The celebration of Holy Week in our city took on its procession format with the Reconquest of the city by the Catholic Monarchs in 1487. The conversion of the inhabitants to Catholicism, together with the arrival of new inhabitants from Castile gave a new dimension, after centuries of Muslim influence, to the religious expression of the Malaga people. However, the Modern Age phenomenon that made the greatest mark on the future of the Brotherhoods was the Protestant Reform, the Council of Trent (16th century) and the later Catholic Counter-reform. The Catholic Church, in a clear endeavour to combat protestant doctrine, which they considered heresy, encouraged the new confessional current of worshipping sacred images. This seal of identity had, in turn, a dual intention: apart from serving as the distinctive mark of the Catholic creed, it was also used to catechise the people, given that most of them, unfortunately, could neither read nor write. Furthermore, together with the fact that only persons belonging to religious orders were allowed to interpret the Holy Scriptures, there was also the aspect of “an image saying more than a thousand words”.
Therefore, the Baroque period in Malaga was the time when new processional Brotherhoods were formed by the noble families of the city, linked both to new or existing fraternities. Naturally, the Holy Week in this period was totally different to that of today. All the processional “tronos” (hand carried platforms on which the images are mounted) left from their respective temples, as there were none of the “Brotherhood Houses” that appeared later on. The images were borne on rudimentary platforms, carried by 8 or 10 throne bearers, the cortege comprising the “Hermanos de Luz” (lit. brothers of light, i.e. those who carried the candles) and which would correspond to the “Nazarenes” that accompany the images in present day processions, and the “Hermanos de Sangre” (lit. brothers of blood), penitents who flagellated themselves during the whole procession, much to the fascinated horror of the public who gathered to watch this dismal display. Furthermore, let us not forget a characteristic that may today seem secondary (despite the fact that it is something that is being put into practice again with the niches for the brothers in Brotherhood chapels or temples): we refer to the Brotherhoods’ function as “burial societies”. Most of the brothers joined the Brotherhoods moved by the desire to obtain a holy place where their mortal remains could rest eternally, as well as an entity that would say the obligatory masses to pray for their errant soul as it searched purgatory for eternal celestial rest. Clearly, the fundamental characteristics of the Brotherhoods of the time not only included religious worship, but they also more mundane and practical aspects, such as ensuring a place to be buried.
However, in the Baroque period, full of effect and exaggeration, there were also excesses, such as the grand proliferation of aforementioned flagellating penitents, as well as others, such as the ostentation of the more well off classes, who would choose the best places in the procession and adorn their Nazarene costumes with emblems. All of this led the Ecclesiastic Authorities to dictate rules regulating such excesses and try to redirect the Brotherhoods back to piety.
The Enlightenment (18th century), brought with it a different way of thinking and the “enlightened” society viewed the Brotherhoods as a reflection of obscurantism and religious superstition. This new approach to popular religiousness led the Authorities to take steps and dictate regulations (on occasions scarcely complied with) designed to promote public order and composure, during the processions, eliminating any excesses.
As if that were not enough, the 19th century did not start well for the Brotherhoods in Malaga. With the Napoleonic invasions came continued sacking of the Brotherhoods’ heritage, with which a large part of what had been accumulated up to that time disappeared into the hands of foreigners. On top of that, after the Spanish War of Independence, an event took place that was to affect the very foundations of the Brotherhoods. The Mendizabal’s Disentailment Act in 1835 eliminated a large number of convents including, naturally, many in Malaga. For many centuries the convents had been the headquarters of the Brotherhoods. In fact, in the Baroque period some monastic orders, such as the Franciscans, had been significantly active in disseminating certain devotions, showing great interest in founding penitential Brotherhoods. The disappearance of these convents forced the Brotherhoods to find new temples to house their images, from where they could initiate their processions during Holy Week. Another significant event was the creation of municipal cemeteries, which caused the “burial society” function of the Brotherhoods to fall into decline, as people were now being buried in municipal spaces designed specifically for that purpose, although the Brotherhoods also purchased niches and pantheons in the new cemeteries for their members.
