Silent Friday in silent Malaga

Image of one of the museum's Good Friday Funeral Dinners.
Image of one of the museum's Good Friday Funeral Dinners. / SUR
  • Gonzalo Fernández-Prieto, the owner of the Malaga Glass and Crystal Museum, talks about his Good Friday traditions, interrupted this year by coronavirus

Malaga is famous for its Semana Santa religious celebrations. This year its streets are silent. Silence is usual on Good Friday when the last procession of the day passes by. The owner of the Glass and Crystal Museum, Gonzalo Fernández-Prieto, has broken his silence. For the first time he reveals what usually happens on Good Friday behind the doors of his historical house.

Gonzalo, I think that for many foreigners it will be useful first of all to clarify what is special with this silent procession...

Let's say, mourning and rigour are typical of the Friday before Easter Sunday in any Christian church - whether Catholic, Protestant or Orthodox. On this day they commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus and his death at Calvary. The celebrations of the previous days give way to silence on the death of Christ. All of the cofradías (brotherhoods) fall silent at this time, which reaches its climax when the Sepulcro (sepulchre) is carried through the streets of the city. On the same evening, some time before the Sepulcro, one can see the smallest and most moving procession in Malaga. For me this is the most emotional moment of Easter. Especially when the Virgen de los Servitas leaves her temple, all lights in the vicinity are turned off and silence floods the neighbourhood. This silence is broken only by the prayers of her devotees and the drums that accompany her.

Is it correct, that Los Servitas is not actually a brotherhood?

-You're right. Los Servitas is not a brotherhood but a religious order, founded during the Middle Ages in Florence. From the very beginning it was very popular among the Catholic nobility everywhere in Europe. In Malaga, the order was established in the seventeenth century - I think in 1695. Then in 1739, the Count of Buenavista sponsored the establishment of the Order of the Servitas in the crypt of the Church of San Felipe Neri.

This Church is just in front of your museum, isn't it?

Yes, that's correct. The building that houses the museum was always closely connected with the Church of San Felipe Neri because it was built by the Cassini family who also provided the materials for the construction of the church in the early eighteenth century. Since I bought the house 20 years ago, I've tried to maintain those ties both with the church and the neighbourhood. For example, the funds donated by visitors to our Lladro Christmas nativity scene go entirely to the church of San Felipe Neri. Then, during Easter we hold two musical events from our main balcony that overlooks the church. On Palm Sunday a soprano and a mezzosoprano sing the Crucifixion of Vivaldi to the image of the Salutation brotherhood, and on the evening of Good Friday the Stabat Mater by Sances is sung by a countertenor or a soprano to the image of the Servitas.

Is it only a kind of tribute to local tradition or are you religious?

It's a tribute to the local history and an old tradition of the Catholic branch of our old Spanish family that has always followed the customs. One of them is to give a Funeral Dinner on Good Friday. That evening many members of our family and friends from many parts of Europe come to have dinner at the museum. It is beautiful to share with them that special moment. But the number of the guests is limited. Just 28. There's always a queue to take part in this event with the dinner. It's a pity that this Friday we can't gather together.

According to the rumour in the city, you have a strict dress code to enter...

Yes! It's not a party, but a State Funeral Dinner. That is why gentlemen must wear dark suits and ladies must wear the mantilla; a black lace veil worn high on the back of the head. By the way, the long black mantillas, of light transparent lace, relate to an earlier era when it was not permissible to go to church bare headed. Even now, ladies meeting the Pope must cover their head with a mantilla as a sign of respect. Spanish queens have the right to wear white mantillas at the Vatican.

Have any queens or personalities close to the Royal family been among the guests?

I can only say that we have received very important persons that definitely prefer privacy. That's why we hardly ever take photos during the dinner. And the doors are closed. We hardly ever draw attention to the dinner in a public medium. I actually have never spoken about this topic to any mass media. Your newspaper is the first one.

Can you at least reveal the secret of the menu?

There's no secret to the special menu. It is a funeral dinner, so we have only two courses. Always the same. We keep on following our family tradition which respects Roman Catholic customs to not eat warm-blooded animals on Fridays. So fish is the common meal of choice. Saumon en croûte (salmon in puff pastry) is the main dish on the table. This is an excellent blend of salmon, spinach, creamy herb sauce and puff pastry. Pavlova is on the table for dessert, as usual. After dinner we all gather on our balconies to see the start of the Servitas procession. It's at this moment that we have the Stabat Mater sung in tribute.

This year due to the Covid-19 war there will, unfortunately, be no dinner or processions. The silence of the day will be broken up at eight o'clock in the evening as many people in Spain applaud in honour of those who are selflessly working hard to protect us in hospitals, pharmacies, supermarkets and on the streets of our towns and cities. Professor Ian Phillips, Steven Sprague and I will join them, as we have every evening since the start of this crisis, from the balcony of the museum.