Alternative Semana Santa
In most towns and cities throughout Andalucia, during Semana Santa (Holy Week), groups of penitentes, also called nazarenos, accompany their statues of Jesús and Mary as they’re carried out of their church and around the town. They are dressed in robes and pointy hoods, with mournful brass bands. But in a few places, different traditions make for an alternative Holy Week experience, from people dressed as biblical figures, to gypsy songs.
In Puente Genil in Cordoba, a town in the southern-east campiña of Cordoba province, Roman legions and biblical figures accompany the floats. Here they call Semana Santa “Mananta”. People dress up as biblical characters, with spookily life-like masks (rostrillos) covering their faces, long wigs and white robes with brightly-coloured shawls. They carry props (martirios) relevant to their character, such as Noah with his ark. Others become Roman legions, with centurions and foot-soldiers in magnificent plumed helmets, turning the whole town into a live Bible recreation. Roman soldiers can also be seen in other Semana Santa processions around Andalucia.
The biblical figures in Puente Genil are all members of corporaciones (groups like hermandades, governed by rules, who have their own houses, cuarteles). They accompany the processions, which take place from Good Friday to Easter Sunday. This tradition dates from the 17th century. One of the most impressive corporaciones is El Imperio Romano (the Roman Empire), for its size, costumes and music. There are 60 corporaciones and 425 biblical figures. Inside their cuarteles, they sing saetas cuarteleras – performed by two members and referring to biblical passages - and drink wine, in commemoration of the Last Supper. The processions of biblical figures are known as apostoles.
See a video of El Imperio Romano here, another video where you can see the apostoles here, a news report about making the biblical characters here, and an (old) film about the cuarteles and their unique type of saetas here.
In Renaissance gem Ubeda, in Jaen province, the processions come in chronological order (Passion - Sunday, Detention – Wednesday, Death – Friday, and Resurrection – Sunday - of Christ). In Alcaudete, the penitents wear long wigs, papier mache masks and period dress, appearing as the apostles. There are also live floats (pasos vivos), recounting eight Biblical passages, including Abraham, the Last Supper, the Betrayal of Jesus, Judas’ Repentance.
In Granada, on Miercoles Santo (Holy Wednesday) night, gitanos carry their Cristo del Consuelo and Maria Santisima del Sacromonte, through their barrio, where they have huge bonfires inside their caves and sing zambras, gypsy wedding songs.
See gitanas singing to their Christ here (poor visual quality, but sound is OK).
In Jerez de la Frontera, gypsies accompany their “Prendi” (Jesus del Prendimiento). Also on Wednesday night, in their barrio of Santiago, they all open up their casas de vecinos (groups of houses around a communal patio). Many flamenco artists come along, such as Joaquin El Zambo, and into Thursday morning there’s a party atmosphere, with dancing and singing (both saetas and happier songs). See a video of El Zambo singing a saeta here.
Watch a Semana Santa procession