The week before Easter is a remarkable time to visit Spain. It’s Holy Week – Semana Santa in Spanish – and the religious holiday is celebrated with long processions, enormous floats, striking costumes and haunting music. If you find yourself traveling in Spain during this extraordinary week, you very well may come across sights such as these snapshots of Semana Santa.
SEMANA SANTA IN CÓRDOBA
In Córdoba, immense floats depicting scenes from the last week of Jesus Christ’s life, called pasos or tronos in Spanish, exit through the doors of the Mezquita, the city’s main cathedral (and former mosque), which is no simple task. The capataz must give explicit instructions to the float bearers who carefully maneuver through the ancient doorway. Once clear of the Mezquita, the processions continue through the narrow, twisted streets of Córdoba.
The Catholic brotherhoods, called hermandades or cofradías, are the religious fraternities that continue the Semana Santa traditions. Each hermandad has its own crest and colors and is responsible for particular processions. Perhaps the most distinct figures in the Semana Santa processions of Spain are the nazarenos, members of the brotherhoods who wear their iconic robe and conical hoods (called capirotes). Unfortunately, this image in America is now associated with the KKK, but this Spanish tradition goes back centuries. The hoods are a sign of penance and represent reverence for the Christ figure.
In Córdoba, the costaleros carry the floats using their heads, necks and shoulders. They wear old flour sacks on their heads, earning the nickname sack men. The costaleros take turns carrying the weighty pasos.
Even if you can’t see the processional, you can hear it. Brass bands follow behind the pasos, and their sound is unmistakeable. The music can be boisterous and celebratory or forlorn and sombre. The music is as much a part of Semana Santa as the costumes and floats.
Semana Santa is a religious festival that incorporates every age. On Palm Sunday, children carry palm fronds in the processions.
SEMANA SANTA IN GRANADA
Semana Santa is a time for long-standing traditions, which can be seen in the various costumes during processions. From priestly garb to women all in black, you are sure to see a range of uniforms during Semana Santa.
Plus, not all nazarenos have pointed hoods. This group carries crosses during the procession.
Although the Semana Santa floats will illustrate many of the same scenes from the Passion Week (i.e. the triumphal entry, Jesus carrying his cross, Jesus on the cross, his mother Mary), they are each unique and deserve a good look – for they are all ornate and richly decorated.
SEMANA SANTA IN SEVILLA
In almost every city, the pasos are stored in cathedrals and churches when they are not being paraded through the streets. This way, the public can come up close to admire the exquisite designs. Silver and gold decorate the sizable frames, adding to their significant weight!
In Sevilla, the streets are small and crowded. Women watch from the balcony as Mary’s throne passes by, while onlookers below try to catch a glimpse. Near the Cathedral of Sevilla, part of the processional route is marked with “VIP seating” which requires purchased tickets but guarantees a viewing spot.
SEMANA SANTA IN MÁLAGA
Some say that Semana Santa in Málaga is a little more joyous, a little less somber. The processions are filled with fascinating characters – the most lively being some of the costaleros who walk on the outside of the floats.
Processions can last a reallllllllly long time. Like all-day-all-night long. And because the costaleros in Málaga are not hidden under the floats, you can see the strain on their faces, as they work together – step by step – to make it to the finish line.
Being in Spain during Semana Santa is one of my favorite travel memories to date. I mean, I do love all-things-Spain… but this time was truly, truly special. To witness processions in all the major cities of Andalucía was a moving experience, and I would love to stand in the streets again someday. Religious or not, I think every traveler could appreciate the magnitude of this remarkable festival!
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But what do you think? Have you ever been to Spain during Semana Santa? Do you enjoy local festivals and parades, even if it’s not something you’re familiar with?
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