Culture

Semana Santa

Spain is famous for its Semana Santa (Holy Week) traditions, starting on the Sunday before Easter and lasting until Easter Sunday itself. During this week the Spanish Catholic religious brotherhoods (cofradía) perform penance processions on the streets. In smaller villages, the processions are mainly on Thursday and Friday; however, larger towns and cities have weeklong spectacular celebrations. Some of the most elaborate are in Andalucia, particularly in Sevilla, Malaga and Granada. See the Sevilla Semana Santa photo gallery for photos of the Thursday and Friday processions. For video and photos of the processions in a smaller Andalician town, see Alcaudete Semana Santa.

The focal point of these processions are the pasos (thrones or floats), which are carried by bearers on staves. Some are enormous, weighing up to six tonnes. The pasos depict biblical scenes from the gospels related to the Passion of Christ or the Sorrows of Virgin Mary. The majority that I have seen have a surrounding skirt, which covers the bearers entirely, giving the impression that the paso is floating. Some are works of art created by famous Spanish artists and have been owned and preserved by the Brotherhoods for centuries.

A paso in a Semana Santa procession in Sevilla
A paso in a Semana Santa procession in Sevilla

The bearers who carry the pasos are known as costaleros. They are directed by the head of the group, who communicates with them by use of a knocker on the paso. To soften the load of the paso (remember that they can weigh up to six tonnes), the costaleros have a cushion known as the costal. The processions last many hours and cover great distances, so in many processions, there are several teams of costaleros, which change over at regular intervals.

Costaleros changing over during a Semana Santa procession in Sevilla
Costaleros changing over during a Semana Santa procession in Sevilla

Many of the participants in the processions wear the nazareno or penitential robe. This consists of a robe and a hood with conical tip (capirote) used to conceal the face of the wearer. The exact style and colour depend on the procession and the brotherhood. The robes date back to medieval times when the robes were used by penitents to mask their identity. Many carry candles or wooden crosses. Some walk barefooted or wear shackles and chains on their feet as penance.

Nazarenos in Sevilla during Semana Santa
Nazarenos in a procession on Good Friday during Semana Santa in Sevilla.
A nazareno walking barefoot in a Semana Santa procession
A nazareno walking barefoot.

The processions are accompanied by a brass band playing processional marches and slow rythmic beating of drums. The costaleros carrying the pasos walk with a gentle sway in time to the music and the saeta, a song a little like the flamenco, which is sung during the Semana Santa processions.

Brass band playing in a procession in Alcaudete during Semana Santa
Brass band in a procession in Alcaudete during Semana Santa.

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