EL PASO. A representation of the Passion of Christ
Of all the religious manifestations that existed in Istán it is the only one to have survived the passage of time.
It currently constitutes one of the most outstanding representations of the PASSION and DEATH of Jesus on a provincial and regional level. It stands out due to the peculiarity of its living scenes from passages of the Old and New Testament which culminate in the Crucifixion of Jesus on Good Friday within a natural environment, at the foot of the mountains.
The first documentary reference made of the Istán Easter Procession is from 1666 and appears in book 2 of the brotherhood of the Santa Vera Cruz which was entrusted with its organisation, with its brothers being those who peopled the scenes in the main square, where it began to take place.
Within the brotherhood one could belong to two different types of brothers: those of light, whose mission consisted in carrying lights during the procession on Maundy Thursday, and the disciplined brothers who tended to carry great crosses upon their shoulders whilst simultaneously dragging thick chains. They all had their roles to play in the staging of the Procession, during Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, and Easter Sunday, which required the participation of a number of people to bring life to the characters. They were also required to fulfil a complex task which involved the preparing of the town square to convert it into a perfect stage, facilitate seating for the public, as well as the remainder of the many details which the setting of the scene demanded.
From 1856, it is agreed to share this endeavour with the brotherhood of Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno, who had previously been active participants in the event. The assembly held by both brotherhoods on the 3rd of May in this year was decisive in defining the future of these representations and the collaboration that was being forged between them.
With regard to the staging, of note is that all the male characters wore masks, popularly known as “rostros” (faces). They were a sort of half-mask that only covered half the face, with Jesus being the only one to bear three different masks. To ensure the characterisation was perfect they were accompanied by flowing locks of hair upon which lay a semicircle with their name written upon it. Another of the remarkable traits is the expression on their faces, which depending on the character being represented were either good-natured in the case of the apostles, or fiendish in the case of the leaders or “armaos”.
The presence of images was of note, in particular the Procession of the Descent from the Cross (Seven Words). The priest addresses from his balcony the loyal subjects who congregated in the square to exhibit the last moments of the agony of Jesus, at the end of which a chorus of voices sang the corresponding verses from the Procession script. Then a rumbling of drums and discharging of guns announce the death of Jesus Christ who appeared crucified behind the “Veil”. The Magdalene grieved the death of her master, while Longino pierced the divine side with his spear. The performance complete, images and actors walk the streets of the town leading the procession.
These acts were represented continuously until 1936 when the political situation and anticlericalism significantly influences the spirit of the population. During the years after the civil war the various attempts made to resuscitate this tradition were not successful, at the end of the forties it had begun again but only for a few years before it once again became forgotten.
It is at the end of the seventies that it begins to revive, despite the fact that the youths only knew of it from what their elder relations had told them. In 1980 the restoration of the tradition becomes a reality, but with modifications that were not accepted by the most conservative sector.
During the last few years the spectre of Istán Easter Week has been consolidating itself and now includes some innovations and changes such as the following:
- Elimination of masks on the characters, elimination of the choir and, therefore, the figure of the “Singer”, as the staging no longer required it.
- Unification of the scenes. In earlier times, a performance was held in the morning of Good Friday and another around three in the afternoon. Currently, these are both included within the same performance.
- Currently, the Paso is regarded as a theatrical show and the processions are programmed independently.
- With regard to the performances, these are by people of all ages and who on Maundy Thursday appear surrounding Jesus, as if around a friend, while on Friday they make up a vengeance-seeking rabble who cry out for vengeance to the authorities for the death of the Nazarene. This group is not committed to the performance of any outstanding role and anyone who wishes to may take part.
- In the crucifixion, it is the actor playing the role of Jesus who is the sole protagonist on the stage, together with the two thieves also crucified.
- The music which accompanies the scenes is another of the innovations, playing a crucial role in key moments such as the goodbye scene between Jesus and Mary, the monologue when he takes the cross to climb up to the
Calvaryor the repentance of Judas.