Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Nuestra Señora de la Cabeza

Mid morning, I drove the 20km inland across the plain from Mojacar to the small town of Antas, (population of around 3,000) in good time to have a look around before the funeral at noon. Antas is located above the south bank of the river after which the town is named, not that there's water to be seen, except in extreme seasons. 

In another era, water flowing from sierras to the west carved a 150m wide channel 20-30m deep through ancient deposits of alluvial rock and sediment, turning the old river bed into an arroyo with a flat surface fit for cultivating oranges, lemons and other crops, enclosed by sheer cliffs of pale sandy material. In some places, the river's action hollowed out caves, some have been extended to make dwellings and storage places. 

This is a richly fertile area, settled since the stone age, although the town's emergence in its present form probably dates to the 16th century. Its Parish Church of Nuestra Señora de la Cabeza dates from 1505. This dedication is unusual, although not uncommon in Andalusia. 'La cabeza' is Spanish for 'head'. Without knowing its story, this sounds bizarre. 

It begins with a reputedly ancient image of the Virgin being hidden in the on the Cerra del Cabezo in the Sierra de Andujar, west of Jaen and Cordoba at the time of the Moorish invasion of Southern Spain in the eighth century. Fast forward five centuries and the image is miraculously rediscovered by a shepherd who is miraculously healed as a result, a sanctuary is built and devotion to Nuestra Señora de la Cabeza begins and spreads, as the reconquista gets under way. The story relects the resurgence of Christian identity in Andalusian life, for although Christianity was tolerated in the time of Islamic rule, it was unable to be expressed freely in the public realm.

After a photo tour of the old town, I met Fr Enrico the parish priest, just after he'd opened the church. He was most welcoming, and he put up with my efforts to converse Spanish for a good twenty minutes, before he switched to English, which he speaks quite well. He told me that he says Mass for English speaking Catholics once a month at Palomares, and had spent time in Norway as a chaplain to Spanish expats there. English is widely spoken by Norwegians, and serves as a second language, especially among a wide range of international expats living and working in the country. A kindred spirit indeed!

There were just over a dozen people present for the funeral, and afterwards we went to the Bar Almanzora where I'd met the widow and her friend two days ago, for a buffet lunch. It's a long time since I was invited to join a social gathering after a funeral. I enjoyed sitting and listening to table talk, and occasionally being quizzed about my religious views, though not too demandingly. I got back around three, and whiled away the rest of the day editing and uploading photos, chatting with Clare and Owain, plus listening to music stored on my phone, something I don't often take time for.  

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