The haunting sound of a mournful drum beat has pervaded my little flat each night for the last couple of weeks. Somewhere, close by, someone is practising for Semana Santa, a weeklong event that commemorates the death and resurrection of Christ. It’s the equivalent of our Easter, but on a much grander scale.
Each of the churches I’ve popped into have been busy getting ready for this most important week of their year and it’s been fascinating to learn a little about the history of this uniquely Spanish event.
In 1521, the Marqués de Tarifa, on returning from the Holy Land, introduced the Via Crucis (Stations of the Cross) which has evolved into present day processions where the various scenes of the Passion of Christ are depicted.
In Andalucia, all towns celebrate the week with daily processions – yep, that’s right the processions are daily! I had originally thought there was just one big procession which everyone turned out to and all the floats, or pasos, as they are called in Spanish went past. I’ve now learnt that it’s a much grander affair. Very elaborate and highly ritualised.
Each procession is organised by the cofradías (brotherhoods). In my little town alone there are seventeen brotherhoods. In Seville, I am told, there are over fifty. This makes for several processions a day. Each starts out from their local church (we have 21 churches, chapels etc here in my town!) and follows a route that must include the Carrera Oficial where the dignitaries and those lucky enough to have seats get a front row view.
The biggest, and most impressive, is in Seville where the centre is closed to traffic for the week. Last Saturday the infrastructure was being set up for the parade. I’ve since discovered that seats are pretty much impossible to come by as they are handed down by families through the generations.
The pasos are ornate floats, richly adorned with silver, gold, candles and statues of Jesus or the Virgin. The statues often date back centuries and no expense is spared on the rich robes of the Virgin. Costaleros, ranging in number from twenty four to over fifty of them, are hidden under the float so all you see is their feet as they bear the floats through the streets.
Nazarenos, (penitents) walk beside the floats and some even walk barefoot, which is very impressive in my book given some processions last up to 14 hours! The nazarenos are robed and hooded, giving them a strong resemblance to the Klu Klux Clan but there is no connection. Accompanied by drums, candles and burning incense the whole procession harks back to days long past.
I’m heading to Malaga tomorrow which is the birthplace of Antonio Banderas and Picasso. It seems Antonio regularly participates in the Malaga Semana Santa celebrations, not as a famous star but as a Malaga born local. Read more here about how and why he is involved. I wonder if I’ll be lucky enough to bump into him?