Brothers in white

The Virgin of La Candelaria (LEFT) and Jesús de la Salud (RIGHT) one Martes Santo in the 1920s. PHOTOS: SERRANO (JOAQUÍN TURINA ARCHIVE / JUAN MARCH FOUNDATION)

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ON A WARM DAY IN SEVILLE IN 1976, 13-year old Jose María Cuadro Macías, as he often did, was going back and forth between his home, his father’s textile shop – “Confecciones Cuadro” – on calle Alfarería, and the fading façade of a house on calle Federico Rubio that held 55 years of memories behind its walls and only five words visible to passersby: “Casa Hermandad de la Candelaria.” Every time he walked by this place, his dream of joining something bigger than him grew stronger. Not too long after, this dream became a reality.

THE ILLUSTRIOUS AND FERVENT BROTHERHOOD of Nuestro Padre Jesús de la Salud, María Santísima de la Candelaria, Nuestra Señora del Subterráneo and San Nicolás de Bari, or simply “La Candelaria” as it is popularly known in Seville, was established in June of 1921. At first it was no more than a modest meeting point for the people of the neighborhood. It has now grown to become one of the biggest and most popular brotherhoods in Seville, “but it still maintains the feeling of one big family,” says Cuadro Macías, the 50-year old Hermano Mayor (Leading Brother) of “La Candelaria.”

“THE BROTHERHOOD has continued to maintain a type of atmosphere where everyone is present. We see each other knowing we have known each other for many years, we share a beer, ask about each other’s wives and children and, when anyone needs it, we extend a helping hand in the best way that we can,” he explains with the distant smile that could only come from a fond memory. The brotherhood now boasts 1,000 members, but for Cuadro Macías the real success is that they have been able to mantain the brotherhood’s strong sense of community throughout its fast evolution.

“THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS in my life have happened because of the brotherhood,” Cuadro Macías explains proudly. “I met my wife here, one Holy Tuesday. We were both part of the youth group and I asked her out that very same day, right here. We got married here and have been together for more than 30 years. Our two children, Yolanda (20) and José María (18) were baptized here, had their First Communions here, and now are members themselves. My wife sings in the choir and my children participate in the youth group, just like we did.”

THIS IS NOT ONLY THE STORY OF CUADRO MACÍAS but is also a story shared by many members of “La Candelaria”. “The brotherhoods in Seville are very traditional,” Cuadro Macías emphasizes “So if you belong to one you swear in your children, and then your children swear in their own. There are complete generations of many people here.”

SUCH DEVOTION for his brotherhood led Cuadro Macías to run for Hermano Mayor of “La Candelaria” in January of 2007, which he won supported by a group of men and women who have since comprised the brotherhood’s governing body. He feels extremely lucky for his success, but the respect and appreciation shown by his fellow members prove that he was not lucky to win, but deserved to win.

CUADRO MACÍAS IS WELL AWARE of the key role of brotherhoods in Seville, both socially and spiritually. “It is a structuring of our society,” he says. “It is a union of all of the social classes and ideas. We have liberals and conservatives, all sorts of people. We are all united under the same belief in Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary.”

“I THINK THE NINE YEARS that I have been Hermano Mayor have been the most important of my life. I began at 42 and will finish at 51, and I am extremely pleased with what we have done,” he says with a laugh that shakes his big body. As Hermano Mayor, Cuadro Macías also serves as the representative for the brotherhood, attends meetings or conferences throughout Seville when needed and plays a large roll in the orchestration of Holy Week events, the most important time of the year for the city’s the brotherhoods. “Christianity is what brings the members of each brotherhood together in the first place and what ultimately keeps us coming back together,” he reflects.

“LA CANDELARIA’S” PROCESSION on Tuesday of Holy Week, or Martes Santo, is the most important day of the year for the brotherhood and its members prepare for it throughout the year. For this reason, they celebrate mass every Tuesday of the year at the church of San Nicolás de Bari, on calle San José, where they worship their religious images, the Cristo de la Salud and María Santísima de la Candelaria. For the Martes Santo processions up to 2,000 people line both sides of the street around the church. With drums keeping the march in time, María Santísima de la Candelaria is held up on a float adorned with candles and flowers above a sea of brothers dressed in white. Their faces are invisible beneath pointed white masks as they march in front of, behind and alongside “La Candelaria,” holding candles of their own as if at her guard.

THE PEOPLE ON THE STREET marvel at the sight as they recite the Holy Trinity while crossing themselves, knowing that the overwhelming presence of the brotherhood’s images in the streets is the product of many anonymous brothers’ and sisters’ hardwork throughout the year. “This is a sight not to be missed by any member of the brotherhood,” says 76-year-old brother and Seville native José María Fernández, who has only missed one in his 73 years as a member because he fell ill. He still remembers his first Holy Tuesday like it was yesterday. “The brotherhood was much smaller at the time, but I remember watching the passing of the Lord and then the passing of the Virgin of La Candelaria and not realizing until after it was over that we had been there from six in the afternoon to three in the morning.”

LEADING UP TO HOLY WEEK the brotherhood also hosts many religious ceremonies, beginning with the triduos, continuing with the quinario and ending on Martes Santo. The triduos is dedicated to the Virgin of La Candelaria and goes on for three days (Thursday, Friday and Saturday) at the end of January. During this ceremony the Virgin is moved from her altar in the church to the float in which she will be paraded around during the procession. The quinario, dedicated to the Cristo de la Salud, is a five-day long event (Thursday through Saturday) and takes place in the middle of February. These ceremonies only last until Saturday because Sunday is recognized as the most important day during these weeks, called the “Función Principal de Instituto,” in which the brotherhood demonstrates its strong belief in the Gospel and Christianity.

LOOKING FORWARD, Cuadro Macías sees a bright future for his brotherhood, with hopes that it will hold the same stature as other brotherhoods in Seville that have lasted for over 500 years. If the sanctity of the brotherhood continues to be passed down throughout each generation, he says, “La Candelaria” will grow to have a lasting legacy and impact in the city where it began 93 years ago. “At the end of the day,” the Hermano Mayor says, pride shining in his dark eyes, “the brotherhoods serve to make us all better people.”