Spain is famous for the celebrations observed during the Holy Week also known as Semana Santa. Holy week is an important occasion for the Christians and takes place on the last week before Easter.
This week includes religious holidays like Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday which commemorate the final week in the life of Jesus Christ. The events of this festival comprises exclusively of processions of the fraternities with a backdrop of excellent spring weather and unique scenery.
Semana Santa celebrations vary from region to region in Spain each having its own flavor. The celebrations in the region of Andalusia especially in Malaga and Seville are glamorous and fully charged while those in Castile and Leon are more solemn and somber. The entire scene is filled with colors and sound topped with a poignant atmosphere.
For some it’s a fun-filled and high-spirited time while for others it’s a week of religious significance and rituals. Years after years, Spain proudly hosts the beauty and traditions of Semana Santa which attracts thousands of people from far and wide. Every year, it’s celebrated on different dates because they are based on the lunar calendar. The dates for the year 2019 are from 14th April 2017 to 20th April 2017.
There are a lot of customs and traditions associated with this festival. One of the most spectacular sights during the processions is the participants wearing the ‘nazareno’ or the penitential robe. This robe has several components including a tunic, a cone-shaped hood known as the capirote to hide the face of the wearer and also a cloak. The nazareno robe is of medieval origin when these were worn by the penitents to carry out their penance without disclosing their identity. The participants wearing the nazareno walk the city streets carrying candles or wooden crosses.
In some places, they walk barefoot with shackles on their feet as a form of penance. Some of the participants also don costumes inspired by the uniforms of the Roman Legion. Processions are organized throughout the week but surely the most glamorous ones take place on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Special “trono’s” (thrones) or floats are carried in the processions. These are actually a kind of very heavy platform weighing around 5000 kilograms or even more. These platforms are used to carry ornaments or paintings and sculptures that depict scenes of Christ’s suffering before and during the Crucifixion. Many of these floats are pieces of art created by Spanish artists like Juan de Mesa, Mariano Benlliure and Gregorio Fernandez.
The best part of the procession is when the floats exits and enters the churches as this is the very moment when religion and art seems to merge into one. Tronos are carried by more than two thousand members of a fraternity while some carry candles, rods or banners according to their level of seniority. The most senior member is the president who carries a golden rod. The floats are followed by participants wearing the nazareno and women wearing traditional costumes. The big painted wooden sculptures on the floats are known as ‘pasos’ which are carried by men called “costaleros” or sack-men. Each paso is carried by 24 to 48 men who are supervised by the overseer or head of the group. To help them carry the heavy thrones, costaleros are equipped with a cushion known as ‘costal’ which prevents the direct contact of the skin and the wood. Generally the pasos are accompanied by marching bands performing to special compositions called “Marchas procesionales”.
Semana Santa In Different Parts Of Spain-
- Malaga (Andalusia)
Traditions of holy week in this southern city of Spain have a history of over 500 years. The celebrations in Malaga are famous worldwide, starting on Palm Sunday and continuing right up to Easter Sunday. The Procession consists of “tronos” followed by penitents dressed in long purple robes and pointed hats and women in black holding candles. Color and lighting is imparted by the robes and candles while incense sticks and flowers fill the air with pleasant aromas. This event is accompanied with drums and trumpets playing emotional tunes. Often a “saeta” is sung by the “saetero” from any of the balconies lining the roads. The “saeta” is a very old traditional Spanish religious song which is dedicated to the floats.
- Leon (Leon)
Located in the province by the same name in the north of Spain, this city is famous for its Semana Santa processions. More than 15,000 people or penitents known as “papones” in Leonese language participate in the processions. The most solemn and famous of the local processions is the one called-”Procesion Del Encuentro” (Procession of the Meeting). This is a nine-hour long marathon during which about 4000 penitents carry 13 “pasos” all over the city. The moment of great mourning is “El Encuentro” (The Meeting) when the two pasos dedicated to Saint John and “La Dolorosa” (Virgin Mary) are brought face to face and are moved in such a way by the carriers that as if they are dancing (“Bailados”).
- Cartagena (Murcia)
This city is located in the south-east region of the country and processions here are unique and do not resemble to those taking place in the other cities. The processions are organized by four brotherhoods- The “Californios” wearing red, The “Resucitados” wearing white, The “Penitents” wearing black and The “Marrajos” wearing purple. The brotherhoods are further divided into small groups called “agrupationes” where each group carries a float made of carved and painted wood. The float is headed by three people holding the richly embroidered brotherhood flag (“estandarte”) and the rest standing in two straight lines. All the members of the group march in unison to the beat of drums. When the band stops playing, all of them stand still in complete silence. This military like behavior is the reason they have been bestowed with the nickname “tercio” meaning regiment. People who carry the floats are called “portapasos”. The paintings that are carried on the float are lined by “cartelas” which are in fact electrical candelabras or a kind of upside down chandelier. Unlike the other cities of Spain, the floats in Cartagena follow the chronological order as per the narration of events in the Gospels.