Across the vast La Mancha plain we drove through the striking town of Almagro, with its unusual arcaded square painted in bright green.
A wonderfully attired marching band with increasingly soggy feather plumes practiced their manoeuvres in the rains, ahead of the next day’s celebrations for Easter Sunday.
Sadly, the atrocious weather, which was being widely reported across of all Spain had already led to the cancellations of many of the planned processions in the cities.
This included southward in Seville and northward back in Valladolid. The only one held was that at the earliest hour by the Brotherhood of the Bitterness of Christ. It must indeed have been a cold and bitter experience in the freezing midnight rain.
The next day we arrived at the pretty village of Viso Del Marques, as we pushed south to avoid the Yellow warning of wind across La Mancha.
Named after the Palace of the Marquis, one Don Alvaro de Bazan y Guzman ‘el mozo’ (the younger) this gorgeous medieval centre signalled its celebrations with fireworks from the spire of its red-bricked Our Lady of the Assumption church as we parked up, fortuitously at noon.
Sometimes travelling along a road just lands you in the right place. Without any forward planning, other than wanting to escape the high winds of the morning and stay at a local aire, we found ourselves witness to a moving and surprisingly boisterous Easter celebration.
As we rounded the tall red brick bell tower of the 15th century church we joined throngs of locals wrapped up in scarfs, hats and puffa coats applauding the ‘pasos’ of a carved resurrected Christ and a darkly-cloaked Our Lady of Sorrows emerging from the church doors, both equivalent to the size of a vintage mini-cooper car.
These were pushed, pulled and heaved across the cobblestone streets in opposing directions around the village accompanied by golden cloaked-wearing brass band players.
We ventured inside the neighbouring Palacio El Viso Del Marques, for which the village is named. A seafaring Spanish hero, Don Alvaro de Bazan y Guzman was son of a Fleet Admiral of the Spanish Navy.
In his prestigious sea-bound career, Don Alvaro was awarded the titles (amongst many) of Governor of Gibraltar Castle, Fleet Admiral of the Spanish Navy and Fleet Admiral of the Seas and Warring Kingdom of Portugal’.
Don Alvaro died in Lisbon on 9 February 1588, having been given command of the Spanish Armada. Seafaring historians put his untimely death down to the reason behind Catholic Spain’s failed expulsion of Elizabeth 1, the notorious attack led instead by the Duke of Medina-Sidonia.
The gorgeous Renaissance-inspired Palace that he built features a two storey colonnaded inner courtyard and frescoes of the great sea captain’s voyages and conquests.
Amongst the many painted walls recording the derring-do of the Marques of Santa Cruz is recorded an epitaph by Cervantes, the creator of all men chivalric, Don Quixote: ‘Thunderbolt of war, father of soldiers, fortunate and ever undefeated captain.’
From behind Don Alvaro’s 500-year-old palace windows we ducked as a surprising battalion of explosive fireworks were set off in the grounds below to mark the meeting of the village processions of both Christ and Mary in the courtyard below.
The glass shook in the partly missing wooden window frames and we ducked again as barrage upon barrage of exploding firecrackers hit the brick walls.
Down below the crowd was cheering as Mary’s dark cloak was pulled away to reveal a shining golden crown and cream gown. A cheerful and noisy celebration of party poppers of colourful confetti was thundered into the smoky air. It took our breaths away.
As people dispersed, we went into the quiet church and admired a bizarre wall-mounted alligator, a trophy of Don Alvaro’s travels in the River Nile.
Gabriel, the church warden, on hearing our English accents broke into an impromptu burst of ‘God save the Queen’ on the organ. It seemed in keeping with the party spirit of the afternoon! Following the stragglers into the bars of the square we enjoyed the excited chat of proud parents of young brass band members and the exhausted recounting of the many ‘paso’ pushers. It was an Easter celebration like no other.