Hundreds mourn their dead at Seville mass for virus victims


Seville (Spain) (AFP)

Hundreds of people who lost loved ones to coronavirus joined a huge funeral mass at Seville Cathedral on Thursday in one of the largest public gatherings in Spain since the lockdown.

As they sat under the cathedral's towering vaulted ceiling on carefully-spaced folding chairs, some could be seen wiping away tears as a nearly 90-strong choir and orchestra performed Mozart's Requiem

Many were dressed in black and all were wearing facemasks as Archbishop Juan Jose Asenjo opened the service with the account of Jesus' death from one of the gospels.

"It is very possible that in the past three months many of us have, like Jesus, lifted our eyes to the heavens and asked 'My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?'," he said.

Spain went into lockdown in mid-March to slow the spread of the virus that has killed more than 27,000 people, most of whom were over 70.

But with the epidemic now well under control, the restrictions have been gradually eased in a staged rollback, with Seville currently in phase two in which places of worship move to 50 percent of normal capacity.

Some 600 places were reserved for bereaved family members but the funeral mass was also attended by city and regional government officials, senior military figures, academics and judges.

"For me this event is important because my sister has passed away in Madrid.. and we haven't been able to hold a private ceremony because it's not allowed in this phase," said a mourner called Maria who declined to give her family name. "But this (mass) is very much appreciated."

- Masked players -

The vast cathedral, a World Heritage Site where Christopher Columbus is buried, covers more than 11,000 square metres, with the choir and the orchestra set up in front of an intricately-carved wooden Gothic facade.

"It's a huge space. The cathedral has a capacity of 4,000 people but they have only put in 600 seats," said Jose Carlos Carmona, musical director of the Seville symphony orchestra and the university choir.

"Grant the dead eternal rest, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine on them," they sang as the mass opened, many of the mourners lost in their thoughts as the music soared through the lofty chamber.

Performing together for the first time in three months, 27 musicians -- all of them masked except for the wind players -- accompanied four soloists and a 53-strong choir who sang without masks.

And before communion was distributed, a priest gave clear instructions on how to take the wafers safely, removing masks for just a brief moment.

"I think it's important that there's a recognition and memorial for the victims and the families of the more than 27,000 people who died.. It means they haven't died in vain and that they have value, not just for their families but for the whole country." said Carmen Andrea, another of those in attendance.

Cathedral officials had removed all the pews and replaced them with well-spaced individual seats and hand gel dispensers were set up at the entrance.

Carmona said a team of professionals had created a detailed plan with "very clear interpersonal distances between each member of the orchestra and the choir" to keep within the guidelines.

"This is a solemn event which expresses some of Seville's pain but also that of Spain and the rest of the world," he said.