The horror of the Ku Klux Klan makes a visitor's first sight of the Cofradias' costumes in Spain quite a startling experience.
The Cofradias act as pall bearers, escorting huge floats carrying highly decorative, life-size madonnas through the streets of Seville during Semana Santa, the week leading up to Easter. Many Cofradias go barefoot as an act of penitence.
The origin of the costume is unclear, apparently the hoods were to protect the wearers from hot wax dripping from candles lighting the procession. So much wax drips from lighted candles on the floats and balconies that local children can scrape it off the streets to make balls for play.
The costumes can be traced back to the 14th Century. Considering the power of the church at that time and the terror of the Spanish Inquisition a few centuries later, my feeling is, even though the origin of the hoods could be a practical one, it must have suited those in power very well indeed if a side product was such a fearsome image.
Seeing the costumes for sale in a fabric shop, alongside flamenco outfits, childrens' confirmation clothing and bathrobes takes a little getting used to.