In Malaga, I was thrilled and exhilarated during the Holy Week. The nightly processions of grand, flower covered thrones, shining with candlelight and carrying statues. The Virgin, with her poor, tragic face, yet covered with diamonds and jewels, and the bloodied Christ, adorned with luxurious brocades. Then there were the pointy hats and colorful dresses of the faithful penitents, and the raw and bloodied backs of the flagellants. Everything fascinated me.
In Malaga I became part of a brotherhood, that of the Virgin of the Rosary, from a humble and poor part of the city. This Virgin had no ornaments or jewels. Personally, I much preferred to worship to the Virgin of las Angustias. Her statue was pierced with a silver dagger that pinned a red rose to her chest. Originally, the flower had been white, but during the civil war, a communist stabbed the statue through the flower, and soon it took on the color of blood.
We lived amidst pure paganism, and I felt perfectly at home.
In the evenings my mother brought me to see the Little Mother, the superior of the Noblé hospital. She and her nuns were sisters of Saint Vincent of Paul, and wore large white headdresses. My mother and the Little Mother visited with and brought comfort and little gifts to the sick. The nuns fed me candied onions, my guilty pleasure, and taught me the local dances, the malaguenas and sevillanas, their bodies moving like spaghetti in the wind.
My mother also brought me on charitable missions with Dr. Linares, who cared for the poor. My mother and the doctor got along marvelously in this work that I was discovering, the work of charity, Christian or not. We went to the poorest areas of Malaga to bring comfort and care.
A few years ago, and sixty years after the fact, Dr. Linares’s son contacted me and told me the following story. One winter day, my mother met Dr. Linares in the street. Despite the cold, my mother was wearing only a simple jacket. “Princess, aren’t you cold?” the doctor asked. My mother replied that she was not. The doctor was shocked, perplexed. He looked around and saw an elderly woman in rags, on her shoulders she wore an astrakhan coat; the doctor understood. I was only five years old or so, but I remember perfectly well that black astrakhan coat that found its way onto the shoulders of that poor woman.
The altruism of my mother, her generosity, her selflessness, this was the first great lesson that I learned.
We were in Malaga at the war’s end. On May 8th, 1945, my mother wrote melancholically in her journal that the war had ended but the mourning had only just begun. The war had left a world of ruins and dead, of tears and blood.
Photographs by Justin Creedy Smith