0NE of the lesser known
religious festivals of Spain hut one which is well worth visiting if you are holidaying in that country this year is the annual Mystery Play which has been performed since the 13th century on 15 and 16 August in the village church of Elche in Southern Spain.
The village lies in the province of Alicante beyond which, it is said, "Africa begins" and is easily accessible by cheap and comfortable buses from the popular coastal towns. We drove down dustgrey roads bordering the sea across which dark Phoenicians had once traded. passed by Calpe, deserted for a hundred years after Barbary Pirates had carried off its inhabitants, saw that extraordinary upthrust of rock, the Penon of lfach, once the centre of pagan worship, and skirted fashionable Benidorm clustering a navy-blue bay.
Fiche itself retains the look of its Moorish ancestry but every conquered race in time absorbs its captors and here you may see the only date palm forest in Europe, planted by the Moors to provide dates but now supplying Christian Spain with its Lenten palms, while in the faces of the congregation in the great church can often be seen the traces of their darker ancestors.
By tradition local families have the right to play certain parts in the Mystery play: if they cannot supply a suitable candidate then the right passes elsewhere.
Amid an atmosphere of fervour, garlic and hair pomade, restless with the fluttering of innumerable fans, we watched while actors performed on a raised stage erected in front of the high altar. Slowly a trapdoor in the church's high dome was opened and down was lowered a glittering golden pumpkin as shining as Cinderella's coach.
Slowly the segments curled back and out stepped the composed childish "angel" whose high chanting had filled the air. Stark and somehow agonised thc strange sneto-like cadences seemed to spring extempore from a religious
enthusiasm. Later in the performance she made the same perilous ascent only to return with four companions insecurely perched on the same small platform. Our children were impressed but unenvious.
After the performance the narrow streets were jammed with visitors while at the back of the Cathedral an enormous street market is held and a street vendor will squeeze locally grown lemons over crushed ice to slake throats parched with devotion. Before driving home through streets looped with fairy lights, visit the local park where there is ' an excellent State-owned restaurant set amid exotic and tropical vegetation.
There too is the final miracle, the semblance of an English lawn-coaxed into greenness by constant watering, a veritable oasis in this African scene.-Margaret Carter.
Inquiries regarding travel should be accompanied by a stamped, addressed envelope and sent to: "Going Away", Catholic Herald, 67 Fleet Street, London, E.CA.