Holy Week in Cadiz, Madruga

Moon and Holy Week

Holy Week is one of the most eagerly awaited feasts in the Spanish calendar. Christians commemorate Christ's Passion, from his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, the day of his Resurrection. The date of Easter Sunday varies.

No Holy Week is complete without the processions organized by the religious brotherhoods ("cofradias") of the various parishes: in Cadiz, during this week, the city processions several times a day, to the sound of brass bands, through the casco antiguo, following a strict schedule and itinerary ("carrera oficial"). The floats ("pasos"), made up of vast stretchers ("las parihuelas") decorated with flowers and candles, support statues and images of saints, Christ and the Virgin Mary. These stretchers are carried by the "costaleros". Wearing a wide leather belt around their waists, the costaleros cover their heads with a burlap or oakum sack ("costal"), to prevent injury. Behind them, the procession of penitents (the "nazarenos", called "papones" in Cadiz) can be recognized by their tunics and "capirotes". With their slits for the eyes, these long, cone-shaped hoods give them the appearance of convicts condemned by the Inquisition to public humiliation. A humiliation reminiscent of Christ's ascent to Golgotha. The air is filled with the scents of incense and French toast ("torrijas"), Andalusian fervor and childhood terrors.

Holy Week Cadiz. Official Cadiz 2024 poster ©Chema Rodriguez
Official poster for Holy Week in Cadiz (2024) ©Chema Rodríguez

When is Holy Week?

It all depends on the date of Easter. A date which, unlike All Saints' Day or Christmas, is not a fixed date on the calendar. Last year, we celebrated Easter on April 9. This year, it will be on March 31.

Why these flexible dates?

The date of All Saints' Day or Christmas is set according to the solar calendar. Easter, on the other hand, is set according to the lunar calendar, modified by the liturgical calendar.

→ Sunday, the fixed part of this moving panel: While Christmas can be celebrated on any day of the week, Easter is always celebrated on a Sunday, out of respect for tradition, according to which Christ's resurrection took place three days after his last meal, on a Thursday.
→ But which Sunday? Since the Council of Nicaea - today Iznik in Turkey - which in 325 brought together all the bishops of the Roman Empire, Easter has been celebrated on the first Sunday following the Paschal Moon. A fictitious moon that serves as a reference for the ecclesiastical comput, the Christian liturgical calendar.
This Paschal Moon, also known as the Ecclesiastical Moon, corresponds to the first full moon following the vernal equinox, the spring equinox.

So, depending on the date of the lunations, Easter Sunday will be celebrated no earlier than March 22 and no later than April 25.

This year :

Vernal equinox: March 20
Next full moon: March 25
1st Sunday after full moon: March 31

Next year (2025)

Vernal equinox: March 20
Next full moon: April 13 (a Sunday)
1st Sunday after full moon: April 20

Bonus Track: The Moon and Ramadan

Unlike the Christian churches, the Muslim religion relies on observations of the actual moon to determine the start of the month of Ramadan.
The new moon following the month of Shaaban, the eighth month of the Hegira calendar - numbering 354 or 355 days - marks the start of Ramadan.
On the Night of Doubt, the last night of a lunar month, the sky is observed for the thin crescent moon ("hilāl") following the new moon.

We find this scene recreated by Nicolas de Staël who, after passing through Cadiz, wrote in his Cahier du Maroc (1936-1937):

Cahier du Maroc Nicolas de Stael. Text published by KHBAR BLADNA, founded in 2002 by Elena Prentice and Gustave de Staël.

"Everyone stands on tiptoe to see the rising crescent. All the forces of the earth are standing - all the forces of the sky - and the faint crescent is rising, barely visible. Masks reminiscent of Egypt, Tatar beauty masks shaped by a thousand currents all different look at the rising crescent and howl. Some guys have climbed to the top of the minarets, while others wander wildly through the alleyways, sometimes playing neffars."

(Text published by KHBAR BLADNA, founded in 2002 by Elena Prentice and Gustave de Staël).

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