día del trabajo
when we take for granted all manner of rights and laws covering
our well-being at work, the holiday that is celebrated on the first
of May, known in Spain as 'el día del trabajo' - 'Work Day'
- serves to remind us that it was not always thus. The marches held
on this day are now peaceful enough, but they pay hommage to a struggle
that came to a head in protests in Chicago in 1886.
At that time,
working conditions for manual workers were appalling. Your working
day would typically last sixteen hours, your wages would be low,
your standard of living likewise. Children worked from the age of
six, women would have to do the night shift to augment their husbands'
wages. Thousands of workers went on strike at the beginning of May,
1886, and demonstrated for the right to a 48-hour week or an 8-hour
day. In circumstances that remain controversial to this day, violence
erupted, several people were killed, many were arrested and some
were even subsequently executed following farcical trials, becoming
known as the Haymarket Martyrs.
The date of
May 1st, already a day dedicated to some pagan festivals, later
became an emblematic day for the labour movement and a national
holiday in some countries. Every year in Spain since 1976 there
have been marches organized by the trades unions on this day, the
slogan this year being "Por la igualdad, empleo de calidad",
ie to achieve equality we need good-quality employment.
cruces de mayo
Two days later
some parts of Spain, the villages of the Axarquía included,
celebrate 'las cruces de mayo', the day of the May Crosses. This
is not a holiday, but is popular nonetheless. In several streets
around the town neighbours get together to organize the construction
of a crucifix covered in flowers. This forms the centrepiece of
a sort of shrine that is set up in the street. All manner of everyday
utensils will adorn the shrine: cooking pots, embroidered shawls,
pestles and mortars, pieces of pottery, and who knows what else.
of the everyday surrounding the cross are perhaps an unconscious
evocation of the connection between Christ's suffering and sacrifice
and that of people everywhere on a daily basis. Fragrant herbs will
be strewn upon the ground, typical music will play, people will
dance, typical dishes will be made and handed out to passers by.
These dishes will include some made from local cane honey, such
as a sticky toffee called 'arropía', gooey balls of syrupy
popcorn called 'melcocha' or 'mercocha', and toffee-covered 'nísperos'
or locquats, the orange-coloured fruit that you see on many trees
at this time of year. Prizes are awarded for the best crosses, but
people often leave a donation on the dish provided as a sign of
why is the Cross celebrated on this day? The story goes back to
the first Christian emperor of Rome, Constantine the Great, in the
4th century. He attributed his victory in a battle with the Barbarians
to a cross. In gratitude, he sent his mother, later to become Saint
Helena, on a mission to do good works in the Holy Land. She busied
herself founding churches and while doing so discovered, beneath
a temple to Venus, the site of the Holy Sepulchre, the cave where
Christ was entombed after the cruxifixion. Inside were three crosses,
obviously those of Christ and the two robbers. But which was Christ's?
the bright idea of trying their curative powers on a mortally sick
woman. Sure enough, one of the crosses cured her, so it was obviously
the right one. It was then decided to distribute fragments of the
Cross far and wide, so they could be displayed at as many places
of worship as possible. This led some, like the spoilsport French
Protestant John Calvin, to doubt that all the relics of the Cross
were genuine. He opined that if all the supposed bits of the Cross
were put back together again, it would "be comparable in bulk
to a battleship", a claim rebutted in some detail by another
Frenchman, Rohault de Fleury, in 1870. He drew up a catalogue of
all known fragments of the Cross and concluded that the total fell
well short of the amount required to make a full-size cross. The
Church simply argued that, having been touched by the blood of Christ,
the wood of the Cross had acquired a kind of material indestructibility,
and could thus be divided up indefinitely.
the largest known relic of the Cross is said to reside in northern
Spain, in the mountains of Asturias, at the monastery church of
Santo Toribio de Liébana, near the town of Potes. It is an
important place of pilgrimage.
Two feast days were originally celebrated in connection with the
Cross. One was peculiar to the French Gallican branch of the Church.
It was introduced in the 7th century and was held on the 3rd May.
It was called the 'Feast of the Invention of the Cross', invention
meaning 'finding' or 'coming upon' in this instance. It is known
also as 'Crouchmas' in English. The other was the 'Feast of the
Exaltation of the Cross' which commemorated both the discovery of
the Holy Sepulchre and the recovery and restoration to Jerusalem
in 630 by the Emperor Heraclius of a sizeable chunk of the Cross
which had been stolen by the Persians. This feast took place on
the 13th and 14th of September, and was one of the most solemn feasts
in the calendar. It is still celebrated by some parts of the Church.
The 3rd May,
however, was removed from the Catholic Church's calendar by Pope
John XX111 in 1960 as part of a policy to abolish or move feasts
that fell between Easter and Pentecost. This has not affected its
popularity here; on the contrary, there seem to be more and more
May Crosses every year. You may find this fanciful or consider it
yet another feast based on the flimsiest of evidence. You may even
feel the need as you look upon a May Cross to give voice to your
doubts and say, 'Very nice, but ...'. Beware. Should you see on
the shrine an apple with a pair of scissors impaled in it, it's
there to ward off doubters such as yourself. No buts, please, they
are having none of it.
You can listen
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