Journals from Spain - Center for Cross-Cultural Studies
2010-05-02 Semana Santa (Part 1)
An image of Jesus Christ carrying the cross
Semana Santa. Holy Week. These words bring back a flood of memories of my first week of April here in Sevilla. I remember the smell of incense, of early morning churros, of the blossoms on the orange trees. I can still hear the haunting, melodic sound of the bands going before the floats in the processions or the general chattering of thousands of people or the relative silence of the park outside of the downtown of the city. I remember the sweet taste of torrija, Spanish bread soaked in honey that is typical during Holy Week. And I still recall all of the sights: the masses of people, the processions, the nazareinos (penitents), the sunshine, etc. Here in Sevilla Holy Week is probably their most important week as far as how famous it is, how much work they put into preparing for it, and how much it helps their economy.
It would be very difficult to explain all of Semana Santa to you all in a few paragraphs because there are so many different aspects to it. So I will just try to focus on the basics. Here in Sevilla they have a very old tradition of carrying images of Jesus and of the Virgin Mary through the streets. Almost every Catholic church (and believe me, there are a lot of those) has both images, and they spend all year fixing them up so they can take them out again the following year.
The images are usually quite old, and they are made out of wood. They are put on big floats decorated with flowers, big tapestries, candles, gold, etc. and are then carried through marked paths on the streets on the shoulders of 30, 40, 50 or more costaleros (men that are a part of a hermandad, or a kind of fraternity that is a part of a church). It is a sight that is hard to describe. Some of the streets are very narrow and they have to practice a lot throughout the year to perfect their ability to listen to their leader, who calls out orders to the men underneath the float as they cannot see where they are going.
The processions are also made up of a big marching band and of nazareinos, or penitents, who are men or women that dress up in a specific outfit with the colors of their hermandad that covers their whole body except for the eyes. The often carry candles or crosses with them. Many Americans who first see them cannot help but think of the Ku Klux Klan because they are wearing hoods that very much resemble them, but in their defense they have had this tradition before the KKK even existed. It still is a bit of a culture shock, though, when you first see it. But they just dress that way to remain anonymous, as penitence should be between you and God.
Anyway, all of those processions go from their church to the Cathedral and back to their church again. They each have a specific day and schedule, starting on Palm Sunday and ending on Easter Sunday (although there is only one paso, or procession, on Resurrection Day). I personally got to see quite a few of the pasos throughout the week. My friends and I spent quite a bit of time wandering around to see different ones.
I will write more about my personal experiences in the following blog entry as this theme is so big that it requires two blog posts!