The Papal and Royal Arch-Brotherhood of the True Cross, Jesus Scourged and Holiest Mary of Hope, also known as La Columna, has staged a theatrical representation of the Arrest of Christ since time immemorial: it depicts the events leading to the Crucifixion -- the Washing of the Disciples’ Feet, the Last Supper, Praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, and the Betrayal and Arrest of Jesus.
Although the date in which this tradition started is unclear, we know from the early statutes of the organisation that it was already established in the seventeenth century.
Over the years, the tradition suffered various setbacks, and was on the point of disappearing, because of the influence of the progressive movement in the church: in 1792, Abbot Palomino banned it, but Bishop Cabellero was made a member of the guild, and he interceded with the abbot to have the tradition reinstated. It continued until 1810, when the French arrived and the brotherhood was disbanded -- but in 1814 it was reformed, on the return of the Monarchy. Until 1960, the performance used to take place on Easter Thursday evening, but Mass was moved to this time, so now it takes place on Easter Wednesday.
In the past, the performance was held in the Carrera de Álvarez, but it has had other venues, such as the Compás de San Francisco, in front of the church of San Francisco; at the entrance to the house of Don Enrique Burgos, the chaplain of La Columna; The Victoria Theatre; The María Cristina Theatre at the Fuente del Rey; and in the Paseíllo, in front of the town hall, where we can see it today.
The oldest known script of The Arrest of Christ is in Latin with notes in Spanish: the whole text was translated into Spanish by Don Enrique Burgos, and a new adaptation has beeen made recently.
The original music was by an unknown composer, but Alonso Cano, the pianist and music historian, has confirmed that it dates from the sixteenth century. These days, this score has been replaced with other sacred music with greater thematic relevance.
The characters of Jesus and the apostles were played originally by priests, and later by members of La Columna, or by some people outside the group: nowadays, only the role of Jesus is taken by a priest. The apostles’ robes are very simple, while those worn by Jesus are much more ornate: each actor wears a long wig, and a mask by which the audience can identify the characters. The brotherhood still has the ancient plaster moulds for the masks: six of the twelve masks of the apostles bear the crest of the Nazareno brotherhood, from which we can gather that although La Columna once possessed a complete set, some became damaged and were replaced by masks given by the other brotherhood. Records show that the apostles -- without Judas -- used to take part in the Good Friday procession of the Nazarenos, but it is not known if they were the actors who had taken part in the Arrest of Christ, or others belonging to the Nazareno brotherhood.
During the performance, the dramatic tension rises until the final scene, when the action reaches a breath-taking pace, with spectacular theatrical effects. Priego has other traditional characters who take part in The Arrest of Christ, such as the executioners, who wear grotesque masks -- when they take part in the Easter Thursday procession, however, they wear them raised off their faces. In José Luque Requerey’s book Antropología Cultural Andaluza: el Viernes Santo al Sur de Córdoba, we read the following description: “they wear boots of tanned sheepskin, rough cloaks, hats covered with rags and paper flowers, and their faces hidden by awful, monstrous masks.”
The Roman soldiers traditionally adopted their role before The Arrest of Christ itself. They would march with their three captains to the Fuente del Rey, to present arms to the national anthem: then, with the captain of La Columna at their head, they would march Jesus and the apostles to the venue for the performance. The origin of the squadron can be dated to around 1602, when the Nazareno brothers introduced a band of cornets into their procession – these became the Roman troops. In 1648, records show that the Nazarenos provided clothing for their members to take part as the crowd in the performance: in 1686, a squadron of Roman soldiers are recorded as taking part in the procession of the Brotherhood of the True Cross: in 1700, both brotherhoods agreed to set up a joint squadron of 36 soldiers: in 1718, the brotherhoods of La Columna, Jesus Nazareno and La Soledad agreed to provide 15 soldiers each to the squadron, which would lead each of their processions, with the soldiers under the command of the head of their respective organisations. At that time, it was not possible to be a soldier without being a member of a brotherhood, but later, anyone could become a soldier, and gradually the troop lost their once-impressive presence.
The squadron’s first task of Holy Week was the Arrest of Christ: then, on Good Friday morning, the squadron and their captains would take charge of the Holy Cross from the church of San Francisco, and await the departure of Jesus Nazareno. Then they would escort the procession to Palenque, where the Nazareno captain would give the order: “Squadron! Once more, at the double!” In the afternoon, command of the squadron would pass to La Soledad, and the troops used to delight onlookers with a display of extraordinary manoeuvres.
