The cult of the Christ of Medinaceli

The longest queue in the city

If you go down to the Paseo del Prado this Friday, prepare to have any preconceptions you had about the Spanish and queuing blown apart. Each year on the first Friday of March, an enormous line of extraordinarily patient people stretches from Plaza de Jesús, along Calle Fúcar and all the way past the Botanical Gardens down to Atocha. What on earth are they lining up for you ask? The chance to win a lifetime supply of jamón? The hottest theatre tickets in town? Free champagne?

The basilica where the Cristo de Medinaceli is housed

The answer is none of the above, or all of the above if you wish for them while kissing the feet of a magical statue of Jesus Christ. That’s right folks, for just one day a year, the Cristo de Medinaceli is on call to grant wishes to the faithful. As I mentioned earlier, visitors can only kiss the Christ’s feet on the first Friday of March and it’s said that if you do plant your lips on his sacred toes, you’re free to make three wishes, one of which will be granted. Regardless of weather conditions or hygiene concerns, each year thousands of people from all over Spain queue up outside the basilica where the statue is housed.

Hardcore fans

Some even begin queuing well before said day! I went down the Monday before and had a chat with a gentleman named Christian who had been queuing 24-7 with a group of around 15 hard-core ladies since February 12! While many others had simply left a piece of paper taped to a wall with a chair chained below to hold their space, Christian and his gang, huddled under an improvised tarpaulin tent, were committed body and soul for the wait. He certainly thought it was worth it and told me that he’d been coming for years and always had not one but all three of his wishes granted.

Christian had been queuing since Feb 12!

While he remained tacitun on the details of his wishes – this was a matter between him and Christ – Christian did fill me in on the history of the statue. Made in Seville in the first half of the 17th century the figure was then sent to La Mamora in Spanish-occupied Morocco to boost the morale of the troops. However, in 1681 disaster struck when it was captured by a local sultan and dragged about the streets while his subjects jeered at this symbol of Christianity.

Shop by the church selling figurines of the Christ of Medinaceli
Shop by the church selling figurines of the Christ of Medinaceli

A daring rescue

A friar from the Order of the Trinity decided to rescue said statue and offered to pay the sultan its weight in gold in exchange for its return. Though the figure weighed a ton, it’s said that when it was put on the scales it was miraculously equal to only 30 pieces of gold. Holy hooplah ensued and from that point on the statue’s fame grew so that when it was returned to Madrid in 1682, it was paraded through the streets to much public jubilation. Apart from a brief spell in Valencia and Switzerland during the Civil War, the statue has been here ever since, first housed in a small chapel and later in its very own basilica. The doors of the basilica will open just before midday on Friday and close just before 11pm. This year a lot of rain is forecast but I somehow doubt that will keep the faithful away.

The soft-core version of the queue. People reserve their places weeks in advance

Keen to find out more about the history of Madrid? See another side of the city with one of my unique walking tours.

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