The procession Crist de la Sang in Palma. | M.A. CAÑELLAS


According to the president of the Association of Brotherhoods in Palma, Bernat Riera, the number of brotherhoods who take part in the Holy Thursday procession of Crist de la Sang (Blood of Christ) in Palma has increased by 30%. He hasn’t specified the time period during which there has been this increase, but he has made clear that it lengthens the procession. Which it clearly would do, and last year’s procession went on that long that it was gone 4am by the time they had all arrived at the Cathedral.

There are 33 brotherhoods. They depart at 7pm, so the 2023 procession had taken a whole nine hours to wend its way along the route. Goodness knows how long it used to take, as by the end of the eighteenth century (for example) there were 48 brotherhoods. This said, the route hasn’t always been the same, which was the case last year and helped to explain why it had taken so long. For 2024, there is to be a return to one of the “most traditional routes”, which will mean starting and finishing at the Church of the Annunciation (aka Església de la Sang).

I had thought that this had always been the route, but obviously not. Any alteration to the starting-point doesn’t really make sense, as the image of Christ on the cross is housed at the church. This was seemingly the issue in 2023. They had to get the image to the Cathedral and then, in effect, start the procession.

Anyway, whatever the route, suffice it to say that Crist de la Sang tops the list when it comes to the Easter processions, the first having been in 1564 - the first arranged by the Brotherhood of the Blood of Christ, that is. This brotherhood was founded in 1552 and the Chapel of La Sang followed soon after.

The brotherhoods were formed from the guilds. In Palma, this meant anything from bakers to fishermen and blacksmiths. The Brotherhood of the Blood of Christ drew members from some of the artisan class but also from those with status, such as the nobles. Pre-eminent among the brotherhoods, it was - like all of them - an entity that was created with a key purpose as a secular expression of religious acts, namely those of the Passion of Christ.

This expression, couched in terms of religious theatre and as it was by the time of the founding of the Brotherhood of the Blood of Christ, has to be considered against the religious background of the sixteenth century. This meant two things: one was the Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition from 1478, i.e. the Spanish Inquisition; the other was Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation.
It was the Inquisition which was to lead to the wearing of hoods. They were based on the capirote conical-shaped hat worn by heretics condemned by the auto de fe, while the fervour for the procession was aroused by a rejection of heresy and of Luther.

There is evidence of the Easter religious theatre in Palma from the fifteenth century. This was in the form of self-flagellation by the so-called ‘disciplinantes’ - men and women who whipped their backs before images of the cross - and gave rise to a saying about all the disciplinantes (self-punishing penitents, if you like) who then required healing by the medics of the day. Wounds needed treating and disinfecting.

The self-flagellation became that much more extreme. The crudeness and severity of this violence was outlawed by Carlos III of Spain in 1777. Which so happened to be the year when Juan Díaz de la Guerra ceased to be the Bishop of Mallorca.

The reformist Carlos sought to bring order to the Church by banishing local cults. In Mallorca, there was one cult above all that needed taming - the Lullian, named after the Franciscan polymath Ramon Llull. Díaz de la Guerra, who became bishop in 1772, set about proscribing Lullism. By implication, this affected the Brotherhood and its Easter processions, as the Brotherhood of the Blood of Christ was guided by the practices of the Brotherhoods of the Vera-Cruz, the True Cross. And these brotherhoods were themselves adherents to Franciscan orthodoxy. In Mallorca, that meant Llull.

So, Díaz de la Guerra had a dual mission on behalf of the King, who had come to appreciate that all the blood-letting of the processions had become a real turn-off where the public was concerned. A different category of brotherhoods - those of Jesus the Nazarene - were altogether more popular. They only carried crosses and didn’t engage in the self-flagellation.

Why were the Brotherhoods of the Vera-Cruz so fanatical? An answer lies in the fact that Pope Paul III (1534 to 1549) had granted these brotherhoods total absolution of all their faults and sins in return for their “discipline” as penance.

Díaz de la Guerra was only partially successful. It took the ecclesiastical confiscations of the 1830s, which also removed the brotherhoods’ dependence on religious orders, to start to eliminate the “abuses” of the processions. Nowadays, the greatest penance is how long the procession might take.