Andalusia, the southern region of Spain, is both well-known and notorious for many things: flamenco, bull-fighting, sherry and traditional festivals. None of these festivals is more widely celebrated than Semana Santa, or Holy Week. For each of the seven days from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, cities all over Andalusia gather day and night in the narrow, cobblestoned streets to watch religious processions featuring scenes from The Passion.
Seville is the historical and geographical heart of this celebration. More than 55 brotherhoods of robed men carry 115+ elaborate, antique floats enveloped in hundreds of lit candles, depicting the Virgin or Christ, throughout the city among the masses of weeping worshippers. Echoes of processional music from live marching bands can be heard in the distance and set the pace for each march. This is with the exception of El Silencio, which is carried out in complete silence. Proud men, honored by fellow Sevillians as local heroes, train for months before carrying these hefty 17th-century structures, practicing choreography ranging from rhythm and acceleration to curves and jumps. Typical routes begin from various churches in the city, to the cathedral and back. These paths can and do take several hours from start to finish. Spaniards from all over come to see these various bible scenes in action, the favorites usually consisting of the Virgin Mary in her intensifying stages of mourning.
Readers, kindly take note that the traditional costumes of Semana Santa aren’t meant to invoke understandable feelings of shock or anger. It’s rather ironic and completely disgraceful that the gangs known in America as the Ku Klux Klan stole this robed and hooded look from a traditional Catholic tradition. It will take some getting used to when seeing these figures surrounding you, but keep in mind, here they are devotional cloths and they had them first!
While clearly a religious holiday, Semana Santa (like everything else in Spain!) eventually turns into one big party. After the touching and emotional processions, families from grandparents to sleeping babies alike fill every restaurant in the city, pouring onto the streets until the dark hours of the morning. The arrival of spring is also used to celebrate those “other” Spanish traditions: quality family time, incredible food and relaxing libations.
Semana Santa is something you can only experience in Spain and it would be a sin to miss it!
[Procession - The Christ photo provided by peribaynez]
[Semana Santa - Traditional Robes photo provided by Le Grand Portage]