GOOD FRIDAY PROCESSION Religious, Pageantry and Processions

Every year on Good Friday, Christians commemorate the death of Jesus Christ. His resurrection three days later is the Church’s greatest feast and, for believers, the defining moment of their faith. For the Maltese, no other event captures the imagination quite as vividly as this annual ritualised cycle of suffering, death, and resurrection.

Nothing can prepare the visitor for the sheer volume of images and rituals crammed into these few spring days. Families go on a special round of seven churches; enthusiasts exhibit sets of miniaturef statues in their homes; and confectioners make special ‘fasting’ sweets. The biggest dos of all are undoubtedly the Good Friday processions which see a growing number of towns and villages transformed into open-air theatres. Space becomes time as hundreds of static actors in period costume narrate the storyline of Jesus’s sacrifice by filing past crowds of spectators to the beat of funerary marches. These tableaux vivants take over our everyday streetscapes. The shops and facades we know so well are transformed into a backdrop for Biblical characters and Roman legions, to dramatic counterpoint.

During Holy Week and especially on Good Friday, a number of sensations converge on the body of the believer. Take the juxtaposition of fast and feast, an element common to many world religions. Or the change in the acoustic landscape, from the church bells that usually pattern our daily lives to the somewhat-macabre sound of the tuqtojta (rattle) that replaces them on Good Friday as a sign of mourning. These elements change, albeit temporarily, the way we experience our bodies -again an important aspect of what religion is all about.

As is the case in any ritual, the meanings of this collective drama seep out of the purely religious. The element of masculine performance is very evident, as is the broader theme of the aesthetics of suffering which has bewitched countless painters and film-makers. All of which makes us wonder how all this blood and agony congealed into such a coherent routine.