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Asociación CascamorrasJunta de Andalucia

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LORE AND TRADITION OF CASCAMORRAS PDF Print E-mail

As mentioned at the beginning "Cascamorras" is a Fiesta halfway between a pagan celebration and a religious one which, with the passage of time, has been modified and follows change in space and time but becoming ever more genuine.

The tradition of this festivity is based on that famous character, accompanied by a drummer and a retinue, emulating the first years of its celebration, who reaches Guadix from Baza to carry off the image of the Virgin of Mercy. If he manages to arrive clean, that is, without being covered in paint, at the Convent of Mercy, he can carry out his objective. In his attempt, the people of Baza will prevent it by accompanying him on his route from the entrance of the town to the church of Mercy and covering him in paint, red ochre or used oil. "Cascamorras" will return to Guadix without the prized image so the people of the town in return for his failure will cover him in paint again and smear him using emulsion paint, red ochre etc..

But the celebration of this festivity is full of traditions. Of all of these the most important are the following:

In times gone by, and for many years on the 15 August the "Dawn Rosary" was held in the streets of Guadix, in which "Cascamorras" along with members of the Brotherhood of Our Lady of Mercy took part.

On 28 August "Cascamorras" took to the streets for the first time, accompanied by his inseparable drummer and a retinue of the Brotherhood, to start the collection of donations through all the streets of the town of Guadix and other surrounding villages. It is not surprising that on occasions the devout should request him to come into their homes to carry out acts of faith before the image printed on the flag that "Cascamorras" carries. Sometimes donations are material goods, mainly food.

As Cascamorras passes by, children and youths from the locality sing songs the lyrics of which are: "Cascamorras, squeeze the grapes, squeeze them well for they are ripe!": Some anthropologists link this song to the possible relationship that the festivity has with an ancestral rite held to commemorate the grape harvest festival, although this has not been altogether proven.

Other songs say: ..."Cascamorras with his truncheon," ... "here comes Pedro Lagarto", in reference to the typical, very showy multicoloured attire that Cascamorras always wore.

In the ritual of the send off from Guadix and before departing for the town of Baza, Cascamorras raises the flag he carries above the heads of the crowd of townspeople gathered there around him, squatting or on their knees, waving it over them until it is completely furled around its shaft, while those present conclude their farewell to the retinue bound for Baza with cries of "viva!".

On arriving at Baza "Cascamorras" smears himself in vaseline, puts his working clothes on and warms up with a few gentle runs, before starting his route through the streets of Baza until reaching the Temple of Mercy to try to carry off the image. Hours before, groups of people from Baza congregate at Rodeas painting each other.

But it is the sound of the third rocket when they run towards Cascamorras in the contest to see who is the first to paint him, thus conforming to the tradition. Red ochre and laundry blue have given way to the blackness of burnt oil as the paint used in Baza, which over the years, has gradually imposed itself and endows on those from Baza and Guadix an impressive even spectacular look.

Nowadays, amongst those from Baza present at the water cisterns, lots are drawn for the privilege of deciding who will carry the flag along the route, whilst the rest, will look after painting them and helping Cascamorras remove the paint from his eyes, let him have a rest, protect him from the crowds, cheer him on, as well as carry him on their shoulders and hail him. All this is allowed except the use of sticks or other blunt instruments which could harm him, they smear his face with blackened grease and sometimes, at his request, he is bathed in the fountains; they push him, and he defends himself with his truncheon which he carries, most of the time hitting it on the ground and almost never directly setting upon people.

Due to the relentless and fierce heat of the month when the fiesta is held, water is an essential element, whether combined with the colourant or as a means of refreshing Cascamorras, both in Guadix and Baza, the first bath is taken at the fountain near the Bull Ring; later, their will be the bath at the Golden Fountains, the most long-awaited by many from Baza, who after refreshing themselves, call out and to cheers in unison of: "the flag!"....; and they stoop for "Cascamorras" to wave the flag over their heads amongst cries in honour of Our Lady of Mercy. In Guadix this role is played by the fountain of the Municipal Park and the one which is located at the doors of the Church of St. Michael, as the base of the statue which the town of Guadix has dedicated to their most beloved representative, Cascamorras.

