Holy Week in Seville is known as Semana Santa de Sevilla. It is one of the city’s two biggest annual festivals, the other being the Feria de Abril or April Fair, two weeks later.
Every day from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, huge statues called pasos which representing various images from the Passion of Jesus Christ, are solemnly carried from the city’s churches to the cathedral, accompanied by processions of marching nazarenos or penitents.
Arrive near the cathedral in the early evening for the best views.
Parts of the Semana Santa tradition are common across the whole country however, most cities have their own twist to the festivities.
All the 115 churches in Seville has a hermandad or brotherhood associated with it. These are locals who are in charge of the social calendar of the church and the organization of the major Holy Week procession.
The enormous pasos or floats, some of which are over 300 years old, that make up the procession make a pilgrimage through the city. Each paso is an representation of some part of the story of The Passion of Christ. A paso look like a huge, ornate table about 2 m high, with a velvet hem hiding both its legs and the costaleros from view. The pasos are made of wood, usually covered in precious metals, and are intricately worked and decorated. They leave their church carried by the Costaleros, and make their way through the narrow streets to the Cathedral and back again. Sometimes the journey lasts for over 12 hours.
There are two kinds of pasos: El Cristo (Christ) and La Virgen (The Virgin). The pasos dedicated to El Cristo are usually floats covered in gold and the pasos dedicated to La Virgen are usually covered in silver.
Costaleros, so named because of the white protective garment el costal which they wear on their heads, they carry the paso supporting the beams upon their shoulders and necks. On average there are 40 ‘costaleros’ per float with each one supporting a weight of around 50kg for around 8 hours and they practice all year round, even in the extreme heat of August. For the ‘costaleros’ who carry the float it’s a once in a lifetime honor to do so as the numbers wishing to be carriers far outnumber the places available. Each year a special section of the hospital opens up to treat costalero injuries. If the processions are very long, costaleros will switch out every hour or two to take a bit of a break.
As the costaleros are totally hidden and packed, the capataz (overseer), located on the outside, guides the team by voice, or through a ceremonial hammer –el llamador or caller attached to the paso.
The costaleros try to move the paso according to the rhythm of the music, giving the observer the impression that the figures are literally walking.
Other participants in the processions include the nazarenos, who precede the pasos and march in silence, sometimes barefoot. They wearing perhaps the most controversial dress of the celebration, the capirote is a conical hood with eye-holes, which unfortunately does look like the dress of the K.K.K.!
The unique dress was born from a desire to repent sins without revealing your identity, as the hood leaves only the wearer’s eyes on display. There can be up to a whopping 3,000 nazarenos participating in some of the bigger processions.
Each brotherhood would wear a habit of a different color and sometimes this would occur within the same procession. They hold either long wax candles (cirios), a pole (vara), a standard or a lantern.
Women wear this intricate headpiece towards the end of Semana Santa in Seville, usually Thursday and Friday. During the day you’ll see women dressed in black and with mantillas, beautifully woven lace veils are exceptionally detailed, in mourning of the death of Jesus. Women often seek professional help to fit them in place, as you have to weave your hair around the comb to keep it in place.
La Saeta is a traditional religious song you will hear at a certain point during the procession. This acapella singing is the most emotional thing for many locals. To sing the saeta is an honor, and only the best local performers get this opportunity. The entire crowd stands in complete silence listening to the song.
The most significant night of the Semana Santa tradition is Holy Thursday leading into Good Friday. Madrugá coms from the Spanish word madrugada meaning early morning. Appropriate given processions run all night long through to the next day. One of the most important processions during this night is the Macarena, which also happens to be one of the biggest and most-watched of the whole celebration
A procession is a religious parade with a designated route. Each procession has two or three pasos, one or two of them representing a scene of the Passion, and the other one an image of the Virgin Mary.
History of Semana Santa
Semana Santa is celebrated all over Spain and many people say it dates as far back as the 12th century. Seville’s first recorded Holy Brotherhood, El Silencio, dates back to the mid 14th Century, and the 18th and 19th centuries saw a revival in Holy Week. By this time, many of the statues carved of wood and sculpted of porcelain had become practical life-sized relics and are considered masterpieces.