MADRID – For the first time since his coronation, Spain’s Felipe VI performed on Friday a ritual that has become a steadfast tradition for the country’s monarchs, which involved kissing the feet of a wooden statue of Jesus Christ that dates back to the early 17th century.
The King made his way through throngs of mostly-elderly pilgrims to the tune of the Spanish national anthem, played by the church’s organ at the Medinaceli basilica in Madrid, which hosts the famed Cristo de Medinaceli statue.
While the faithful chanted “Long live the King” and elbowed each other for a chance to graze the monarch’s hands, Felipe strode through the temple’s central nave until he reached the wooden effigy.
He crossed himself before bending over to kiss the graven image’s feet, after which he crossed himself once more, as dictated by tradition.
Felipe had performed the ritual twice before in his lifetime, albeit in his capacity as heir apparent to the throne: in 1996, when he was just 28 years old, he did so for the first time and signed the so-called Book of Kings, which was inaugurated in 1808 during the reign of Fernando VII, known by the sobriquet “The Felon.”
In 2004, Felipe visited the church again accompanied by his consort, Queen Letizia, shortly before the March 11 terror attacks that killed 190 people.
Pilgrims generally kiss the statue’s feet expecting a miracle, especially a miraculous healing, or the fulfillment of a particular wish.
The first Friday in March is considered the best day to venerate the wooden idol, which causes lengthy lines to form each year as the devoutest pilgrims hope to perform the kiss on that day.
Some, with a keen informal business sense, sell their place in the line to eager buyers for up to 100 euros ($123).
The prized statue of Jesus of Nazareth, which measures 1.73 meters (5-foot-8), was carved at the dawn of the 17th century by commission of the dukes of Medinaceli.
In 1614, it was taken to what is now Morocco, to be venerated by the Spaniards living in the then-North African colony.
It was soon stolen by Muslim robbers, although the Capuchin friars entrusted with safeguarding the figure were able to recover it four decades later, in 1682.
It was then moved to Madrid and placed within a shrine that later grew into the present-day basilica.
During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), it was taken to the Swiss city of Geneva until the conflict ended with a victory by the forces of military dictator Francisco Franco, whose regime imposed National Catholicism as the country’s ideological identity.
After its return to Madrid in 1940, the statue has been visited by multiple members of the royal family, in line with the custom established by their dynastic predecessors.