The number of Spanish people who go to church keeps decreasing, and more and more the population defines itself as agnostic or atheist, but religion is still winning in one important part of life in Spain: language.
1. Llegar y besar el santo | To arrive and kiss the saint
Saints have always been in demand in Spain, so if you want to approach a religious statue and kiss it (because, why not?), you’ll have to queue. That’s how things are, at least with the saint statues you’re actually allowed to kiss (the situation would be different if you were going after clandestine kisses). But what if you arrive to the church, and it is empty? You could go directly to the saint and express your love and thankfulness! To arrive and kiss the saint! What a lucky person you are!
2. Con la Iglesia hemos topado | We’ve come up against the Church
There was a time when the Church was powerful in Spain. It influenced and intervened in people’s lives so much, that even Don Quixote de la Mancha saw his adventures partly cut short by it. Or that’s what we imagine now that we have manipulated Quixote’s original sentence, changing its literal meaning for a figurative one. Because he just came across the village’s church! But we don’t really care, and now we use the sentence to talk about any superior power or institution which cuts our plans short. In the 21st century, it’s usually the tax office and not the Church, though.
3. Ser de la cofradía de la Virgen del Puño | Being part of the religious brotherhood of Our Lady of the Fist
Don’t look for her, Our Lady of the Fist doesn’t exist, at least not in an official way. She has plenty of devotees, though. This imaginary virgin always appears with a closed fist (which never opens, that’s the important part), symbolising her reluctance towards spending, giving, or releasing money. A.K.A. patron saint of the scrooges.
4. Para más inri | For more inri
Inri, inri, there’s something familiar about that, isn’t there? You might have seen those letters on pictorical depictions of Jesus Christ’s crucifixation. On the top of the cross, a small piece of wood says INRI, which stands for Iesus Nazarenvs Rex Ivdaeorvm (Latin for Jesus Nazarene, King of the Jews), showing what he was being punished for. So, on top of everything the Romans did to him, “for more inri”, they placed the sign. A sign the Jews were not really happy with either, since they didn’t consider him their King and saw it as an insult. Oh, what a cross to bear.
5. Ser la Biblia en verso | To be a versified Bible
Why was the Bible written in prose? Wouldn’t it be much better to have a versified version? That’s what José María Carulla, a lawyer who was born in Igualada (Barcelona) in 1839, thought, and he was so convinced that he decided that he should be the one to perform such a solemn task. He got to versify four Bible books, but the result was not really popular. It was apparently hard to read — that’s an euphemism. Poor hard-working Carulla became the center of his literary colleagues’ jokes for a long time. No one remembers his name anymore, but his versified Bible is still synonymous with anything long, boring, and impossible to understand. But hey, no one will take the Pontifical Order of Knighthood you were awarded with away from you, dear Carulla!
6. El hábito no hace al monje | The habit doesn’t make the monk
Of course not! Otherwise, Carnival would mean a roller-coaster for Church statistics. So many new monks! But it would only be a temporary peak, and everything would go back to normal after the celebrations. No matter how many running clothes we buy and even wear, we won’t become athletes if we don’t actually go for a run. The same happens with monks, and anything you try to look like.
7. Ser un viva la Virgen | To be a Hail to the Virgin
Contrary to what you might be thinking, “Hail to the Virgin” types are not pious people who hail to the virgin several times a day. To qualify as a “Hail to the Virgin” person, you need to stop caring and doing things. Stop everything and lie on the couch. Isn’t life great? The origin of the expression is not clear, and there are several theories. One of them goes back to Imperial times, when Spanish conquerors decided the best way to defend the South American coast from the English pirates was to give weapons to the natives and let them work. Having just been baptised, the natives were really religious and used to yell “Hail to the Virgin!” while fighting. Except that in the end there were not so many pirates, so sometimes the hailing part was the only thing they did all day.
The other main theory refers to sailors and how, whenever they were calling the roll, the last one would say “Hail to the Virgin!” He was usually the clumsiest sailor as well.
8. Estar hecho un Cristo | To look like a Christ
Where are you coming from? You look like a Christ! That is, dirty, poorly dressed, disheveled… you look terrible! You can use it for anything, not just people. Rooms, according to our mums, look like a Christ quite often too.
9. Quedarse para vestir santos | To be left to dress saints
Things have changed and many now think it’s better “to be left to dress saints, than to undress [insert insult of your choice],” but some years ago it wasn’t advisable for women to stay unmarried. What would you do without a husband? The only thing left for you would be helping in church (what else, with so much free time?), more often than not, putting clothes on the saints statues.
10. De Pascuas a Ramos | From Easter to Palm
What comes earlier, Easter or Palm Sunday? Yes, first Palm Sunday and, a week later, Easter. And you don’t get any other Palm Sunday until the following year! So if something happens from Easter to Palm, it means it doesn’t happen very often.
11. Hacer la pascua | To make the Passover
Please note that the Spanish word “Pascua” is used both for Easter and the Jewish Passover. Here, we refer to the Jewish Passover ritual of slaughtering a lamb as a sacrifice. The slaughter comes, of course, after weeks of feeding, and taking care of it. You can imagine what making the Passover to someone means, right?
12. A la buena de Dios | To God’s good
To God’s good will, that’s what we mean when we say that. We are good devotees, and, as such, we believe in God’s goodness; therefore the expression is “to God’s good” and not “to God’s bad”. That’s what we hope will happen whenever we find ourselves abandoned, helpless, and unguided, left to God’s (good) will. When we show up to an exam without having studied. When we decide to explore a new city leaving the map (and smartphone!) at the hotel. When we leave our younger siblings alone at home. In God we trust.
13. ¿Quién te ha dado vela en este entierro? | Who has given you a candle for this burial?
No one! So get out of here, this is none of your business! And by candle and burial, we mean right to give your opinion, and matter (but it doesn’t sound so well). The candles are the ones given to a deceased person’s friends by his or her family when they attend the burial. So if you’re not given one, maybe you’re not really welcome. You’re just a nosy, meddling person.
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