This is the account of the first communion I saw, but I have seen several since and add to the photos from time to time:
One Sunday it was exceptionally hot, even by Spanish standards. At around 6, my son Harvey and I drove into Atzeneta to sit in a bar and have a drink. As soon as we entered the village, it was clear something was afoot. It was bedecked with flower-strewn altars. “Un comunión”, exclaimed Gema from Bar Sol excitedly. “Tienes tu cámara”?
Of course I had my camera – it was locked in the car under cover from sight and heat. I never go anywhere without it. As she laid a thick path of large green leaves, Gema explained that “a las siete” the communion parade would be passing in front of her bar and doing a service next to it. “Muy bonita”, she added in the pigeon Spanish she always uses to address me.
So what is a photographer to do? Of course I fetched my camera and sat down with a large white wine to await the sight. Meanwhile Harvey downed his Fanta and set off back to the casita, preferring an hour walk in the still blistering sun to the happy clapping of a throng of children which had gathered to watch the spectacle. I pondered over the irascibility of a 21 year old who could not remember that he was shortly before just a child himself. They are giving me a headache, he had said.
I finished my wine, and 7pm had come, but no procession so I meandered around to the front of the church (or is it a cathedral?) where a brass band and a scattering of people in festive clothes were gathered. Shortly after there was a loud triumphant burst of singing and trumpets, and the giant church doors swung open, spilling forth the communion congregation, including 5 children; three girls who appeared to be dressed as brides and two boys, one as a sailor, and the other an army officer or pilot.
At the very end a walking canopy emerged, each of its four posts held by a man. In the middle was the priest holding a bizarre mask of sorts in front of his face. This collection of people proceeded to wind their way throughout the town, led by the ambulant canopy, and under the priest’s tutelage the children shared the body and blood of Christ repeatedly in front of every flower festooned alter along the way. At least this is what I would like to think, but the reality was they stood in front, or often to the side of the canopy while the priest waved the mask thing around in front of his face.
The deep shadows caused by the still high sun, the white communion garments, and the continual movement from shade to sun in this old village revealed the contrasts of the tableau, in terms of traditional culture in the face of modern day tendencies. The dresses were exquisitely beautiful, obviously expensive, and I marveled at the cloth. It seemed a pity that they might never be worn again, which seemed likely at each outfit fit the child precisely. Eventually, after the fourth alter I wandered off and back to my casita, taking a last look as a mother dressed in vibrant red re-adjusted the bow on her daughters dress for what seemed the hundredth time.