In the town of Banyoles every Friday before Palm Sunday the Procession of Mare de Déu dels Dolors takes place. As evening falls three images are carried through the streets accompanied by a representatives of religious institutions, a choir and some bands.
The procession is headed by a Maniple of so-called Manaies or Armats (armed soldiers), a recreation of the parades of Roman soldiers boasting positions such as the Auriga, Equites and Optiones and summing up 131 people (and 8 horses) which makes it the biggest formation of Catalonia.
The earliest documents that mention this procession and the Manaies date from 1832, but it is not exactly clear when the tradition was born. So they have performed their act for at least 150 years, with exception of the Spanish Civil War. During that period all the garments and standards were destroyed, so the organization had to start from scratch.
From the first testimonies on only men were marching in the procession. Till this year. In March the Annual General Meeting unanimously decided to offer women the opportunity to formally participate in the formation, as they had occasionally done, and the resolution found its way into the bylaws of the organization.
There was a huge interest and finally eight young women marched with the Maniple this Friday as well as in the parades prior to the procession. Some of them played in the Banda, while others fulfilled the role of Optiones. They were greatly enjoying themselves, as did the public admiring this new addition to the Manaies.
For next year it is foreseen that more female soldiers will take part in the solemnities of Mare de Déu dels Dolors. So when you are in the neighbourhood, come and watch this historical parade.