There are many icons for which Spain is known around the world: bullfighting, flamenco, Franco, the running of the bulls, Las Fallas, the Inquisition,...and this brings us to the religion for which Spain is known is predominantly Catholic. Being Spaniard almost equals Catholic. (Where am I going with this? You'll find out in one minute; just be patient)... Of all of the Catholic traditions which are celebrated throughout the year, none is most important than the Passion of Christ or Easter Week, which in Spanish is called Semana Santa o Pascua (Holy Week). There are only three countries which are recognized for their ritual celebration of Easter; these being Israel, meaning Jerusalem, Italy, with special attention to Rome, and Spain with special note to the southern region of Andalusia, but it is also true that many other parts of our geography celebrate it as fervently as well. Beginning with the Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday) and ending with Lunes de Pascua (Easter or Paschal Monday), Spain is filled with laughter and tears celebrating friends, color, and life itself.
As far back as the 18th century, Semana Santa celebrations already were internationally reknown as a mixture of spiritual, artistic, and emotionally involving scenes and situations. The mixture of lights sounds, smells, and touch involve the whole human experience, drawing the witness to open outwardly and the search inwardly celebrating life itself and his or her belief's. It almost seems sheer madness of jubilee, and utter loss, of color and mourning uniquely experienced by the Spaniards and all of those who care to join in these festivities.
Many Spanish artist have celebrated or dedicated their skills to these celebrations. Antoino Machado penned it, Murillo and Calderon portrayed, and Lope de Vega presented glimpses of the importance and the serendipity of feelings that reel Spaniards to Semana Santa each year Semana Santa takes a variety of forms which we will attempt to present to you in short glimpses as well. Not that we claim to be of the stature of the many artists that have done so throughout history, both Spaniards and foreigners; and yet we would like to remind you that there is nothing like being there yourself and experiencing first hand Semana Santa.
Three ingredients make the Spanish Semana Santa a true celebration of passion and life. The basic ingredient is the Land. Cities of the like already mentioned, but without forgetting such important places as Salamanca, Caceres, Palencia, Palma de Mallorca, and we really could go on! Each city and region providing differing accents and nuances to these celebrations. The second important ingredient is color. This is seen in the feast of color and light that Semana Santa explode in your mind! The different meanings of the colors and garbs that are worn during these celebrations to mark the sacredness of these acts.
These then leads us straight to the third ingredient: El Sobrecogimiento ( the closest translation to this would be "to be seized by or upon"). Now we are on the realm of the sense, and unless you have experienced it, we could be filling the net with words that would not clearly, fully or completely express the whole meaning of this word. This is complete debauchery and ultimately sacredness of the senses all at once; and iconoclastic and eclectic experience all wrapped in one week.
Many different sites in Spain recover a life of their own, and peoples from all over the surrounding country as well as from around the globe come to celebrate Semana Santa. Santiago de Compostela, El Monasterio de Montserrat, El Escorial, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Theresa de Jesus, amongst many others.
Here are some of the highlighted spots in the Spanish geography that we recommend you to visit and they have been arranged in alphabetic order, with one exception. They are in no way the only places in which these celebrations take place, they are only highlighted for their nuances which the reader may enjoy upon visiting:
Alonso (Huelva): At the "Fiesta de Judas ( Judas's Party), the traitor of Christ, its image is the bulls' eye for the hunting rifles that the assistants carry. Once their revenge upon the image is completed, the children drag what is left of the image through the streets of the city.
Cartagena (Murcia): The procession is divided between "marrajos" and "californios". The pasos (the wooden statutes of the passion which are paraded in processions in the streets) travel through the narrow streets .
Chinchilla (Albacete): With great trumpets of four meters length (about 4½ yards), set on wheels it is announced in the town, to the sound of cries, the beginning of the Easter Week.
Cuenca (Cuenca): One of the beautiful cities of Southeastern Spain on the early hours of the morning of Holy Friday, begins by portraying several scenes of the Passion of the Christ, which take on a vibrant realism. Mobs forms, like the ones that must have formed that fateful day, and yell out various insults and mocking remarks; this is known as the "Procession of the Drunkards" and it is normal to drink ample amounts of "resolí", a sort of moonshine. This is in complete contrast to the procession which takes place the following day, called the "Silent Procession", in which utter silence portrays the despair sensed for the death of the Savior. Meanwhile in the cathedral and diverse churches you can hear Bach or Hendel being played, as well as other tunes which are considered of a sacred nature.