Along the route halts are made, some of them obligatory and almost all of them at the request of the townsfolk or sometimes through fatigue engendered in the revellers. One of the obligatory stops is taken at the Town Hall Square, where people dance in honour of the flag. Shortly afterwards the doors of the Convent of Mercy are reached, in the case of Baza, and the Church of Saint Michael, in the case of Guadix, where the route ends amidst applause, hurrahs and cheers for "Cascamorras" and the Virgin, after which, they go into the temple after the flag has been waved. Those congregated there kneel down and Cascamorras waves the standard of the Brotherhood over their heads. The members of the Brotherhood go to the Parish of St. John the Baptist, returning to the Convent of Mercy with candles, in memory of the worship given to the Virgin on the first day she was taken from her imprisonment.

Cascamorras's paint is removed in the water cistern of the convent using olive oil, detergent and a good bath which cleans it away. Afterwards, dressed in another multicoloured costume, he passes by the church to give thanks to the Holy Virgin, it must not be forgotten that it is a tradition with a very deep-rooted religious significance which maintains the two towns in perpetual litigation.

The following day "Cascamorras" goes through the streets of Baza accompanied by the drummer. As the retinue passes by, whenever a group of people ask him, he waves the flag and the ritual dancing is repeated.

On 8 September, the main feast day in Baza; the day of the Co-Patron Saint, (the Patron Saint is Saint Barbara and is celebrated on 4 December); the day of Our Lady of Mercy, recently appointed Perpetual Mayoress.

In the morning, with Baza Town Council in attendance in all its pomp, with the physical presence of Cascamorras next to the standard of the Town donated by the Catholic Kings, it makes way for the Municipal Corporation which, from the arcade of the Town Hall, heads for the Church of Mercy to celebrate the solemn religious service in honour of the Holy Mother.

In the afternoon, presided by the Town Councils of Guadix and Baza, in the presence of ladies wearing the classic Spanish mantilla, Our Lady of Mercy, is carried through the main streets in solemn procession. Cascamorras, in the middle co-chairing the procession. It is the first day of the Main Festivity.

Once the procession is over, in the Main Square they dance for the last time in honour of the flag, bringing to a close Cascamorras stay in the town of Baza taking once again the road back to Guadix, in the knowledge that the reception that he will meet with will be just as ungracious on reaching Baza, at the end of the day the inhabitants of Guadix are angry with Cascamorras for not having been able to recover Our Lady of Mercy for their town.

On returning to Guadix they receive him with shows of hostility, the "representative" of Juan Pedernal has returned without the prized image and at the Station the townspeople of Guadix await him with emulsion paint, red ochre and laundry blue, with which they daub "Cascamorras" again as a reprisal for his failure.

From the balconies of the buildings that flank the route they throw buckets of water containing paint at him, those who have undertaken the journey shouting in unison "Water!" ...Here there obligatory baths are also taken, as, for example, the one those who have followed the route receive where the two fire brigade water tenders are parked. Cascamorras is taken to the Park where he is bathed in the pond.

On reaching the bridge over the Green River, Cascamorras makes an obligatory halt to wave the flag over the heads of the people of Guadix, in memory of the farewell on the 5th.

The route continues down calle Ancha [Wide Street] towards the Fountain of Santiago, where another bath is taken. Finally he reaches Plaza de los Palomas [Dove Square], and after refreshing himself with water that the town councillors throw over the crowd, Cascamorras waves the flag as on so many other occasions, making his way through the streets next to the Cathedral to the Bishop's Palace. There the Bishop greets Cascamorras who, followed by all the townsfolk of Guadix, goes along Calle de San Miguel [St. Michael Street], where the monument built in honour of this curious personage stands. Here Cascamorras receives his final dousing, in the fountain that stands in front of the monument and to the acclaim that the town render to their hero, he arrives at the Church of St. Michael, before which, Cascamorras is raised on shoulders and, with constant waving of the flag, taken in to the temple by his followers.

Removing the paint from him, as in Baza, is the job to be done next. Before giving thanks to the Holy Virgin, he goes out into the street to find his fellow townspeople who congratulate him for carrying on the tradition and for the course run. Thus, Cascamorras has been able to carry out his promise another year.

