During my most recent travels in Spain, I spent the Holy Week in Andalusia, namely Seville, Granada and Cordoba. Holy Week traditions in Spain is called Semana Santa and it is an elaborate commemoration of the Passion of Jesus Christ leading up to Easter.
There are no colourful Easter eggs or chocolate bunnies in Spain, only decorated floats with statues of Jesus and Mary (called the “pasos”), brass bands and people dressed up in capes, hoods and tall pointy hats like KKK according to MJ, walking slowly through the streets from their parish church to the cathedral and back.
The people with the pointy hats are the Nazarenos, who are also known as the “penitentes”. The Nazarenos are members of religious associates that care for the images of Christ and Mary that are used in the processions. They are otherwise simply known as members of a church brotherhood (cofradia). They can be men, women and children.
Mantilla are the women who walk behind the paso dressed in black wearing a black lace veil over the back of their heads as shown above.
But why that scary “costume” you may ask, with pointed hat and mask. I actually found 2 different school of thoughts for the explanation.
First: The pointed hat, called capirote, was worn by clowns and juggles portraying clumsiness or stupidity during medieval times. Criminals back then had to wear the pointed hat and walk through the streets while people threw rotten vegetables at them, spat at them and insulted them. Now, penitentes (people doing their penance for their sins) would walk through the streets during the Holy Week with pointed hat but their faces are covered so that they would not be recognised.
Second school of thought: The cone symbolizes a sort of rising towards the heavens and therefore this part of the Nazarenes’ dress is designed to bring their penitence closer to the heavens. Also, in the same way cone shaped shrubs are used in Spanish cemeteries, the pointed hat is symbolize raise the dead towards the heavens.
(Which explanation one do you prefer? I’m more practical so I’m going with the first :))
Each brotherhood for a church will have their own processions and they all wear different colour robes and candles. Depending on the day and location (cities / towns / villages), the procession can start from 3 in the afternoon and ends about 6 hours later or even past mid-night. We didn’t purposely plan to be in Andalucia (or Spain for that matter) during the Holy Week but was glad we did. It was a different cultural experience!
Although we did some research before the trip for Semana Santa, nothing really prepared us for the actual processions and celebrations. It was festive and lively, literally like the towns were celebrating New Year countdowns.
We saw the fastest moving pasos in Seville!
As you can see from the videos, the pasos are huge and they can weigh up to 5 tons. The Costaleros (usually the men and in some rarer occasions the women who carry the pasos) need to take breaks every now and then. You can’t really see them because they are hidden below the pasos. The best view I’ve got of the costaleros was their shuffling feet.
Even though I am not a Catholic, I was actually touched by a few of the processions. The music from the brass band and the mood in air combined, it was indescribable.
From the few processions we participated, here are some interesting observations:
– People watching the procession / slow march of the pasos will reach out and touch them if they are within reach. It almost felt like they would get some kind of blessing by doing so.
– Children who are watching the processions with their accompanying adults will be collecting wax from the candles of the penitents when they stop. I guess it’s one way of entertaining them.
People clap and cheer when the pasos managed to get around tight corners. I think they deserve the applause. Have you seen them move?!
Besides the traditional processions, we were glad also come across a military parade by the Spanish Legion in Cordoba parading with the image of Christ of the Good Death.
On a lighter note, there’s always some quirky stuff you can buy home as gifts or even eat during the Semana Santa like these cute chocolates and candies.
I got myself a cute penitente-in-capirote fridge magnet 🙂
Are you now intrigued by the Semana Santa? What do you think of this celebration of Easter? Here are other things to do in Spain!