Mother of God.

I have a lot of “Ooooh Guiri” moments. You know, when I do something SO American, I wonder how I’ve survived four years living outside of the Grand Old Republic. Something along the lines of saying swear words when there are other unknown English speakers around, like drinking in churches at a small town fair (wait, that wasn’t me), like telling a bouncer we didn’t want to go to his bar because it smelled like onions (wait, that wasn’t me either).

En fin, my “Oooh Guiri” moments are like dumb blonde moments.

Today was no exception. Faced with no grading to do, a clean house and a good night’s sleep behind me (grandma!), I chose to  being all Christmas-y. My first stop was to Plaza Nueva and the city’s Nativity Scene.

Housed in the salmon-pink palace that dominates the square, the city’s official belén tells the story of the annunciation, birth of Christ and the adoration of the Magi. Using fancy lighting, adobe-looking villages, figurines and constructing the entire town of Bethlehem, the most important moments of young Christ’s life are immortalized. With the diorama comes the line that wraps around the building up towards Plaza del Salvador.

Christa and I had little to do, so we marched towards the camel-ridden zoco in Encarnación before continuing onto an artisan market in a tucked-away plaza in Macarena. I badly needed cash, so my next stop had to be the Ronda Histórica, a busy road that rings the center of the city. The stream of people in front of the home of Sevilla’s most important virgin (oh, and this song) made me scratch my head, so I took out my money, got in line and stood on tip toe to see how much longer I’d have to wait to see baby Jesus again.

Within ten minutes, I had entered the iron gates in the small patio directly in front of the basilica. As one of Seville’s oldest depictions of the Virgin Mother, she’s the patroness of bullfighters and highly revered in Seville. Her procession on Maudy Thursday draws revelers during the wee hours of the morning as she is paraded from her temple along the Ronda to the Cathedral and back. I stated in my bucketlist that I’d like to see her in her basilica, but I happened to choose her feast day to do it. #Ooohguiri

On the right side of the wide, wooden doors, we queued in a perfectly straight line, while others from the hermandad, the term used to describe the religious brotherhoods, passed through the left side. Nuns filled the courtyard, passing cans of Lemon Fanta to several small children in line. I noticed the Virgin was not above the altar in an exalted place as she usually is in other churches. Brothers shouted, “Senores, colaboren con nosotros en la Loteria de Navidad! Decimos a 25 euros!” The Virgen’s distraught face graced the flimsy strips of paper I’d liken to a 50-50 lottery.

I entered the basilica, shivering as I stepped out of the sun, and made the sign of the cross as my Catholic grandmother taught me. As my confirmation saint is Lucia, I spotted her easily and made a mental recollection to find a donation box as I normally do. Girls with piercings and boys in track suits passed by, tears in their eyes. As I passed the small chapels and got closer to the front, I realized the Virgin was on the ground and people were passing in front of her. I had inadvertently come on December 18th, the Feast Day of Su Santísima Virgen de la Esperanza de la Macarena, and was in line to perform the Besamanos, or hand kissing, of the Virgin.

Moral dilemma: Do I kiss the hand of a wooden and cloth statue who I am sworn to dislike because I much prefer the Virgen de la Esperanza de Triana? Or do I look like an asshole and get out of line?

I chose to stay in, already preparing a speech to give Cait over the phone (I’m pretty sure she has an estampilla of La Macarena in her wallet). As we crept closer, her crown of stars and five red roses, a gift from the bullfighter Joey the Little Chicken Joselito el Gallo, came into view and people began weeping. Green gown flowing behind her up the steps to the altar, she stood just a bit taller than I do, but without real legs, I doubt that was her real height.

When it was my turn, toes touching the plush red carpet, I took my place between two altar boys with hair gelled to perfection. The señora in front of me’s lip quivered as she knelt down, kissed one of the only actual parts of the Virgen (most venerated images only have the face, neck, arms and hands, while the rest if a cloth dummy), finishing by making a sign of the cross and having her husband snap a picture.

I looked her dead in the face. She somehow seemed to have a softer expression than the one I’d seen emblazoned on reliefs, azulejos, keychains and tattoos. Her hand was outstretched, and I could see where people had been kissing her for the last 80 years – the plaster had worn right through to the wood. After the señora took her photo, the altarboy wiped down the hand with a damp cloth, and it was my turn.

I left quickly, nearly calling Cait before I’d even crossed the threshold. I didn’t know how to make sense of the whole thing, especially because I consider this whole Semana Santa thing to be a violation of that commandment that says you shouldn’t worship idols, but I couldn’t stop laughing at my Guiri Moment.

