Let me start this post out by saying that I am going to attempt to do this information justice. I have learned more about Holy Week in the past week than I ever knew and I want to pass on the information as accurately and interestingly as possible. Sorry if this post is a little boring, you can scroll down to the pictures if you’re not interested in the history behind Semana Santa.
Semana Santa means Holy Week in Spanish and the Spanish take their holidays, especially those of a Catholic heritage, VERY seriously. This past Tuesday a busload of us headed to Sevilla to witness one of the best Holy Week events in the world. I was not disappointed! Our very own base librarian, Stephanie, has translated into English, an entire book about Semana Santa and I will share some of her information here for you all.
Starting on Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday) and ending on Domingo de Resurreccion (Easter Sunday), there are 57 brotherhoods that pay the religious visit to the Cathedral of Sevilla… Up to 9 brotherhoods process on any given day, Sunday to Sunday… These cofradias (Brotherhoods or Fraternities) process in penitence through the many narrow streets of the city, from their church to the Cathedral and back, taking the shortest possible route, as decreed in the rule of the ordinances by Cardinal Niño de Guevara in the 17th century. Many penitents travel the route barefoot (in penance), and all wear hooded robes with the color and insignia of their particular brotherhood. Some carry very large candles, which illuminate their path at night and others carry wooden crosses. Each brotherhood has one or two (sometimes 3) elaborately decorated floats called ‘pasos’ with a Passion theme and/or a sculpture of the Virgin Mary. These floats can weigh over a ton [and up to 3 tons] and are carried by teams of 36 to 48 ‘costaleros’ or float-bearers. In the 1920s and 30s the float-bearers were recruited from the men who worked in the Guadalquivir dockyards, for a little extra money. In recent years, however, it has become more and more in vogue to be a float-bearer and men must audition as well as pay a small fee to be part of the team. (Penitents must also pay a fee to belong to the brotherhoods and another one to process, and are responsible for purchasing their own robes.) The sculptures on many of the floats are priceless works of art, produced by master sculptors, hundreds of years old and many brotherhoods will not process if there is even the slightest chance of rain. The weather forecasts are followed to the minute during Holy Week, and it is viewed as a major tragedy if a brotherhood cannot process.
~ Excerpt taken from information written by Stephanie Hluchy, Moron Air Base Head Librarian ~
All I can say is – WOW! We were briefed on the bus that Sevilla would be extremely crowded and the hoards of people moving in mobs can sometimes make it difficult to see any of the pasos (floats). We stepped off the bus a little after 5 PM and had 4.5 hours to navigate through the streets surrounding the cathedral. It was a beautiful, bright yet chilly afternoon and we were all excited to see the processions. Joe stayed home to study for his Master Sergeant test the next morning so I tagged along with my friends, Celina, Rena and Joey. Realistically we knew that with thousands of people and only about 9 pasos there was a possibility we would spend all 4.5 hours wandering the streets and not actually see much of anything. This particular night, we were wrong! We walked a block from the bus and stumbled upon a line of black-robe clad men marching to a somber drum.
Stephanie had told us that each paso is led by a band of costaleros and we quickly looked in our Semana Santa guide to help us locate exactly which brotherhood and paso this was. The Parroquia de Santa Cruz (Parish of Saint Cruz) had 2 pasos that evening and we were about to see our first paso, up close and personal.
The Virgen de los Dolores (Virgin of the Pains) was approaching and our jaws dropped in awe of this massive, golden, carved piece of art.
Dozens of candles, intricate carvings of gold and silver, bordeaux red velvet and sweet cream roses were being carried by over 36 of 450 costaleros from the Santa Cruz brotherhood. We hadn’t been in Sevilla more than 15 minutes and we already saw one of the most magnificently ornate altars we will probably ever see in our lifetimes. Celina and I both agreed if that was the only paso we saw all night our trip would have been worth it.
Even the maids at the Alfonso Hotel across the street took a few minutes out of their day to gaze at the Virgen de los Dolores.
We wandered around the beautiful streets surrounding the Cathedral of Sevilla, stopped for some tapas and picked up some old fashioned postcards and some more Semana Santa guidebooks.
The beautiful Catedral de Sevilla is the 3rd largest Cathedral in the world, and the largest Gothic Cathedral in the world. Sevillanos argue that Christopher Columbus’ remains are entombed inside guarded by 4 stone statues, signifying the 4 kingdoms of Spain.
Everywhere we went we were surrounded by hoards of people but luckily the hooded robes of the costaleros stuck up higher than the crowds so we quickly knew where the action was taking place.
A common feature in Spain is the almost general usage of the “nazareno” or penitential robe for some of the participants in the Processions. This garment consists in a tunic, a hood with conical tip ( “capirote”) used to conceal the face of the wearer, and sometimes a cloak. The exact colors and forms of these robes depend on the particular procession. The robes were widely used in the medieval period for penitents, who could demonstrate their penance while still masking their identity. (These robes intentionally served as the basis for the traditional uniform for members of the Ku Klux Klan in the United States, ironically a very anti-Catholic organization.)
We found a good place to stand was behind a large section of chairs just to the left of the Cathedral, that way we could see the oncoming pasos, as they entered and exited the Cathedral.
This was the Santa Cruz Brotherhood’s other paso the Cristo de las Misericordias (Christ of the Mercies).
The seats that you see to the left and the right of the foreground cost anywhere between 50 and 500 Euros and are passed down through the generations like we pass down season sports tickets.
This beautiful apartment building was located directly across from the Cathedral affording the best views all over town. We were surprised not more people were hanging off their balconies watching the procesions.
As it got darker we found ourselves standing on a corner near the Cathedral as another paso started processing right in front of us. We could reach out and touch the costaleros and the paso and were again, in awe, of the grandiose float that was passing us by.
The marchers stop every few hundred yards to relight candles and change out the teams that carry the float.
Our guidebook told us that this particular paso, El Cristo es de Juan de Mesa was built in 1620. This brotherhood, Hermandad de Estudiantes (Brotherhood of the Students) has 1400 members and was founded in 1924.
Each paso is then followed by a band of costaleros carrying crude wooden crosses and a marching band provided by a local organization.
Even children march all night with the brotherhoods.
My friends and I had an unforgettable time and I will never look at Holy Week the same again.