Letters from Madrid – Semana Santa Musical Misas



The celebration of Semana Santa (Easter Week) was much different in Madrid than it was growing up in New Mexico — there were many masses and processions during Easter week in Madrid, whereas, we never did more than go to services on Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday and attend a Holy Thursday or Good Friday service some years. There is a walk to El Santuario de Chimayo in northern New Mexico that many people take part in, some people walk 90 miles from Albuquerque to Chimayo, but I had never seen processions with the large paso (floats with statues of the Virgin Mary and Christ on them), and we had not been to musical masses in 16th century cathedrals until we lived in Madrid.


27 May 1996

Musical Misas
We have gone to three musical Misas. Two were Misa Solemnis held in a Gothic cathedral behind the Prado. These Misas where played by the chamber orchestra. The church was built in 1502, and looks like it on the outside. The inside is in good condition. The chamber orchestra was superb, and the acoustics in the old church were perfect for the music and voices, The Hallelujah Chorus was particularly moving, and the priest gave a special dispensation for the congregation to applaud, at which they did for some 5 minutes or longer, this was a bit moving also. The conductor was a woman, which is a little out of the ordinary, but obviously she is very good. Laurie noted that the music seemed to make the retablos, stained glass and sculptures come alive. I was to absorbed by the music and great acoustics to take notice of those subtleties, but between the music I did gaze upon the art, stained glass, and sculptures. The sound is very rich, full and spiritual sounding in the old cathedral. I realized that we were really hearing the music performed in its natural environment (since I would believe the music was written to be performed in a cathedral) and the natural reverb and echo from the massive open spaces gave the voices and instruments a really beautiful, mystical quality we never hear in an auditorium.

The third musical misa was a misa flamenca in a church originally built in the 1200s and then moved and rebuilt in the 1600s using some of the rock work and stained glass from the original building. The misa was very loose and spontaneous which made it very authentic. It was a special celebration for the church’s Virgin. The priest sang a good portion of the misa and was accompanied by an old guitarist who was very good. There were two singers besides the priest and three other guitarists. The priest sang a companilleros, granadinos, and fandango grandes. The first two were a real treat as you don’t hear them often. One singer did caña, soleares, seguiriyas, and fandangos grandes, while the other singer did fandangos por provencias and tangos. The misa flamenca was long at one hour and 30 minutes, but it was really great.


13 thoughts on “Letters from Madrid – Semana Santa Musical Misas

  1. This is one thing I truly miss living in the Philippines. Being in North America (Canada) there are mixtures of processions. A big on Hare Krishna and Catholics are next to nothing. Would love to have been there in the Cathedral listening to the Missal.

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