Nowadays, the squadron has been replaced by a band of cornets and Roman legionaries, whose costume bears no resemblance to the old one. José Luque Requerey describes it thus: “they wear breeches and short doublets of suede and they have pikes, lances and metal helmets of various colours: the captain wears a purple velvet cloak with gold embroidery, a sword and a helmet with a multi-coloured plume.” There have been slight changes to the regalia and the course of events: the troops still take part in The Arrest of Christ and in the processions of the Scourging of Jesus and of Jesus Nazareno, but they no longer take part in the procession of the brotherhood of La Soledad or the Descent from the Cross.
There are many characters which have played an important role in this ancient tradition , but which have disappeared, or are disappearing; such as Pestiñez, who clears the way for the procession, or Los Bacalaos, the caricature soldiers. José Luque Requerey tells us: “Pestiñez plays a big bass drum, and wears a purple skirt, with breast-plate and a metal helmet with a purple and yellow plume.” The bacalaos “wear red trousers, red jackets and golden helmets”.
Hermandad de María Santísima del mayor Dolor y Nuestro Padre Jesús Preso
This is a new cofradía, or church guild, founded on June 16th, 1988, by a group of friends who wanted to create an organisation with a true sense of fraternity. They elected a governing committee and unanimously chose the master craftsman Niceto Mateo as Senior Brother: they also agreed on the name of the new cofradía, its robes, the procession date and route it was to take.
The challenge of setting up a new cofradía from scratch, in the middle of the year and with plans to take part in the following Holy Week, was both expensive and difficult. A charity event was held to raise money, and in the evenings, members went from house to house seeking donations and enlisting new members – these now number 250.
Once the new cofradía was set up, Niceto Mateo remembered that there had been an icon of a Virgin of Suffering in the church of San Juan de Dios. After some investigation, it was found in the choir of the church, in a state of serious disrepair. The figure -- believed to be the work of Risueño -- was taken to Niceto Mateo’s workshop, where he discovered that only the body was of wood, the rest was made from terracotta. He restored the figure, carefully keeping the colour of the face and hands, and replacing the missing fingers.
Later, Niceto Mateo carved the icon of Jesus Captive: the wood he used is cypress, a gift from Rafael Ruíz Amores, from his farm in Alcaudete. The figure is finely detailed, particularly the hands, hair and facial expression, which convey a realistic feeling of suffering. Jesus wears a dishevelled tunic, his hands are tied in front of him and he is barefoot.
The first procession of the brotherhood of Our Lady of Greatest Suffering took place at midnight on Easter Wednesday,1989, leaving the church of San Juan de Dios with a single icon. The following year, the image of Jesus Captive was added to the procession: a logical sequence of events, as Jesus is now a prisoner, after his arrest earlier in the day. The trono, or framework on which the image is carried, is decorated with a mountain of red carnations and lanterns at its four corners.
This cofradía carries the icon in a similar way to its counterparts in Seville, although its inspiration came from the fraternity of Our Father Jesus of Humility, in neighbouring Alcaudete. The bearers remain hidden beneath the skirts which cover the tronos, and they follow orders called out by their director.
Two women dressed in the traditional mantilla, or black lace veil, took part in the very first procession. Since its foundation, this brotherhood has admitted women as costaleras, -- bearers of the icon -- as band members or in any other position within the organisation.
The penitents wear robes of blue and black: one of them carries a hammer and key on a cushion, used symbolically to demand the opening of the church doors. The rhythm of the march is beaten out by three bass drums, an accompaniment written by Miguel Ángel Jiménez, echoing the deathly drum beat which once led prisoners to the scaffold.
The route chosen by the cofradía goes in the opposite direction to what is usually seen in Priego: Plaza de San Juan de Dios, Plaza San Pedro, Ribera, Río, Ancha, Málaga, Cervantes, Obispo Pérez Muñoz, Palenque, Carrera de Monjas, Cava, Tercia and the church of San Juan de Dios.
The week before Holy Week, there is a triduo – Mass on three consecutive days -- to honour the Virgin, and on October 11, 1989, the first of what was to become an annual fiesta was held.