All that has been written and described in the various publications, even when matching the tradition and the reality of the current festival, cannot portray its true warmth and popular feeling, not even the best writer could do so.

With the appearance on television of a report on the Spanish series "Raíces" [Roots], considerable controversy was stirred up around the celebration of the festival. It was presented there as a wild rite, full of violence in respect of the figure of Cascamorras, in a broadcast lacking in objectivity and full of sensationalism. However the good works of the people of Guadix has returned the good reputation to this celebration.

Quoting the words of the once Official Chronicler of the town of Baza, D.Luis Magaña Visbal, amongst other things he says: ..." the spectacle seen in this light, with no background, is somewhat barbarous and primitive, giving the impression of the lack of culture of a people. Many refined and progressive spirits have advocated its abolition, but lovers of tradition, those who know the derivation and significance that it entails, can see in this act the religious sentiment of two towns which dispute possession of a revered image and the prerogative of bestowing upon it the honours it merits.

"Cascamorras".

Together with the image of Our Lady of Mercy, "Cascamorras" is the central character of the celebration; dressed in his typical attire, carrying a flag and a truncheon with a string ending in a leather ball stuffed with rags and accompanied by a drummer; strange and picturesque, he arouses admiration and curiosity about this character.

In the first place, his costume is striking, having developed over the years but still maintaining its originality and the vibrancy of days gone by. This bright costume is still cut in the same style of the 40's, it is made in two parts, a jacket and trousers, made of felt in three main colours: red, yellow and green. On the front of the jacket it has drawings superimposed of suns, stars and moons in a different colour. On the back of his jacket there is the picture of a jar of sunflowers, in the middle of which there is a painted outline of "Cascamorras", a sketch which symbolizes the paint. The trousers are in the same style as the jacket. He carries in his hand a stick tied on the end of which is a ball made of rags and esparto or covered in leather. His aspect is, a priori, that of a respectful buffoon, harlequin or masked person.

D. Antonio Sánchez-Ortiz Carillo was not wrong when he said: "his garb is that of punch who heads certain retinues; he wears a short jacket of coarse cloth in various colours, alternating in symmetrical uniformity. The sleeves split in two lengthwise strips in red and light tan. The collar of the garment is red; the front yellow and green; and in the middle in red cloth, the emblem of the Virgin; a vase with five Madonna lilies. Full straight trousers, in the same colours and pictures as the jacket. The whole costume is studded with cloth stars in the same swapped colours. A white shirt in the style of an Andalusian farmhand, on the right a cosh with a string tied to a bag full of rags, sawdust and esparto. This is his only weapon".

The flag is made of six pieces of different coloured cloth: three on the front, green, white and pink; whilst on the back there are others: yellow and sky blue. On the white cloth is the image of Our Lady of Mercy, each cloth is 160 x 60 cm. These cloths are placed on a wooden mast 2.25 m long. From the end of it hang the ribbons that devout people offer up to Our Lady of Mercy, as well as the various brotherhoods, Civil Guard and Fire Brigade. On the ribbons are the inscriptions "to Our Lady of Mercy from the Brotherhood of Saint Torcuato, etc..." and some other adornments put there by people grateful for some favour received, promise or similar act.

Every so often, when the flag which is painted becomes very tattered, it is replaced: the flag that Cascamorras carries through the streets, when departing or in procession, then takes part in the ritual daubing with paint, being replaced by a new one which is used for the liturgical acts.

The flag goes with Cascamorras on his travels and for the duration of the festival. In a combination of strength and skill he plays and waves the flag over the people of Guadix and Baza.

Many have been the characters who over the years created the adventures of Cascamorras in his continuous mission of recovering the Virgin for the inhabitants of Guadix. So, from the early years of the Spanish Civil War there are names we recall with great fondness such as "El Barriga", "Furriche", "El jinete"... have come and gone.

In 1940 and given the insistence of the town councils of Baza and Guadix that the tradition be continued "El Chirivía" was chosen, later "Tres Pelos", "Mateo el Veinte", "Tintín", "El Tomatico", etc...


 
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