Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Spain

It is like something taken out of a movie, one of the most anticipated religious events within Spain. Religious brotherhoods plan and organize their Semana Santa processions very meticulously, paying special attention to every detail. They plan a route on which they march from their churches to the town’s cathedral and back, wearing penitential robes, and hoods. They may also be accompanied by marching bands.

Silly Note: The very first time I saw the Nazarenos’ clothing, I was a little weirded out—just like a lot of Americans who are new to this— because the white attires kind of look like that of a hate group in America, which name I rather not mention on this blog.

Semana Santa procession in Ciudad Real

This is the first time I was able to watch a procession in Spain and I had a chance to see it in two different regions; Ciudad Real and Castellón de la Plana (Southern and Northern Spain).

First, what is Semana Santa and why do most Spaniards celebrate it in such a glamorous way? (Well, in Andalucía it is more of a spectacle than it is in, for instance, Castilla y León.)

Writing about this I had to look up some terms because I had forgotten about things like penitencia and peregrinos and nazarenos. My Latina familia raised me a catholic and I learned the church “glossary” in Spanish, but forgot them sooner than my mom had hoped for. Now, I just don’t know, neither the English or Spanish form, so for more info go here.

Semana Santa (Holy Week) is the last week of Lent and the week before Easter. In Eastern Orthodox tradition, Holy Week starts on Lazarus Saturday, the day before Palm Sunday. (Easter Sunday, for context, is the first day of the new season of the Great Fifty Days, or Eastertide, there being fifty days from Easter Sunday to Pentecost Sunday.)

In Spain, during this week, most cities carry out processions walking through the streets with floats of lifelike wooden figures taken from individual scenes of the events of the Passion of Christ, such as images of the Virgin Mary showing grief for the torture and killing of her Son. Some of the sculptures are of great antiquity and are considered artistic masterpieces, as well as being culturally and spiritually important to the local Catholic population. These sculptures (which seem to be of the same art technique as Las Fallas) truly are beautiful pieces of art.

eigenfoto semana santa

eigenfoto semana santa (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

During Holy Week, the city is crowded with residents and visitors, drawn by the spectacle and atmosphere. The impact is particularly strong for the Catholic community.

In Ciudad Real

First, the week before Holy Week, I saw the rehearsals in Ciudad Real. Yup, they rehearse it! At first I thought it was the procession already going on, but I noticed there was not a crowd and the Costaleros were wearing sweatpants. So I asked a passing citizen and she told me they were just rehearsing. She said they had to get every step right because the statue of Mary was made of gold (part of it) and they had to make sure they marched in sync and did not drop it.

The statue wasn’t up on the float while they rehearsed; they were just walking a paso lento (slow walking) while a guide gave them orders, making sure everything was smooth and telling them where to turn. But the fact that they have to walk through a whole city carrying this heavy float still looked painful to me.

Overseer giving orders to the costaleros.

It looked painful from my end.

In Castellón de la Plana

I didn’t get too into it in Castellón, I didn’t follow the crowd. But what really caught my eye was the ladies wearing the typical Spanish mantilla, which represents mourning and grieve. This is how they were organized:

The women looked beautiful and elegant, all wearing black dresses and the mantilla, blanket. It was nice too see. I’m not sure whether they do it really for the penitencia (penance), or to show their glamorous selves off. Either way, it’s great to watch.

I should mention that not all Spaniards like this tradition and some aren’t religious at all, but do go for the show. The majority of my colleagues for example said before the break that they would not stick around to watch; one of them thinks it is a mockery and another said every year it is the same thing, so she was bored of it. Well, it works for Spain’s tourism — and I thought the sound of the drums was fun. Oh well.

By the way, Happy Easter!