SEVILLE, SPAIN: la Virgen de la Macarena

Hank Levin reports: "The concept of charity can mean very different things in Spain than in the U.S. In 1976 I had to participate in a training conference in Seville. At that time we had very good friends in the Opus Dei (because of our contacts at the University of Navarra in Pamplona, an Opus university), and Opus was very-well organized in Seville. As a result, one of our friends at the University of Navarra contacted a Navy Captain in Seville to take us around to specific places that were not open to the general public. For example, we were able to take an extensive and personalized tour of the home of the Duque de Alba in Seville (one of his many homes all over Spain, and a home in which the family spent only the semana santa and April fair), an enormous palace with a large year-round staff.

In our many excursions with the captain, he told us much about the character of Seville that he admired. One of his stories went as follows. It is widely claimed in Spain (or at least in Sevilla or Andalucia) that the most beautiful statue of the virgin is the Virgen de Macarena. She is very beautiful and is paraded extensively during the holy week. The captain's story was on the great charitable tradition of Seville. He told us that two years before a great public subscription was raised among the pillars of Seville (the richest families) to acquire a new outfit for the Macarena. Bear in mind that over the centuries she has acquired a large wardrobe of outfits. The subscription raised a huge amount of pesetas, perhaps $ 70,000 at the time. Just prior to presenting this to the Church to acquire a new outfit, a great debate arose in the city. This was several months after the death of Franco, and reformist elements had emerged that extended the ferment into city affairs. One faction said that a particular barrio of Seville was so poor and its unemployment was so high, that the money should be given to those poor rather than just acquiring more clothes for the Macarena. Another faction said that devotion to the Macarena was the highest order of the day. Ultimately the money was turned over to the poor (the churches in the barrio).

We thought that the story was finished at that point and that he wanted to show how the rich of the city had diverted their effort to the poor, and we made remarks of agreement and congratulations. The story was not finished. The climax of the story was that the barrio responded by establishing its own subscription and raising another $ 25,000 for the Macarena, so that now they could invest almost $100,000 in new clothes for the Macarena. The captain's eyes beamed as he described the solidarity and goodness of the citizens of Seville. He asked us if we knew any place in the U.S. in which the poor had been given a choice and "did the right thing".

I would have left this alone. Unfortunately, my wife is quite independent of me and told the Captain, outfitted in his spiffy white uniform, that this was idol worship, paganism, and not what Christ had devoted his life to. She told him that another outfit for the Macarena did not deserve the sacrifice of the poor, who had probably been pressured by the church to believe that their salvation required this sacrifice. She repeated that this is idolatry, not religion. Bear in mind that this was a time of great poverty in Spain, well before the recent economic developments. In any event, the Captain excused himself, and we never heard another word from our friends in Opus. It is also an interesting perspective on the purposes of charity and its meaning".

RH: The Virgen de la Macarena is in the gypsy district of Seville. In a Mexican town a huge cathedral is now being completed, thanks largely to the generosity of a few wealthy people. Ths would be reason for rejoicing, except for the fact that the stone for the floor was imported at great expense from India, and the doors from Europe. Mexico has abundant stone and stone workers, as well as good carpenters. Those poor people would have profited greatly from the work. Randy Black blames the Catholic Church for the poverty in Mexico. However, that is only part of the story.

Christopher Jones says: "Hank Levin and his wife are lucky they left Sevilla alive. Mr. Levin's Catalan wife insulted Andalucía and confirmed what most Andaluces think about Catalans: that they are detestable separatistas. Nowhere in Andalucía, even today, would I ever dare to say what Hank Levin wrote. It as an insult to the culture of the region and its people. Like it or not, to this very day and hour, the poor and rich alike venerate their Virgen. In the town in Andalucía where I have a house, a mini-virgen in her own wooden box is passed from family to family. It spends a few nights with one, decorated with candles etc. and then onto the next etc. During the major town fiestas, the Virgen (in this case the Virgen holding the baby, San Ginés) is paraded around the town and the spectators kneel, cross themselves in devotion and ultimately shout vivas. Most of the believers are the poor. They don't want the money, they want to see their Virgen as beautiful as possible. I was once interviewed on regional Andaluz TV (Canal Sur) about my research into the possible Spanish origins of Walt Disney. I suggested we do the interview in front of the town church, next to the pretty little shrine that contains the effigy of the Virgen. How many people came up later just to shake my hand in thanks for showing "their" church and Virgen. At the same time, the very seasoned reporter who was well known for covering the riots in El Ejido, told me in no uncertain terms, that whatever you do, never question the culto". RH: I think Hank's wife was right, although the locals resented it. It reminds me of the priest in charge of the Virgen de Guadalupe in Mexico who said the story was a myth. He was right, but he was ousted. The truth shall make you free? I am puzzled by San Ginés. I can find no information about that saint. Is he mythical?

