Real Hermandad de María Santísima de los Desamparados y Santísimo Cristo de la Expiración
The procession of the Brotherhood of Holiest Mary of the Defenceless and the Holiest Death of Christ takes place on Easter Tuesday. This cofradía, or church guild, also known as the Brotherhood of Charity, was founded officially on April 30th, 1632, in the former shrine of San José, and early documents show that it had been linked to the Hospital of Charity during the previous century. The Brotherhood got its name from its work raising money to help the poor, the sick, the destitute and prisoners -- even today, half its income goes towards charitable activities, with the rest being used to fund the cofradía. Town records show that it gave money to the council to dig communal graves for the victims of a plague which had devastated the population. In 1789, King Carlos III issued a royal decree, authorising the cofradia to collect alms in public, something which until then had been a punishable offence. In 1808, during the uprising against the French, the guild gave a thousand silver reales to help fight the occupying army.
In 1815, the then king and queen of Spain, Fernando VII and María Josefa Amalia, were made senior guild members in perpetuity, which is why the cofradia has the title of Royal -- it was the first to receive such an honour. In 1872, the members themselves donated the money to build a vault in the cemetery for townspeople who could not afford a decent burial. The organisation underwent a revival after 1950, and its current statutes were drawn up in 1976.
The procession is led by the famed icon of Christ of the Condemned: this used to be placed in the chapel where condemned prisoners spent their last hours, in the company of some guild members, who stayed until their execution. Once the sentence was carried out, the prisoner was covered by the garment known as the Cloak of the Condemned: if it was then discovered that they had not died, A Royal Decree ruled that they should be spared any further attempt at execution.
The figure of Our Lady Protector of the Defenceless is an icon embellished by a sea of candles: we know it was brought to Priego in 1728, but it does not appear to have its origins in the Granada school predominant at the time. The icon is in an ancient style and is finely detailed: Our Lady usually holds a child in her arms, but this is removed during Holy Week, so that she becomes a figure of suffering. The child is restored for the processions of the festivals of May.
The image of Christ Crucified dates back to the beginning of the eighteenth century, probably to 1720, as it was modelled on a known earlier carving from that date. With its stocky torso, and intricate knotting of the loincloth, worn higher than in the Granadan style, it can be attributed to the Córdoba school. The craftsman Antonio Carrillo restored the figure, and later, in 1992, the left arm was remodelled, and the icon was cleaned by the craft workshop Fuente del Rey.
In 1974, it was decided that the icons would be carried in procession on Easter Tuesday, starting from the church of La Asunción, where the organisation is based. The route is: Corazón de Jesús, Ribera, Carrera de las Monjas, Palenque, Obispo Pérez Muñoz, Cervantes, Málaga, Ancha, Río, Ribera, de Jesús and back to the Iglesia de la Asunción.
The procession stops twelve times, and in the Plaza de Andalucía, the two pasos -- the icons and their massive thrones -- are carried side by side, a truly impressive spectacle.
The figures are escorted by a hundred penitents, wearing cream tunics with red hoods, and have been carried since 1980 by costaleros, or bearers -- forty carrying the figure of Christ and seventy for Our Lady: they respond to the orders of four directors, who use a bell to control the pasos. The band is made up of 24 snare drums and six bass drums, which unusually, are almost all played by women. The band plays in three tempos; two which acompany the pasos as they are taken in or out of church, and one for parading through the streets. The composer Antonio López Serrano has written a special march for the organisation, others were composed by José Antonio Alcalá Sánchez and José Luís Martínez, and the march by which the cofradia is known, the March of the Condemned, was found in an ancient manuscript.
On the Tuesday of the week of The Passion, the guild walks a Vía Crucis, parading the Christ of the Condemned from the church of La Asunción through the Barrio de la Villa, the old quarter of Priego.