got its start. In 1391, a preacher by the name of Don Fernando Martinez lectured his congregants that Jews were evil and were infiltrating Spanish society. While the riots that broke out in March were put down, the mob gathered strength and plundered the Jewish Quarter of the city in June. Roughly 4,000 people were killed. The synagogues in the city were either destroyed or converted to churches and the Jewish community was decimated.
Within two years, King Henry III of Castile (1379-1406) passed judgement on the preacher and the city itself for what had transpired. Few Jews returned and the city. That year, in 1393, the first brotherhood (hermanad) appeared called Las Negras. As a sign of penance during Semana Santa, the members donned white robes and capirotes, and have continued to do so until this day.
In time, other brotherhoods would cover the city. They would wear their own colors of Black-and-white, all purple or green. Over holy week, they would carry large candles and march towards the cathedral, many handing out candies to the children who would normally be scared of such scene.
There were no longer Jews in the city to care or remember.
This American Jew
I have no doubt that the Catholics celebrating Holy Week in Seville have no idea that the origins of their processions stemmed from their massacre of Jews. I do not even think that they ponder why their region of Spain uniquely uses this custom. The area of southern Spain is known as Andalusia, and is the part of Spain that was under Muslim rule from the 700’s until the Catholics expelled them in 1248. In all, I believe that today’s Catholics’ desire to seek purity is self-reflecting, and does not consider that their ritual comes from evicting all other religions from the province.
But this American Jew observes too many things. Like someone attending a funeral service at a cemetery who looks off in the distance to see cars go by without a care, I do not blame the Catholics for their indifference to my plight as they go about their own day. However, I cannot help see the ghosts of the Jews of Spain as I watch their procession during Semana Santa in Seville.
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