Christopher Jones spoke of the cult of a local Andalusian Virgen as proof of the faith of poor people. Paul Preston comments: "Figures quoted by the Catholic historians Frances Lannon, Privilege, Persecution and Prophecy and William J.Callahan, Church, Politics and Society comment on the despair within the Catholic hierarchy about the low level of religiosity in Andalusia. By the time of Franco's death in 1975, the diocese of Seville (incorporating the provinces of Huelva and Sevilla) reported figures for attendance at mass of 20% for women and 6% of the male population (including children). It has often been lamented in Catholic circles that Andalusia was never properly 'Catholicised'".

Hank Levin denies that his wife is a Catalan separatista: "Actually, my wife is far more Andaluz than Catalan. She was born in Mallorca because her father was posted there as a fiscal. However, at the age of three she moved to Cordoba where she spent her childhood years before moving to Colombia as a teenager and being sent back to Madrid for her high school. By the way, we were staying in Sevilla with a priest from Madrid and local lay persons who were Marianistas (a very nice group of non-clergy who were extremely pious and doing good deeds. All were highly educated.). They were very tolerant of Pilars perspective Later we camped together on the plains of Jaen".

John Heelan says: "WAISers wishing to learn more about La Macarena should visit the Hermandad's English webpage on
At the end of the XVI Century, in the Sevillian quarter of la Feria, the monastic order of Saint Basil was established. Its foundation was possible thanks to a rich Cyprian merchant named Nicolao Triarki. At this church, belonging to the Parish Church of Omnium Sanctorum, the Confraternity of Our Lady of Hope Macarena and Brotherhood of Penance was founded; its first rules were approved by the Ecclesiastic Authority in 1595. The Brotherhood remained at this church until 1653, in which year they moved to Saint Giles´ Parish Church The closeness to St.Giles´s Parish Church was the reason for the Confraternity of la Esperanza Macarena to get a large number of brethren: peasants and kitchen gardeners who saw with pleasure the decision adopted by the Brotherhood. Although the beneficiaries of St. Giles had intervened in the transfer from St. Basil´s Church, the Brotherhood met serious difficultie. In the beginning they only had an altar at the end of the church, close to St. Michael, where they placed the images: the Crucified Christ, Our Lady of Hope Macarena and, later on, Our Lord of the Sentence". RH: This gives little idea of the fervor surrounding the cult. The origin of the word "Macarena" is obscure. The cult is associated with the Seville Fair, which opens up a whole new subject. See the novel by the Uruguayan writer Carlos Reyles, El Embrujo de Sevilla.

Alejo Orvañanos says: "You will find information as to the origin of the name Macarena in the site as well as other facts regarding this subject". RH. The site (in Spanish) mentions two possible etymologies: a Muslim princess called Macarea or a Roman called Macarius. The site has pictures of the hooded penitentes. Is this a case of Moorish/Christian syncretism?

Christopher Jones said the people of his Andalusian village were proud of their image of the Virgin carrying Saint Ginés. I could find no information about him, but Randy Black comes to the rescue: "Saint Ginés de La Jara: According to legend, after Saint Ginés was decapitated in southern France, he picked up his head and tossed it into the Rhône River. Carried by the sea to the coast of southeastern Spain, it was retrieved and conserved as a relic.". RH: The Getty Museum has a statue of him as an old man, head firmly in place. The story about it recalls that about St. Denis. The original (?) head must be a relic in some church in eastern Spain.

Picasso and co

I have said clearly that I view Picasso and co as clowns, doing their act while Spain was trying to establish a viable republic. In Shostakovich and Stalin. The extraordinary relationship between the great composer and the brutal dictator (Knopf, 2004, pp. 315), Solomon Volkov makes it clear that the composer had a similar view of Picasso: "It is not surprising that Shostakovich was disgusted with Western supporters of Stalin and Stalinism, speaking with particular disgust of Picasso. 'You understand that I'm in a prison and that I fear for my children and myself, but he...he's free, he doesn't have to lie. All of them, they're vipers'"



Ronald Hilton -