Celebrating Women as Healers

prosession with man in coffin

Romeria de Santa Marta - Santa Marta de Ribarteme, Spain

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This 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 to do.

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