It’s a sign of neglect – of this blog – that this post refers back to May 5th, and that it’s taken me all this time to get my sh*t together. The neglect comes from happy stuff (my son’s visit) & the springtime urge to clean out and put things in order. Quite why I should feel that urge, when I live in a climate where seasons are hard to define, I cannot say – perhaps too many years of living in England…….but, then, perhaps it is relevant to this post, this refresh and renew compulsion – hold that thought! Early May does seem to be the real kick off of warmer times, however, and this year Tenerife celebrated with a heatwave of record-breaking proportions. Happily that’s over now, and we are basking in warmth rather than heat again.
…..back to May 3rd then, which is the date about which I intended to write……..May 3rd is the Day of the Holy Cross, or Santa Cruz in Spanish. If you are brought up in a country whose main religion is Christianity, and, however loosely, are brought up in that faith, as I was, you tend to take the cross, as its symbol, for granted. I attended, sporadically, Salvation Army Sunday School, where brass crosses were paraded with pomp, seriousness and much clashing of symbols (my burning ambition was to be allowed to play the symbols, but they never let me, which might explain why, in the last throws of my adolescence I became a Catholic). My childish mind associated the cross with fire, brimstone and fear, and its relevance to Christianity seemed obvious. I didn’t question just how it had been chosen as opposed to other possible symbols.
Spanish Conquistadors had the habit of planting a cross on ground they claimed for the crown of Spain. Remnants of the cross which Alonso Fernández de Lugo stuck into the soil of Tenerife are stored in the church of La Concepción in the city of Santa Cruz. The full title of this Spanish province (as opposed to this island) is Santa Cruz de Tenerife, or Holy Cross of Tenerife, so that tells you that there is connection here – stay with me!
This is one of those stories where it’s hard to separate fact from fiction, but back in the 4th century AD, when Constantine was jefe of the Roman Empire, he is said to have seen a symbol in the sky, a cross and the words In hoc signo vinces, which translates, roughly, as “With this sign you win.” This, the day before he was to go into battle. Later Christ appeared to him in a dream to explain the apparition, and Constantine ordered that a symbol of the cross be constructed and carried into battle in front of his army. Natch he went on to win, otherwise this story would have no point.
That there was an emperor named Constantine is true. That he had learned about Christianity from his mother, who had converted, is true. That he won the battle is true. That, later in life, he too became a convert is true. The rest, of course, is speculation and hearsay, but it makes a nice story, and back in those days they were really into these sorts of stories. Nowadays we seem to recommend therapy for folk who claim to have had visions.
The sequel is that he then dispatched his mother, Helena, to the Holy Land to search for the true and original cross. That is its whole own story, but of course she found it, and it was her dying wish that Christians henceforth would celebrate its finding. Early May, like so many dates, was a handy one for the early Church to pick to honor her wish, because it was the celebration of Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers and Springtime. The powers-that-be of the day therefore tacked the Holy Day of the Cross onto the same date, eventually, swamping that “heathen” festival, as they did with others.
What remains, however, of Flora are the flowers which adorn crosses throughout the Hispanic Catholic world on May 3rd, so I’m thinking perhaps she has the last smile. Some of these displays are simply gorgeous. They certainly celebrate the hope and beauty of spring, the sense of renewal. They are, also, very photogenic :=)
Any town with the world “cruz” in its title in the Spanish-speaking universe celebrates this day by adorning the town with these floral crosses, outside churches and public buildings, and outside private homes and businesses. In many places there are parades, and in the city of Santa Cruz de Tenerife it is its annual fiesta, the equivalent of its saint’s day. I couldn’t make it to Santa Cruz or anywhere else on May 3rd, as I had a very important barbecue to attend, so it was May 5th when Maria and I wove our way up to Granadilla de Abona (about ten minutes from El Médano, straight up into the foothills, and where I’d seen the crosses last year) to see if there was anything left to photograph. It turned out that there was, although some of the flowers were droopy and some were already withered, so we did miss them at their best.
It struck me that, regardless of one’s views about religion, these festivals do both maintain cultural traditions, and a sense of community, neither of which is any bad thing in this day and age. And so the skeptic in me is stilled because, you see, at the end of the day I think that is what “religion” is – that sense of community and connection, and I’m not sure how much it matters how you arrive at that, so long as you do.
………oh, and they are good for the sort of tourism this island needs – those who are interested in its past and its culture.