Elche (Alicante): At the procession of the Hallelujahs, the neighbors through up in the air multiple colored confetti to the paso of the Resurrected Christ, and to the Virgin of the Asunción.
Gandía (Valencia): On the Eve of Holy Friday, or Viernes Santo or Pascua, people from all over Spain, come to see the procession of the paso of the "Christ of the Flagellation" (or flogging). There are diverse other acts that are worth experiencing, all of the culminating on Easter or Resurrection Sunday with the procession of the "Glorious Encounter."
Jerez de los Caballeros (Badajoz): There are several celebrations for which this town is known, such as "El Sermon de los Pregones" (The Sermon of the Town Criers), the "Llano de los Martires" (The Plain of the Martyrs), yet one of the most remarkable processions is the Paso of the Coronado (The Crowned One), or the Virgin of the Solitude. Jerez is a very dispersed town, as far as Spain is concerned, and family members unite on Holy Thursday around 2:00 pm sharing on the huge Cocido Extremeño, a regional dish organized by a confraternity of the ECCE HOMO.
This dish consist of a 100 Kgs of garbazo beans, 60 Kgs of chorizo (this is not translatable, but the closets we can explain it is a type of sausage, that can be cold cut or cooked) and blood sausage, 18 chickens, 20 ham elbows for broth, several bone marrow of beef, 50 Kgs of potatoes and tomatoes, 18 pork ribs, a lamb and half, 250 Kgs of bread 1Kg each, and 25 skins of wine. Just a little hearty lunch, that's all!
Lorca (Murcia): On the Eve of Holy Friday, the "Auroros" sing their unique "Correlativas", and the celebrations continue when Nero, Vespasian, Tiberius, and even Cleopatra, and carried throughout the streets in processions on the night of Holy Friday.
also there is a kind of competition between two regional virgin pasos in which the Lorcans compete yearly for colorful adornment of the same; these are the "Blue" (the Virgin of the Dolores--Sufferings), and the "White" (the Virgin of the Amarguras--Bitterness). This involves a great financial inversion in which 4,000 "figurantes" or representatives get involved and over 200 Spanish stallions, well trained, are paraded through the streets.
Luarca (Asturias): The biggest procession is on the Eve of Holy Friday, when the towns people and those attending the celebrations from other parts, walk through the streets of the town behind the paso the Nazarene with lit candles. This is a very beautiful sight.
Madrid (our national capital): An image of the Christ, Christ of Medinaceli (a Nazarene Christ) is paraded in the streets which is surrounded by a procession of people dressed in the penitent's medieval garb, with a pointed hood which covers their face, and they even carry chains and shackles, or taking turns with those holding the heavy burden of the image.
Medina of the Rioseco (Valladolid): Here the Nazarene Christ of the Holy Cross is venerated, one which pasos is called the "Cornudo" (the horned one), because it was presided by a soldier blowing a horn through the streets. Since the given name did not sound too correct for such a pasos, the horn was substituted by a trumpet. During the whole week, the trumpets played at the processions are played by the family Pardales.
Murcia Capital: The popular rhyme goes something like this (in English does not necessarily rhyme): "Who in Holy Week / does not give out candy / will not be pardoned by God / Nor would go to heaven." Because of this rhyme, or copla as it is called, the "capuchinos" ( the hooded Nazarene men) have what it seems to be big bellies; but in reality they carry under their tunics of various colors candy, and various other eatables, that they give away. It is an spectacular thing "El Paso de la Cena" (the paso of the Communion), which commemorates the Holy Communion of Christ, by placing diverse dishes on fine handmade table clothes.
Orihuela (Málaga): This is the only city of Spain that prohibits the entrance of one of its pasos into the Cathedral. This paso refers to the "Triumph over the Cross", which portrays a female devil completely nude and with great horns coming from her head. Also, through out the week exists the custom of singing to the Passion. Years ago, it used to be done in front of the houses of those who lived in sin, to drive them to repent and remit of their sinful lifestyle. This was organized by the Confraternity of the Mortal Sin.
