Traditions and legends
As a complete feast, Holy Week is surrounded by legends that walk in parallel with the documented history. These are popular traditions that bring an aura of mystery to the celebration and to the devotion to certain images. Despite lacking a historical record, these legends are an essential part of the celebration. Here are some of the many that exist.
CRISTO DE LA SANGRE
A city with such a maritime tradition as Málaga could not be without a legend linked to fishermen. According to the story, a group of fishermen were at sea fishing when they were surprised by a sudden storm that swept them away from the coast. Despite all their efforts they were unable to control the boat and get back to land. Under menacing black clouds and in the midst of enormous waves, they entrusted their souls to the Lord, sure that their end was near. However, after their prayers, a ray of light lit the Heavens and, in the midst of the waves, a calm appeared and in it a sculpture of a Christ Crucified could be seen. The seamen immediately steered their boat towards the image and when they rescued the piece from the sea, they saw that blood was flowing from Christ's side. The storm finally blew itself out and they were able to return to land safe and sound with the image of Christ Crucified, which was taken to the old Convent de la Merced where it has been venerated since as the Cristo de la Sangre (Christ of Blood).
THE PARDONED PRISONER
It is said that in times of Charles III a serious epidemic of plague struck the city and a great many people died. Those who did survive where so weak that it was almost impossible for them to hold the processions to pray for the end of the epidemic. One of the places where the disease was not so virulent was the prison. The prisoners, knowing what was happening outside the walls that held them captive, asked the prison governor for permission to carry the image of Christ named Nuestro Padre Jesús "El Rico" in procession. When the authorities refused, based on the well-founded fear that the prisoners would take advantage of the occasion to escape, the prisoners decided to rebel. They did and carried the image in a procession. When the procession had finished, all of the prisoners returned except one, who came back the next day with a sculpture of the head of St. John the Baptist, which he placed beside the bed of a cell mate who was ill. The prisoner, like the rest of the population of Málaga, recovered a few days later.
The King, moved by the generous action of the prisoners, issued a Decree by which, every year during the procession of Jesus el Rico, a prisoner would be set free. This tradition has continued to this day. So every year, on Holy Wednesday, a solemn ceremony is celebrated at the image of Jesus of Nazareth. Kneeling, the inmate receives the blessing of the image, after which he is freed, and as is the tradition, he accompanies the image in its procession through the streets of Málaga.
ZAMARILLA THE BANDIT
The story goes that in the times when bandits roamed the country, there was a particularly notorious bandit nicknamed “ El Zamarilla ”. His misdeeds were many and such was his fame and so dangerous was his band that the bailiffs decided to form a posse and capture him, whatever the cost. After several skirmishes, they managed to hunt them down, but “ El Zamarilla ”, who was fast and elusive, escaped. After galloping for many leagues with the bailiffs hot on his heels, the bandit, in search of a place to hide, reached a chapel. As it happens, the only place he could find was under the cape of a figure of a Virgin Dolorosa who was worshipped there. The bailiffs arrived and although they searched the whole chapel from one end to the other, none of them discovered “ El Zamarilla ” in his singular hiding place.
Desperate and furious they left and continued to comb the area. A little later, feeling safe, the bandit left his refuge and in improvised thanks for having saved him, he broke off a white rose that grew by the side of the path and pinned it on the breast of the figure, using his own dagger to hold it. At this very instant, the rose turned scarlet. Terrified, the bandit knelt at the feet of the Virgin and begged forgiveness for his wicked life. From then on, “ El Zamarilla ” lived as a hermit, occasionally coming down from the mountains to visit his beloved Lady. On one of those occasions, when he had grown old, bandits attacked him, trying to steal what little he had. Though “ El Zamarilla ” still had some of the vigour of his youth and put up a fight, he was fatally wounded by his attackers before they fled. With great difficulty, he managed to reach the door of the sanctuary, carrying in his hand, as he always did, a red rose to offer the Virgin. Before he died his eyes turned towards the Virgin and he saw the rose he carried in his hands turning white: she had forgiven him. Today, Our Lady Virgen de la Amargura (The Virgin Lady of Bitterness) is still to be found in the sanctuary called Zamarrilla. She continues to wear a red rose held with a dagger, except on Good Friday when she wears a white rose, forgiving all mankind for the death of her son.
ASCENT TO MONTE CALVARIO
Next to the Santuario de la Victoria, going up calle Amargura, we come to a hill crowned by a chapel that the people of Málaga call "Monte Calvario" (). On every Friday in Lent, a Stations of the Cross procession starts from the Church of San Lázaro, and covers the fourteen stations on the hill to Golgotha in remembrance. It leaves from San Lázaro because the processional brotherhood of Nuestro Padre Jesús Nazareno de los Pasos en el Monte Calvario (today known by the name of its Virgin, María Santísima del Rocío) has for many years organised the Official Stations of the Cross procession in Málaga, with the first Station being precisely that of San Lázaro. Each participant in the Stations of the Cross procession carries fourteen stones, symbolising fourteen sins. The stones are left at each Station, where the corresponding sin is read, symbolising dispensation following repentance. The Stations of the Cross procession ends at the Sanctuary of the Calvary, headquarters of the processional Brotherhood that bears the same name.