The origins of the May festivals of prayer go back to 1654: four years earlier, bubonic plague had broken out in Priego, scything through the population and causing almost a thousand deaths. On January 1st, 1654, the head of the Brotherhood of Jesus of Nazareth, Pedro Carrillo de Gámiz, decreed that henceforth, in the month of May, there should be a novenario -- nine days – of sung mass, with a sermon celebrated on the last day.
This simple decree was the starting point of the May festivals, and an early chapel was built in 1659 to facilitate the ceremony, and in 1669, the penitential nature of the prayers was extended to include a Miserere on every Friday of the period of Lent.
There are various theories about the reason for the celebrations: one suggests that it was the outbreak of plague in 1650; a second, closely linked to the first, points to the effects of the massive drought which the region was experiencing; a third theory is that although both of these reasons were valid, in fact the festivals were instituted as a result of the dictates emerging from the Council of Trent.
The Nazarene celebrations reached their full magnificence in the first part of the 19th century, and so they have continued into modern times. On March 28th, 1836, Queen Isabel II was named as a senior guild member: on January 3rd, 1885, the organisation was affiliated to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
The hermandad has continued to amass an impressive and valuable collection of music, specially commissioned for the May celebrations. This is just a selection: Mass for Two and Four Voices, by M.Vázquez; Mass in G Major for Four Voices, by Antonio Palancar; Prayers to Jesus of Nazareth, by Antonio Honrubia; Aria, Plegaria y Coplas para el Quinario, by Carlos Valverde and Laureano Cano; Mass for Four Voices and Orchestra, by Gómez Navarro; compositions by local groups Compases Rocieros and Grupo Rociero.
The development of the festival auctions began in the 19th century: at first, they were held in the guild’s meeting rooms just before the procession, with local people making donations of home-grown produce. From the next century, and particularly from 1942 onwards, the auctions reached unexpected popularity, and took place in the Compás de San Francisco, in front of the church, on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday evening.
Special fundraising became necessary to pay for the ceremonies and festivities, and so a “voluntary levy” was imposed, which, at first, was paid only by the senior guild members.
The Brotherhood has always laid particular emphasis on the May festivals, and has attracted speakers of the stature of Melchor de Benisa, Pedro Alcántara Hernández, Luis Calpena y Ávila, Francisco Blanco Nájera, Father Pildain, Victorino García Sabater, José María Padilla, the Orator of Zamora Cathedral, Bishop Félix Romero Mengíbar, P. Lúcar de Córdoba, Brother Justo Pérez de Urdel, Father Leal, Javier Alert y Sosa, Father Quevedo, Father Javierre, Casimiro Pedrajas y Pedro Carrillo.
The musical offering has included celebrated artists from the world of bel canto, with prestigious choirs, and bands to accompany the processions. They include: the baritone José Pareja; the conductor maestro Garmendíez; the tenor Villalba; the Band of the Spanish Navy; the Cornet and Drum Band of the Lepanto II Infantry Regiment, of Córdoba; the Band of the City of Córdoba; the baritone, Julio Vidal; the Marching Division, Trumpets and Cornets of the Guardia Civil of Córdoba; the Cornets and Drums of the Málaga Fire Service; the Cornets and Drums of the Maristas of Priego; the Boys’ Choir of Guadix Cathedral; the Eduardo Lucena Philharmonic Centre; the tenor Emilio Ángel Platas; the tenor Fernando Carmona; the Choir of Santa María de la Victoria; the Granada City Choir; the Alonso Cano Choir of Priego; the Band of the Red Cross of San Fernando.
It is traditional that Perossi’s First Papal Mass is sung during the service on Sunday: at the end of the service, Jesus of Nazareth blesses the congregation, who reply with cries of exaltation and a surge of barely-contained emotion.
There is a truly unique atmosphere to the celebration of Jesus of Nazareth: the holy image is displayed in the centre of the church of San Francisco, set against a stunning backdrop of colour and light. Every year, tens of thousands of flowers given by followers are made by expert hands into an awe-inspiring framework, in which the people of Priego express their love for their “King”.
On the Sunday, the procession is simple yet majestic: Jesus of Nazareth -- a prince of light on his brightly embellished throne -- is borne on the shoulders of the costaleros through the streets of Priego, escorted by women dressed in the classic mantilla veil, guild members, and their marching band. The route is lined with supporters – every one a Nazareno at heart.