Peñafiel (Valladolid): Amongst many celebrations that take place in this city, probably the most important one is the "Descent of the Angel". A child dressed as an angel on Resurrection Sunday is lowered through pulleys to the image of the Virgin, removing the veil that covers her face and sets doves free. Then a deafening outcry is set free by the city folk who witness the event. (This same act is carried in Aranda del Duero y Tudela, where this act is called the "Bajadica"--the lowering. In some other places the child is lowered from the tower clock of the central plaza, such as in Cartagena)
San Vicente de Sonsierra (Rioja): "Los Picaos" (the pickers is the closest translation possible), on the Eve of Holy Friday, flagellate themselves with a "madeja"(skein or hank) made of linen, while a companion, pokes the bruises with a needle to let the blood flow. These persons have their faces covered, it is expected that they remain silent afterwards about their act of penance. For to try to seek glory from such, would signify the worst of the shames for the penitent.
Trujillo (Cáceres): On Resurrection Sunday, every one in the city comes to the streets and sings the "Chiriviri", and other typical songs written by the local composer Goro, while dressed in the traditional dress of the region. On years gone by, the children used to come with their lambs on Glory Saturday, and to sell them in the plaza, and they would be roasted at the outskirts of the town on the following day.
Valverde de la Vera (Cáceres): This town has a unique procession in which the "Empalaos" (The impaled ones), walk through the town with a hood and bare feet on their way to Calvary with their arms tightly tied to a crossbar with a rope made of esparto. On top of their heads they wear a crown of thorns. From each of the side of the crossbars, they hang rings and swords on thirty kilos, which cling while they walk. These scene was praised by the Emperor Charles I of Spain and V of Germany to the Pope, and was captured by Goya in one of his paintings.
Villanueva de la Serena (Badajoz): As in other towns of western Spain, the procession of the local virgin, the Virgin of the Aurora, is carried at a fast pace through the streets in what is called the "Carrerita".
Zamora Capital: All of the people of this city belong to a confraternity, of which the most selective is the confraternity of the Santisimo Cristo (Utmost Holy Christ), which only has 150 members (compared with the others having over 4,000 members). The only way to become a member of this confraternity is one of their member passes away.
There a 17 processions throughout the streets of the city pertaining to one of the confraternities. During the whole Easter Week , you are supposed to have complete fasting, walk about with your feet chained, piety over all amongst the Christs and the Virgins.
There are many other processions and customs that are celebrated all over our geography, but it would be almost inhumanely possible to list every single one. But as we said at the beginning of this page, Andalusia is the most reknown and of this great region of Spain, Seville is the predominant site of celebration. For its sites, scenes and the fervent ad-lib flamenco songs and cante hondo. Sevillians feel Semana Santa as few other places in the world can compare. With more than 100 pasos (differing images), it is impossible to be in the midst of these celebrations and not be caught in the pain and sheer extolling outcries of people all over the city. Incense, song, feasting and fasting, all bombard your senses purifying the soul, and leaving you both tired and rested, towards sheer turmoil and in complete peace
We shall present to you some of the most important processions and events of Seville, The events begin with Palm Sunday and the aperture of the celebrations. An image of the Christ, 372 years old carved by Juan de Mesa, is one of the most emotionally moving experiences for Sevilllians who confess, cry, laugh out loud, adore, and touch and kiss the image as it moves through. Such processions as the "Madrugá" (Early morning) paso, where it is said that the hands help you to see and the eyes to touch.
Another moving procession is that of the Virgin of the Macarena, or Macarena for short. To this image, piropos (flattering rhymes unique to Spain) and saetas (one of the styles of flamenco songs--see our page on flamenco for more information) and dedicated to the Virgin.
Do you want to listen a SAETA (Holy Week Song)?
However one of the greatest event of the whole week takes place on the night of Holy Friday, when an explosion of sounds, instruments and songs flare all over the city where the pasos stop until culminating at the cathedral. Some of the most important confraternities and the Silent Brotherhood of the Highest Power ( the eldest in the city), the Virgin of the Macarena, the Hope of Triana, and that of the Gypsies.
Semana Santa in Spain is an experience that will move you; to push the envelope of the senses; to suck the marrow out of the bone of life, and then to sheer happiness in a glorious experience that is repeated once a year. We have attempted very humbly to portray as well as we could this experience, but no words, pictures, recordings or videos can fully explain or portray such an experience. So all we can say is ¡¡Olé!! and ¡Viva España!
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