Semana Santa (Week of the Saints) is once in a lifetime event, one must see, regardless of one’s faith. I am a Buddhist (born and bred and now in my adulthood, by choice). I grew up in a Baptist school mostly, added by one year of Catholic, and one year of Anglican school. I used to know the Bible story quite well. Now I vaguely remember the details. I just knew Jesus came to save all of the Christians and Catholics, crucified by the Romans on a Friday and died, and was resurrected on Sunday, and Semana Santa represent Jesus’ week prior to Crucifixion and Resurrection. After that it was all a blur. However, it did not stop me from feeling the passion and the commitment of those who participated in the Semana Santa processions. The Spanish word that best describes the atmosphere of the people is FERVOR. To be honest, I barely read about Semana Santa prior to my trip. I have heard about. It intrigued me, and then I went to Sevilla (PS. I also managed to catch the important procession in Zaragoza and one in Cordoba). I downloaded the iPhone application: iCofrade to muddle through the schedules and locations of the processions, added by talking to people and hotel staffs. So I know the name of the cofrade (brotherhood), but I barely know what they are all about. After seeing a few, you sort of figure out what is coming. First, came the “brothers” in caipirote (conical cap) and the marching band, followed by Jesus (in different scenes of the week prior to his Crucification), more “brothers” (I put brothers in quotation mark, because girls and women do walk as well), and then the Virgin Mary, and followed by another marching band. I am showing you the photos of on procession by Cofrade (Brotherhood) El Cerro del Aguila. This procession was highly anticipated, as they could not do it in the last three years due to weather.
I might sound callous in describing the whole experience (I do not mean any disrespect to my Catholic friends), but really one just has to be there to feel the fervor and the passion. And it is very addictive, after seeing one, you will always want to see more – up to the fourth day, when we just called it quits. It just gets too much to see that many. We even missed the interesting La Madruga in lieu of sleep. In Sevilla, there were processions about 8 during the day and in addition, on Thursday, they have “La Madruga” which starts at or after midnight (another six processions).* Every cofrade has different bands/music, different designs and colors. It is quite amazing to see a few. My friend and I made a comment of how many musicians there are in Sevilla, but then we found out a band that actually came from Cadiz. 🙂 I also love the smell of the incense being burnt in the botufumeiro. I love this incense burner! I love the design too. In Zaragoza, the incense burner is on a stick.
From the perspective of some of the spectators, honestly, Semana Santa just seems to be an excuse to dress up, go up, and to drink a lot for many people. Some families do bring out their little ones and the kids do seem to enjoy the processions. They try to collect stamps of different images of the Virgin Mary or Jesus (usually kept as amulets). Or they make balls from the candle wax.
One kind little girl walking the procession gave me a candy, which I still treasure. One girl watching a procession tried to collect all kind of stamps. When she had some repeat picture, she gave us some (very generous of her). One teenage boy made a comment that this year the Virgen’s cape is too short and not pretty enough. This shows that there are those who care deeply and uphold the tradition and proud to be part of it. We were told that the ones who do not care about Semana Santa had all gone to the Beach for the holidays. It is true, people wise, I actually expected something worse. The only frustrating moment happened once when we had to rush back to the hotel for our flamenco show. Otherwise, if you arrive in time and you do not move around that much, it is quite comfortable. Invest also in foldable chairs (made in china for EUR3). It won’t last, but it would last long enough for the week. And anyhow, if one watches the procession during the weekday and during the day, it is not that busy. We can get pretty close to the processions (I even did a selfie with one guy) and we could touch the Jesus and Virgen Mary. Also for a practical advise: if you do want to catch as many processions as possible, come early and choose a spot on the “CARRERA OFFICIAL”, this is a route where ALL processions MUST pass (every city has this). It is best to stay there, so be prepared with food/drinks/chairs/shawl or extra clothing to keep warm.
