During the month of May, the streets of Priego are alight like at no other time of year. Winter has gone, Easter week is over and now the town is ready for spring. Light fills the day, lengthening the evenings. The olives are in flower and the streets of the old town are a riot of colour.
The scene is set, the weather, the general exhuberance of the Prieguenses and even history itself come together to bring about one of the most iconic celebrations in this corner of the Subbética; the Sundays of May. Each week one of the Brotherhoods has a weekend dedicated to their celebrations, concluding on the Sunday when they parade through the streets with their Statues.
The festival started in the mid-17th century. The reason is still a subject of conjecture, but there are two proposals that seem most likely: a pledge given for the salvation of Priego from a cholera plague that had devastated the surrounding towns: a plea from the faithful to the religious figures to save the town from drought and provide a bountiful harvest. Recent detailed expert investigations of the brotherhoods´ own documents tend to discount the second explanation. Whatever the reason for the start of this tradition, the great devotion that the statues incite in the people, as they leave the churches, is palpable. It should be noted that historically, Granada had the most important brotherhoods. They owned the most impressive statuary and their influence spread far and wide. They were the initial inspiration for the symbolism and devotion that has been continued until the present day. This festival can trace its origins back to the middle of the 17th century During the first week of May, The Hermandad de Caridad (Brotherhood of Compassion) is responsible for initiating Priego de Córdoba´s major celebration. Next comes the Hermandad de Buen Suceso (Brotherhood of the Glorious Event), followed by the Hermandad de la Columna (Brotherhood of Christ scourged at the Column) and the Hermandad de Jesús Nazareno (Brotherhood of Jesus of Nazareth).
The parishes of each brotherhood become the heart of the celebration. A cycle of seven masses held on the preceding days leading up to the great religious celebration on the Sunday. A week full of diverse artistic and reverential demonstrations of devotion. One of the most striking, because of its intensity and the affect that it produces, are the highly decorated altar pieces that are mounted in the streets. The main statue of each brotherhood is placed on the altar surrounded by a great display of flowers, candles and other decorative elements. Each year has a slightly different theme.
THE OLD TOWN. The altar pieces are highlighted by an explosion of colour that perfectly links with the old town alleyways. At each zig zag through the labyrinth of passages you are assaulted by a riot of colour from the plants and pots that decorate every wall and balcony, above the cobbled streets. Forget about time and direction, enjoy the contrast of the white washed walls and the colour of the flowers. Let yourself be carried through the old quarter of the town, lost in a sea of geraniums.
Allow yourself to experience the all-encompassing sensation of the neighbourhood as you wander aimlessly. With its narrow streets and tiled roofs that stoop down to embrace you, this area has always been a favourite for strolling ever since its foundation as an original Arab settlement, in part due to the gentle breezes and cooler temperature that its layout encourages.
At the heart of the old town quarter you can glance into tiny internal patios, meticulously cared for by the residents, or small secluded squares like San Antonio. Wherever you wander you will always be accompanied by flowers, right up to your arrival at the Adarve.
Suddenly, the seclusion of the narrow passageways gives way to a commanding prospect from the top of a natural cliff. Its structure which made it ideal as a defensive rampart, affords a wonderful panoramic view of the countryside. It is a landscape, crying out to be painted, with its innumerable gardens and lines of olive groves. As we look at it, absorbing every detail, Priego in May begins to take over our senses. There is nothing trivial about the all-pervading presence of flowers and nature. It is the clue that explains the very essence of the Sundays in May. Thus our 21st century traveller is easily transported back 350 years and given an inkling of the feelings of the people of that time and why they felt impelled to express their faith. The reason for that simple pledge is made obvious when you look down from the Adarve. It is the bounty of the countryside that maintains the livelihoods of towns like Priego de Córdoba.