The beginning of the 20th century was not all that promising either. The economical crisis at the time in Malaga, with the failure of the local iron and steelwork industry and the plague of phyloxera that destroyed the vines, logically affected the Brotherhoods, especially in terms of revenue. This delicate financial situation, which made it impossible for a good number of Brotherhoods to carry out their annual processions, would be what motivated the creation, in 1921, of the MALAGA HOLY WEEK BROTHERHOODS ASSOCIATION, the most veteran of its kind in the country. From the first moment, the main function of this organisation was to obtain the necessary financial support to pay the expenses of the processions, particularly those of the most needy Brotherhoods and in fact it was precisely in the 20s that our Holy Week began to become very popular. Together with the return of the Brotherhoods that had been declining in previous centuries, new ones were founded. Furthermore, there was the stimulus of promoting winter tourism, which even then was present in Malaga; processions constituted an additional attraction for the tourist of the times and, just as it does now, an unquestionable source of revenue for the city.
The districts and their links with the Brotherhoods. In the 50s, Our Lady Ntra. Sra. de la Piedad was carried in procession through the streets of the Molinillo district
This golden age was unfortunately cut short due to political and social reasons. On the night of the 11th-12th May 1931, recently inaugurated the Second Republic, rioting groups of anarchists ransacked the temples of the city, destroying everything they contained. The ignorance and intolerance of a few destroyed the devotional heritage of our city accumulated over centuries. A dreadful interpretation of what constitutes faith and beliefs destroyed that which had united in belief generations of Malaga’s citizens. Following these events, the stormy social climate obliged the suspension of the procession, although in 1935 some Brotherhoods were able to take to the streets (since then called "the brave") risking the little heritage they had managed to get together. In 1936, the Spanish Civil War brought another wave of destruction, which more or less finished up with everything that had been saved from the previous outrage.
The post-war period was hard for everyone, including, of course, the processional Brotherhoods. Recovery of their patrimony would also be affected by the social and political circumstances of the conflict. The winners, with a clear “national-catholic” spirit, fostered the processions as a triumph over the enemies of the Catholic faith, magnifying and unashamedly politicising, during the first years, something that is so much “of the people” as the processions. As a result, the presence of military forces increased notably, although it had already been conspicuous in previous centuries. Another significant aspect would be the increase in the size of the tronos, on one hand due to the before mentioned desire to highlight the victory of the Catholic faith over the “atheist republican”, magnifying the tronos on which the sacred images were carried. On the other hand, however, the not always smooth relations between the Brotherhoods and the clergy would lead to an Episcopal decree prohibiting the assembly of the tronos within the temples, due to the inconvenience this caused for the celebration of the religious services during those days. This meant that, not having to worry about the size of the doors of the temple (at that time only the procession of the Viñeros performed a penitential rite inside the Cathedral), the size of the trono was not a problem. This in turn gave rise to other new elements in the procession and which are disappearing today, such as the “tinglaos”, metal structures that were built in the streets to house the trono and protect it (somewhat inefficiently) from bad weather.
In the 1960s the mentality of the Brotherhoods changed. Whilst the reconstruction following the Spanish Civil War had given local artists the opportunity of creating works of art, producing a good number of images clearly inspired in the Granada school of images, which had always been the tradition in Malaga, now the Boards of the processional Brotherhoods began to focus on the Brotherhoods of Seville. The new commissions, both for images and tronos as well as other elements would from then on be sent to Seville, this having an effect that has lasted until present times. Another important occurrence was the incorporation of young people in the Brotherhoods, with active participation. However, everything was not going to be a bed or roses for the new Brotherhoods.
The different mentality of those at the time in charge of running the Brotherhoods was to provoke tensions within these and the new democratic regime in Spain in the 70s coincided with a movement of the young people who settled the generational disputes by creating Brotherhoods, based on a different vision of Holy Week. Now what was important was not so much the sumptuousness of the processions, but being able to leave from Brotherhood temple and perform a penitential rite in the Cathedral, an option that was made available to all the Malaga Brotherhoods by the Bishop in 1988 (until then only the Viñeros and Pasión Brotherhoods had held this privilege).
This brings us to the present day, in which two forms of living and understanding Holy Week co-exist. Together with the school of thought developed in the post-war period (huge tronos, sumptuousness and luxury in the processional cortege), there is the other way of thinking, which began to appear at the end of the 70s with the new Brotherhoods (penitential spirit, greater austerity and putting greater weight on performing the penitential rite). In any case variety is something that defines the very essence of our Holy Week, a powerful reason to visit our city and enjoy this celebration that, for the people of Malaga, unquestionably marks the beginning of spring.