When people say they are bored in Madrid, Spain my nose and lips become scrunched  together and my eyes become a little narrower, it's a look of confusion and wonder. I ask myself, how do people get bored in Madrid? 

Last Friday I was guilty of being bored. I was tired of studying, I was sleepy and I really just did not want to learn anymore about the book of Judith in the Old Testament. I'm all for an empowered woman, but three hours was enough time with her for one day. Luckily, it was puente (an official three-day weekend holiday) for the Festival of the Virgen de la Almudena, the female patron saint of Madrid, and two other girls and myself decided to immerse ourselves one step further into the Spanish culture and see what a religious festival in Madrid was like. 
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Virgen de la Almudena exiting the Catholic cathedral.
History:
The Virgen de la Almudena (Virgin of Almudena) is the icon of the Virgin Mary and is the image of the advocation, or summoning, of the Virgin that also is the patroness of Madrid. The devotion to la Virgen de la Almudena began in the 11th century and is celebrated every ninth of November. 

According to the history of Our Lady and the history of Spain under the ruling of Dom Alfonso VI it was when Alfonso reconquered Madrid in 1083 from the Moors, who conquered the city in the eighth century, that Almudena made her presence known in a rather spooky manner. King Alfonso VI wanted the Catholic cathedral, Santa María la Real de La Almudena, to be purified after being neglected and misused by the Moors. The statue of Our Lady, placed by the Apostle St. James in Santa María, had disappeared and the King, along with other religious administrators and powers, held a procession to find the statue. They walked throughout the city and around the walls praying to God for help in order to find the statue of Almudena. They sang and prayed while waving scents along the way until at one point part of the wall fell and they found the statue of la Virgen de la Almudena, which had apparently been there, hidden, for over 300 years. The even more spooky part is that next to the statue were two candles that were still burning. At this point in history the statue was named Our Lady, not Almudena. It was when Alfonso and his religious authorities found the statue that they named her Almudena, meaning market or granary, because she was hidden near the Moorish granary.

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Madrileños watching the procession in front of Santa María.
Experience:
When we arrived at the metro stop Ópera the number of people walking around the area was greater than usual. The holiday was only for Madrid and with a number of banks, shops and museums being closed as well as schools and other employees being off for the holiday the streets were buzzing with traffic. 

We headed to Santa María la Real de La Almudena next to Palacio Real where the mass, celebration, and procession were taking place. Along the way were vendors selling flowers, people young and old, the occasional newborn babies dressed in all white and bonnets on their heads, and whole families in tow were at the festival. I had never seen so many Madrileños in one place, except for a Real Madrid game. 

When we arrived at Plaza de la Almudena the square was full. The service, traditionally held outdoors at Plaza de España, was moved inside the cathedral due to the rain, drawing even more people to the plaza. We ventured towards the end of the square farther from the busy streets to watch the offerings of the flowers and listen to the service. Though none of us in our group of three are terribly religious, we found it nice to follow the service while standing in the crowd and take in the aroma of the thousands of flowers that were continuing to fill the temporary wall that was built for the holiday. As we stood for an hour or so we watched people pray, sing, gab and really just be happy to pay respects to their female patron saint. I was in awe with how many people were coming and going, if they had to work they paid their respects to the Virgen de la Almudena and quickly left after saying a prayer, others arrived before us and left after listening to the mass over the speakers. 

After watching the flowers multiply we moved closer to the cathedral to watch the procession that would begin soon. I am not sure what I expected, but seeing hundreds of people exit the cathedral in black dresses and vales, alter boys and priests in white cloaks and superbly dressed people of importance (though we couldn't tell you who they were or why they are of significance) was not what I was expecting. I was thinking it would be an intimate crowd that would exit the church and that maybe they would also say a few words to the crowd outside in the rain, and even walk over to the wall of flowers and give an offering, but none of that happened. I'm not saying it is good or bad, it's just not what I expected. 

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Wall of flower offerings before the mass began at 11:00 a.m.
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Number of flower offerings grew until it filled that evening.
Following the beginning of the procession and the first round of incense being swayed into the air and wafted by the public the heavily decorated gold wagon with a statue of Almudena was brought out from the center isle of the church and down the red ramp for the Madrid community to see. Suddenly the crowd began to clap, then the clapping turned to singing lead by the priest inside the cathedral. While the singing continued the clapping regained momentum and I watched as people in the crowd began to radiate happiness with their smiles. Those who were close to the ramp stretched out their arms to touch the flowers on the wagon and reached further to wards the top, as if every inch that was closer to Almudena would change their lives. The passion during the entire festival was profound. I have never seen so many people in one place to pay respects to a patron saint, or any saint for that matter. At this point I felt really lucky to be a part of a community celebration that I would never get the chance to experience in the United States or possibly ever again. 
The statue of Our Lady and the entire procession then left the Plaza de la Almudena and walked through the streets of Madrid. The street procession went through the standard route of Puerta de Sol, Plaza Isabell II, and the Plaza Oriente. As we left the streets were beginning to become less crowded but people followed the patron saint down the street at a gradual pace. One last glance behind me showed the flowers adding a brilliant hue to the overcast sky and an aroma that reminded me of newly blossomed flowers in my garden at home. All I could wonder right then and there was , Who could ever be bored in Madrid?
8/11/2013 23:47:39

I really enjoyed your article ref. Fiesta de la Virgen de la Almudena.
Agree "Who could ever be bored in Madrid." Thank you

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