If there is one Galician festivity that makes plain to see the matter-of-fact, natural attitude of Galicians to death then it is the Festival of Shrouds in Pobra do Caramiñal, an ancient and respected tradition that leaves visitors dumbfounded. A parade of coffins? And white coffins for children? That’s exactly it. These are the coffins of those making an offering, which are called nazarenos here. They and their families express their gratitude to Jesus Christ for his intervention against death, after suffering a serious illness or accident.
The staging of the procession of the Shrouds is striking. Following the coffin they would have lain in in death, which is carried by their families, those making an offering wear their shroud. If they are married or widowed, they wear a purple one, like Jesus, or if they are children, they wear a white one and they also carry a large alter candle in their hands. Thousands of people of all ages attend this procession in great religious fervour. Many of them also wear a purple tunic, some are barefoot and carry an alter candle from which an ex-voto hangs to give thanks for the favours they have been granted or request good health for themselves and their family. The procession winds through the centre of A Pobra behind the figure of Jesus of Nazareth. It starts from the church of Santiago do Deán, crosses the old town and the main road before returning to the church.
The roots of this tradition, which is mentioned by Valle-Inclán in his “Comedias Bárbaras”, date back to the 15th century. Legend tells that some highwaymen were held prisoner and sentenced to death in A Pobra. The alderman who was to carry out the sentence fell seriously ill and, after commending himself to Jesus of Nazareth on the eve of the festival, came back to health. When it came time for the procession, he wore a shroud and ordered the prisoners to carry his coffin in the procession. When they reached the church, he invoked Jesus Christ and pardoned the prisoners.