Her response to my giggles? “Oh, Jesus Christ. I mean Mother of Jesus Christ.”

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About Cat Gaa

As a beef-loving Chicago girl living amongst pigs, bullfighters, and a whole lotta canis, Cat Gaa writes about expat life in Seville, Spain. When not cavorting with adorable Spanish grandpas or struggling with Spanish prepositions, she works in higher education at an American university in Madrid and freelances with other publications, like Rough Guides and The Spain Scoop.


  1. Wow, good for you for staying in there. I think I would have got out of line. You’re less guiri every day.

  2. I think these things can only happen to you, my dear friend. Te echo de menos! Saludos a Cait!

  3. Sacrilege! How can you dare saying that the ‘Vírgen de todas las Vírgenes’ is a wooden skeleton with a porcelain head?? XD

  4. Haha I loved this post! A little guiri every once in a while isn’t such a bad thing 😉

  5. Hi! Really enjoyed this post Cat! Sorry been absent so long, I changed my blog format and lost all the blogs that I was following, so now got A LOT to catch up on.

    Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Hope to catch you in the new year! Take care!!

  6. Hahah, it’s good you have some Catholic background. I feel so very unlearned in the area of Roman Catholicism. We’re Protestants – as confusing as that is to mis suegros.

  7. Too damn funny! Sounds completely surreal!

  8. JOEY THE LITTLE CHICKEN!! And no worries, you know that I will always be more of a guiri than you! I probably would have decided to stay in line and sin pensar I would have exclaimed “Hijaaaa, mi armaaa! Que wapa te veo, ehhh?”

  9. Funny!
    I know next to nothing when it comes to Catholism so I wouldn’t have understood most of what you describe, if I was there.
    I wonder just how many people have kissed the Virgin? LOL.
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  10. There is a difference between idol worship and venerating Our Lady (and any other saint for that matter). We don’t think of her as something separate from Jesus and God. We don’t pray “Dear Mary, please do whatever for me.” We pray, “Dear Mary, please ask Jesus for whatever for me.” Mary and the saints get their “power” through God to do His works. They’re not just magical – and Catholics shouldn’t believe that. Haven’t you ever been in awe of something that TRULY moves you? That might explain the tears in people’s eyes.

    • I’d argue that the Virgin is quite important in Spain. She’s got her own month, her own prayers, and I’d even estimate that many hermandades have more trust and loyalty to their Virgins than to Christ. You know what my personal beliefs are, and this article is not meant to blast the beliefs of others, merely to show that her loyal have nothing to do with social class or even race/nationality, but that there are things that even someone who is in the “inside” cannot understand. I wanted to show that she is well-loved in Seville, thus the inclusion of more details. It was an experience I was glad to witness, and I think I gained more understanding into this caveat of Spanish culture.

      • What do you mean “inside?” Are you talking about being an insider to Spanish culture? If so, I see what you’re saying. However, if you’re talking about Catholicism, I’d argue you’re not an insider since you do not adhere to the Catholic beliefs. You were raised Catholic, but you are not practicing today. Correct me if I’m wrong, Catholicism was never a big thing for you growing up, right? I’d say, then, since you don’t have the same understanding of the beliefs as the ones venerating Mary, you are missing the understanding. I am definitely not an insider to Spanich culture, but I can understand their love of Mary. I was raised to have that same love of her. When I went to Prague and saw the Infant I was probably just as taken by it and moved spiritually as the people you’re describing in this post. Obviously the Infant is not Mary, but it is just a statue. Seeing ithe Infant was truly moving, and I was surprised by how I felt in the moment. I probsbly sound ultra defensive her, and that’s not my intention. You know MY beliefs and that I do enjoy having a dialogue. But, I guess I do get defensive when people say some of the Catholic practices are idolatry when at it’s theological heart, it’s not. Others may cross the line, but the Church is very clear on the issue.

      • Oh Nance, I feel like we need to discuss this over a Formossa martini and learn to love one another. Though I did go to church every Sunday until I was confirmed, come to think of it! Did the Catechism classes, and then had to teach religion for a year. Sure, it was kids stuff about God’s love and the Immaculate Conception, but it was not terribly hard! See also: the Facebook comment from my friend Cait.


  1. […] That was, until December 18th. And quite by accident. And on the worst day of the year to see her. The story is just way too funny and too much of a guiri moment, so click here if you want to read it. […]

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