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!
Looks like you guys managed to get yourselves a really good spot and the photos turned our really well! And the candies are way too cute 😀
All thanks to MJ who can find the right spots most of the time while I just squeeze with everyone else hehe
wow… really amazing photos!! especially the one with the little boy taking a breather
Thank you! 🙂
Your pictures are really stunning and I was hooked from start to finish. I’m Catholic so this procession was very interesting for me. I like how you explained the pointy hats. In America, the KKK wears them and it’s interesting to see why they do that when they signify penance and remorse for sinning.
Thank you Gina, glad you liked it! Love how we learn new things on our travels and get to share with everyone else 🙂
I’ve been to Spain a few times but never heard of Semana Santa. It looks like a fascinating time to visit 😀
Oh it was a really special period and you can feel the mood in the air.
I love that they cheer when one makes it around a tight corner! I think those costumes would freak me out a bit.Your photos are lovely!
Yes! We didn’t know why they cheered in the beginning but soon learned 🙂 The costumes could be a little scary at night lol!
First off, amazing photos!!! I would love to experience Semana Santa in Spain. I’m Catholic so I know all about this and we actually have similar set up here in the Philippines 😀
Thanks Johna! I’m sure you will love it in Spain.
What a meaningful and interesting celebration! I love seeing how different cultures from around the world celebrate certain holidays. It makes me think perhaps we are being too shallow here with our Easter bunnies and egg hunts!
Hi Diana, we didn’t really plan to be there during that period but were lucky the timing was just right and managed to catch the celebrations. I love Easter bunnies!
Oh wow. That’s interesting, I’ve never heard of this before! May have to visit Spain again. I love how much detail of the celebrations you’ve included… Definitely learnt something new today.
Amazing photos 🙂
Thanks Caroline! I’m always happy to share what I’ve seen and learnt 🙂
This looks so intriguing. I have been to Spain, but this is the first I am hearing of Semana Santa. The event looks interesting and fascinating with all the different costumes – some are a bit scary!
Frankly, some of the costumes can be quite scary at night Soraya! But with the crowd, Pasos and music, you soon get used to them 🙂
I am so bummed I only made it to Barcelona while in Spain. I feel like I missed out on so much cultures and sights from other cities!
Hey Shane, that gives you more reason to go back to Spain! 🙂
It must have been so incredible to be there during the Semana Santa! I knew that the Semana Santa was a really big deal in much of Latin America, but I was not aware that the celebrations were so big in Spain too! I’m not going to lie, as an American the costumes of the Nazarenos are a little too similar to those of the KKK for me. But I guess this just goes to show how hate groups reappropriate important historical symbols to further their own gains (eg what the Nazis did with the Swastika).
You can imagine how excited we were Erika! This was totally new to us and we didn’t really know what to expect but it was amazing. About the costumes, I can’t tell you how many times my friend mentioned the word “KKK”, even up till today lol. I hope people can now relate the costumes to Semana Santa more than KKK 🙂
Very informative and the pictures are simply Wow! How did u really manage to get such pictures? I loved how you explained both the schools of thought on wearing the pointed hats but I would also go by the first one. Seems like you did have a lot of fun attending Semana Santa.
Thank you Bidisha. We had to squeeze our way through the crowd to get to the front for most of the shots. It was great experiencing everything so different right in the midst of it.
I am sure it was a great experience! 🙂
I love Andalusia a lot. I haven’t been to Seville but Granada is my favourite place, especially Alhambra.
Two years ago, I was in Balmaseda during the Semana Santa. It’s in the Northern spain (Basque Country) and they have one of the rare alive station of cross of the World: http://www.amatu-artea.com/en/diary/basque-festival/via-crucis-vivente-of-balmaseda.html
It’s amazing how they put on a play in the town! Would love to witness that myself.
These pictures are amazing! Holy week in Spain seems amazing. I absolutely LOVE Seville. I’m going back soon for a couple of weeks. Thank you for sharing this wonderful adventure.
Thanks Kyntra. Have a great time!
Wow what a fascinating celebration. It’s incredible that people still wear the costumes although they reminded me of the KKK a bit too much. The photos were fascinating though!
Thank you Karen! Have to admit the resemblance in the costumes 🙂 But with the paso and music, the whole atmosphere was quite surreal.
Wow, these are so incredible! I have to agree with the other comments saying the costumes look a LOT like the KKK. However, the meaning behind them is completely different. It’s such an interesting festival!