is an excerpt from the book Celebrating Women.
The day before the festival,
I watch women arranging gladiolas, roses and lilies in the narthex of
the church. Suddenly, one runs over, grabs my hands, hugs me and speaks
excitedly in Galego. This is Rosa, whom Santa Marta saved from paralysis
when she had polio.
To petition Santa Marta to heal
her, Rosa walked on her (bleeding) knees from her house to the church
five times. She is now healthy and almost fifty.
Rosa's mother's wish a few months ago was to become well enough to
ride in a coffin during the Santa Marta festival, to be able to thank Santa Marta for saving her
from a near death experience. As she died, she asked one of her children
to ride in a coffin on her behalf. “So Manuel will ride in the
coffin for our mother. He will be carried to the church and in the
procession by six relatives.”
As it turns out, Manuel is the only
person to ride in a coffin this year. His family carries him two kilometers
as the sun rises in the sky and the romeros sing novenas.
When we arrive at the church, Manuel climbs out and confesses, “They
should put a fan in there! I’m so hot I’m dizzy!”
Then he lights a cigarette and has a smoke.
The formal procession begins after
mass, Manuel climbs back into his coffin and is lofted again. The noon
sun has heated San Jose de Ribarteme to ninety degrees. Because I am
photographing from the hill above him, I can see Manuel, who believes
he is unobserved, reach into his pocket for a Kleenex and mop his perspiring
brow; it’s the last thing I would expect someone lying in a coffin