Bajada del Ángel
It’s a few minutes before 9am, and the golden caresses of an already blazing sun should be reflecting off flagstones that have been polished smooth throughout centuries of use. Instead, the light finds its perennial date with the floor of La Plaza de los Fueros rudely interrupted by a sea of tanned scalps, dark berets, and carefully coiffed hair. The crowd stands, packed together with no room to smoke a cigarette, drink a vermouth, or perform any other actions which constitute a normal morning in the sleepy city of Tudela. Instead, they wait patiently, in the same way the residents of Navarra’s second biggest city have every Easter Sunday since the Middle Ages.
The tolls of a bell reverberate, their unchallenged vibrations rattling the plaza. As the last peal shudders into nothingness a procession bedecked in a dazzling array of colours, plumed helmets, and shining armour weaves its way through the ecstatic throng, before disappearing into the bell tower. Any remaining surreptitious conversations are hurriedly ended, and the crowd begins to wait once more. Minutes later a set of doors halfway up the tower swing open with a solemnness usually reserved for heads of state, and an angel, who bears a close resemblance to a local primary school student, appears in the plush doorway. The crowd erupts into a roar of approval so vehement that it seems to take the air itself by surprise. Even without glancing at the varied and jubilant faces in my immediate vicinity it remains plain to see that, for Tudelanos, religion continues to carry a sense of widespread communal importance. Here, regardless of age, gender, or social status all seem to partake in holy festivities with a vigour and pride that is no longer guaranteed in a Spain which finds itself becoming increasingly secular.
The cacophony of noise abates just as abruptly as it began, and the angel-child launches graciously from her perch. Now only the protests of an antiquated pulley system can be heard emanating from a roll of foam that hovers above her in the crude likeness of a cloud. Progress is painfully slow, but despite the sedentary nature of the descent the air remains thick with excitement and anticipation. Perhaps it’s this surprising viscosity which has led to a collective burning of the lungs. A more likely postulation would be that we do not dare interrupt the squeaking silence, even with our breath.
Upon reaching the centre of the plaza, where an effigy of the Virgin Mary stands tall, the angel-child crosses herself repeatedly, and takes a deep breath, as if inhaling for every member of the oxygen-starved crowd. A cherubic hand reaches down and whips off the Virgin’s black veil whilst a high-pitched voice screams ‘Rejoice Mary, because your son is risen!’. Again, the plaza erupts into a raucous cacophony of celestial celebration. This time the cheers are unrelenting, and for good reason; Jesus is alive, and in Tudela it would seem religious tradition, no matter how antiquated, is too.