I have never seen anything like it. An entire city swept under the spell of Semana Santa. Seville, capital of Andalusia and home to the biggest celebration in Spain, has a very religious background. Struck with a bit of dumb luck, we found ourselves staying in the city the week prior to the festivities.
Cubes of chairs line the streets. Later this week, parades, or, more correctly, processions, will make their toward Seville Cathedral during Holy Week.
The entire city is buzzing with energy in preparation.
No detail is spared. Even the temporary walls get the royal treatment.
Popup vendors are everywhere making sure everyone is fully stocked with holy goods for the big event. Not to be confused with the Ku Klux Klan, these innocent costumes are known as capriotes and are traditional wear by the brotherhood during procession. Even in knowing this, it still felt a little strange seeing these would-be klan members in the USA all over the place.
As we walked through the city we saw people spackling the tracks. This seemingly counter-intuitive process made little sense to us. The older gentlemen who was helping kindly told us the putty is for “walking”. Still in the dark, we shrugged and thought little of it until two days later in Málaga when we saw this.
Again, unbeknownst to us at the time, we stumbled into the absolutely massive Palm Sunday procession in Málaga! Palm Sunday kicks off the party and is the first of many days during Semana Santa.
We were left stupefied as this procession was happening before us: Somber people walking in silence with tall candles, children carrying smoke-billowing incense, a hundred men dressed in white encumbered by an enormous float, and even a full marching band. Let’s back up a minute and take a look at these processions so we’ll have a better understanding as to what’s happening.
A Deeper Look at the Procession
For Semana Santa, each brotherhood has their own procession and it begins from their home church or chapel. Seville alone has 58 brotherhoods! They each make their way to the city’s major cathedral and then return again to their church. I could never really figure out as to why they do this, but it seems to be a means of flaunting their devotion to God. The procession has a specific order to it beginning with the towing of a great big cross.
Behind the cross you find the capriote-donning men carrying tall candles. These nazarenos, clad in the colors of their brotherhood, march in silence and are kept in line by the diputados de tramo – deputies.
Next in line are the altar boys and girls carrying incense. Traditionally, incense is burned as a means of purification and sanctification, so it is my assumption they are consecrating the ground in preparation for the paso. As an interesting side note, incense is also representative of prayers lifting to heaven.
During a short break, we able to speak with one of these costaleros. He told us there are 270 men sharing the load of almost 9000lbs! Even at a glance, 270 seemed way off, and so we tried to squeeze him for more credible information, but Christy’s number seemed to be the only information he was interested in 😡
In an almost military-like fashion, the too-close-for comfort line of men are led down the way being controlled by the capataz, the above-pictured gent in black. There is also a ceremonial hammer affixed to the front to keep them in line. This particular procession goes easy on the costaleros. In Seville, it is much more common for large flaps to cover the men, rendering them unable to see, which then allows the paso to “levitate”.
The paso, adorned in silver, houses Virgin Mary weeping for the loss of her son. Following the paso there is a full marching band. Sometimes a choir precedes the paso instead, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
Finally, we have the penitentes, who are found carrying small wooden crosses for public penance. This is a seriously elaborate production. To give you an idea of how slowly they move, everything pictured above took place in the exact same location across a fifteen minute window. And just when you thought you’ve seen it all you learn that there can actually be up to three pasos per Procession! Wait, what?
The large float we saw above was actually one of three that happened during that particular procession. That’s right! There are three. And it gets better too. Not only are there three pasos, there are three entire groups. Three groups of nazarenos, three groups of altar boys, and three big-ass pasos. However, there is just the one big cross at the beginning and it’s more of a one choir-first, one band-last sandwich for the three pasos.
The first paso tells the story of the Passion and is usually sculpted and made from wood, wire, wax, and gold. The second is a depiction of Christ and is crafted in the same fashion. The third and final paso are decorated in silver and depict the weeping Virgin Mary.
In the End
Not being a Christian myself, I found myself on the outside looking in on Semana Santa. Seeing the events unfold before me gave me a better understanding of a place with deep religious roots. The structure and hierarchy within the faith was on full-frontal display as I stood out of rank on the sidelines. I stood in awe as I felt the vast and near omnipotent power that is Christianity march brazenly across the city. All of this religious fanati — no, perhaps it’s best we stop here. My head is hurting from all of this. Anyone for some cotton candy?