In Spain, when Semana Santa is mentioned, it is rare that it is preceded by the phrase “stumbling upon.”
I decided to go to Sevilla on, more or less, a whim. I had (somewhat unexpectedly) cut my volunteering time at a Granada hostel down from six weeks to two, and I needed somewhere close to go ASAP. So I looked at a map, saw Sevilla sitting pretty, and quickly booked a train and accommodation.
As soon as I arrived at my AirBnb hosts’ house, I was warned, “If you see a lot of men wearing long robes and pointy hats, it’s not, how you say, the Ku Klux Klan. It’s just Catholics.”
In Christianity, Semana Santa is the week right before Easter, the festival for which is a huge deal in southern Spain. Although the pomp regarding the festival is primarily religious, this 450 year old tradition is regarded by both the religiously devout and the secular Spaniards alike. Over the years, it has become a source of Spanish identity.
A big part of the daily Semana Santa happenings are the processions in which thousands of people march along a designated route to the main Seville Cathedral. The processions are organized by local religious brotherhoods, hermandades and cofradias.
Members of these brotherhoods don long robes and pointed hats with eye holes. These robes were designed for anonymity, although the heat of the day had many a brother taking off his hood, or the mother of a brother lifting the back of the hood up to squirt some water up in there. 30+ degrees and wearing layers, I can’t imagine.
Nearly 70 cofradias take part in these ceremonies, one every day from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, each using their own imagery and floats.
My experience with this festival was solely on a Wednesday, so I can’t comment on how my experience stacks up to any of the other weekdays.
First came along a marching band dressed in blue. They were beating their drums much like you’d expect in medieval-period movies when someone is being sent to the gallows.
Next came along thousands – literally – of white-robed, red hatted people carrying candles or staffs. These guys didn’t do much but walk.
Then came what it seems everyone had been waiting for, the giant floats of Jesus and the Virgin Mary. Both floats weigh roughly more than 2000 lbs, and it took about 30 men to carry each of them. From my research, being one of the people to carry either float is an extremely high honour and is something that they start training for way in advance.
The float depicting Jesus’s crucifixion came first, followed by the float depicting Mary’s sorrow.
Along with both of these came a lot of churchy incense.
During my time in Seville, I found that it was a very religious city, however, according to this study, despite Seville’s iconography and outward appearance, its residents are somewhat apathetic towards religion. Which is interesting given that many squares were designed around a church, and a large number of the streets were named after Saints.
I had an interesting time with this dichotomy, as I was raised Roman Catholic, yet no longer consider myself religious. However despite my own personal beliefs, I found this celebration to be an incredible experience for both the religious and the secular. The procession was captivatingly beautiful and honestly, it is a festival for anyone that appreciates culture and wants to open themselves up to Spanish customs.
The imagery, the art, the sheer devotion, it was hard to not be enticed.
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Have you ever been to a Holy Week procession? What are your thoughts?