Ascetic and Passionate - Semana Santa
Throughout seven days, Andalucia is surrounded by a spiritual halo. Semana Santa is a tradition which is repeated year after year; a time when the devout and curious join together to participare in the procession and converge on the streets and squares which take on the ambience and mystique of an open air temple.
The skill and expertise behind the parades rest with the religious fraternities and brotherhoods. They have the responsibility of maintaining the statues as well as co-ordinating the penitents and musicians. Sometimes up to two thousand members of a brotherhood take part, some carry candles, rods or banners depending on their level of seniority. The most senior is the president who carries a golden rod.
The "costaleros" who carry the weight of the floats and their sculptured representations of the biblical scene are directed by the overseer or head of the group who ensure that the float is carried with maximum seriousness, grace and tradition. To be able to survive the long hours and distance carrying the heavy "thrones" the costaleros have a cushion, known as the costal, which prevents the direct contact of the wood rubbing against the skin. The thrones are followed by "nazarenos" dressed in tunics, hoods and masks and women dressed in traditional costume.
The high point of the procession is when the float exits and enters the respective church. This is the moment when art and religion seem merged into one. A sculpture of images created by superb craftsmen. The best floats date back to the 16th and 17th centuries and can still be seen today.
The entire scene is alive with colour and sound, thanks to the polychromatic variety of tunics, hoods, ensigns and banners. Emotions are stirred by the slow rythmic beating of the drums and processional marches, the swaying paces of the bearers and the poignant wailing of the "saeta" which is a sacred song, similar to the flamenco and sung through the Holy Week processions.
Even if you are not religious, it is difficult not to be moved, the atmosphere is so vital and poignant. For some it is a fun filled fiesta time, for others a week of ritual and reflection. Without a doubt, Holy Week in Andalucia is a tradition that is an integral part of the culture and appropriately reflects the spirit of the people.
Year after year, each and every village proudly enjoys the beauty and mystery of "Semana Santa" although there are variances and some towns for instance, will preserve certain traditions more than others. The villages and hamlets generally hold their parades on Thursdays and Fridays, while the large capital cities have week long celebrations and attract thousands of people from far and wide.
Irrespective of size, each float represents the pride and enthusiasm of every Andaluz who will spend the entire night, from dusk until dawn, accompanying them in solemn reverence to his or her religion.
The considerable variants of the Holy Week are determined by the historical evolution of religious fiestas and, above all, by folk traditions which determine individuality and character. Malaga and Seville are the two Andaluz cities where the festivities are perhaps the best known for the sheer sense of spectacle and size. But there are differences, as noted hereafter.
Here like the rest of Andalucia, Holy Week is a religious event, which is, above all, festive and where a series of elements blend together to create a wonderful event. The most famous fraternity in Cadiz is that of Nazareno (nicknamed the "Grenuo") whish is supposedly derived from the miraculous cure of various epidemics suffered by the local people. Easter Saturday's parade features the fraternity of "Santo Entierro" which is the only one which is on wheels, steered by fourteen men. More >
A highly traditional week with a seriousness and depth which distinguishes it from other provinces, although, to tell the truth, it is becoming more and more boisterous. It has lost a great deal of its traditions and customs, like that of installing altars in the houses or the ringing of the church bells to announce the resurrection. In the houses the women used to play "almiretes" (bells) and pound on all types of utensils. However, the tradition of the brotherhood has been reborn and new fraternities are emerging. More >
This city has a strong folk influence but is not so well know as some of the others. The most important day is Maundy Thursday when the best loved image is paraded that of the "abuelo" (grandfather) a full body sculpture ofa "nazareno". During the procession the crowning momeent is the joining up of Nuestro Padre Nazareno (our Nazareno Father) and the "Virgen de Los Dolores" (Virgin of Pain). As well as the aforementioned "saeta", there is a typical chant called the "tracto" which is particularly poignant and unique and just one of the reasons why Jaen is so special during Holy Week. More >
One of the most spectacular features of the Holy Week in Malaga is that the floats are simply monumental and can weigh up to six tons. They are made to house velvet and gold drapes which reach up to some nine metres and cover the "dolorasa" (statues). The sheer size of the floats means that they cannot enter through the churches and therefore have to be assembled in the street. More than a hundred young men support each one. The "Virgen de las Penas" (Virgen of Sorrow) is not dressed in the traditional velvet robe but instead clad with natural flowers comprising more than twenty thousand carnations. More >
This city has some fifty five fraternities that parade with a total of one hundred and five floats. The images are mainly of the master sculptors, such as Juan de Mena, Martinez Montañés and J. Antonio Illanes. The night of Maundy Thursday is Seville's main fiesta when their favourite Virgin "La Marcarena" and those of "Triana" and "El Gran Poder" emerge into the crown lined streets.
Wherever you have the chance to experience Holy Week, whether it is a tiny pueblo or a major city, you are sure to be moved and enthralled by the emotion and experience which makes this one of the region's most precious traditions which has remained unchanged for countless generations. More >
This article was first published in the Andalucia, Costa del Sol Magazine.