Who are amazing are those committed and participated in the processions. I suppose the whole point of them is to recreate the suffering that Jesus had gone through. The participants walked for hours in a robe and a cap (Sevilla is still hot, even in April). Some walked barefood in asphalt in 37 degress Celsius day. They had to pour water on their feet.
Those carrying Jesus and Virgin Mary on their shoulders had to walk and move in one coordination, and at times on their knees.
The band had to carry heavy musical instruments in thick uniform. As a matter of fact, one guy had a heat stroke in Cordoba and had to leave the band. By the way, the Cordoba procession is similar to Sevilla (and thus is not being discussed much). We got to the start of La Pasion procession on Miercoles Santo (Wednesday). What was interesting is that it was a small street, so you feel the fervor even more, and one can feel a tad claustrophobic as well. I really appreciate my friend enduring all these with me (you know who you are!). (Video below)
Semana Santa is really a must-see for experience. I got lucky, too. When I got to Zaragoza for the next leg of my trip. I arrived on a Friday afternoon, when the big procession has started (Good Friday is when all the brotherhood joins the procession). As a matter of fact, the taxi driver (he was being an ASS but that is not worthy of any discussion) left me near the Basilica de Nuestra Senora de La Pilar and wished me good luck. It took me two calls to the Hotel to figure out how to walk pass the procession madness to my hotel – one of my mini adventures this trip. I was literally walking pushing my luggage in one hand, big backpack, and a camera on the other hand – literally pointing and shooting (the camera that is). It was mad, but it was also fun. In the hour it took me to get to my hotel (two blocks from where I got off the taxi), I received the help and kindness from many Zaragozan (they are called Mañicos in Spain). My hotel, Catalonia El Pilar, is actually located next to Santa Isabel Church where the processions started and ended. I had the perfect view from my balcony, but also imagine the chaos that day. The procession that I saw in Zaragoza seems a little bit less of a suffering. 🙂 The routes are shorter. Jesus and Virgin Mary are put on a carriage with wheels being pushed, instead of carried on the shoulders of many men. In Zaragoza, the music is also more of percussions/tambourines, compared to a full band in Sevilla. It is still interesting to see nonetheless. As a matter of fact, my hotel receptionist has told me that Semana Santa in Zaragoza has just been declared an International attraction for next year, and not only National attraction. Like usual, I got a stroke of good luck of having seeing it first! HA! I did not even plan for it.
*Side note: by skipping La Madruga (though the Macarena procession was supposedly amazing) and sleeping properly, we managed to go to the Cathedral on the Friday morning and climbed the tower “La Giralda”. We also managed to squeeze in a visit to San Salvador Church where a few processions ended and started. Not only it was a treasure of a Church, but we also managed to the see Jesus and Virgin Mary closed up.
**Another side note: I was told that in Tudela, Navarra, one of the custom is to have a boy (representing an angel) out of the windown in one of the townhall building on a rope to the pavilion in the middle of the Plaza, where the boy meets Virgen Mary at that spot.
I hope the video collections of Semana Santa in Sevilla, Cordoba, and Zaragoza can shed some light the ambience of the week:
– San Esteban Procession in Sevilla on Martes Santo
– Cautivo San Pablo Procession in Sevilla on Lunes Santo
– La Pasion Procesion in Cordoba on Miercoles Santo
– Viernes Santo Procesion in Zaragoza – Participated By All Cofrades
– Sabado Santo Procesion in Zaragoza – The Virgen Is In Mourning
My Semana Santa week has been amazing in all the places: Sevilla, Cordoba, and Zaragoza. Will I do it again? Maybe in another town**. Maybe when I have kids and I would like them to experience it. For me personally, I have experienced enough and ended with a very high note. I would like to keep it that way.
Cofrade – Brotherhood
Santo(s) – Saint(s)
Lunes – Monday
Martes – Tuesday
Miercoles – Wednesday
Jueves – Thursday
Viernes – Friday
Sabado – Saturday
Domingo – Sunday
La Madruga – Processions that start after Midnight
Virgen – Refers to Virgin Mary
Macarena – One Representation of the Virgin Mary