Blog #4 from Seville, Spain
By Andrea Williams
Semana Santa in Sevilla is a Religious affair – literally and figuratively. For most it is a religious custom that dates back to the late Middle-Ages (about 1350 or so).
The Spanish are serious about their customs. If they have not left town for the entire week to avoid the chaos, they are part of the masses that descend on the city for the celebrations. They have a website, Facebook page, and newspaper devoted uniquely to the weekly events. The whole week is streamed live on television, and the souvenir DVD usually sells out in a couple of weeks I am told!
Every day of the week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday has processions by the Hermanidades (brotherhoods) of the city from their headquarters or parishes to the Cathedral (nicknamed La Giralda). This can take anywhere from 3 to 14 hours.
From what I have seen, the processions are made up of five stages:
The Entrance (usually a very large and very ornate cross), the first section of penitents or marchers dressed in the traditional pointed hood in the colour particular to their Hermanidad, a group of altar boys and other church members, the first Paso (float), a musical group, and finally the second section of penitents, usually carrying a wooden cross, and wearing non-pointy hoods.
If the procession is long and has a second Paso, the stages repeat.
The Paso is massive and carried on the shoulders of about 30 men. It weighs about a metric tonne I was told, so they have a couple of spare costaleros (carriers) that follow so they can rotate. In Jerez I saw them rehearsing for the processions, and after seeing the size and makeup of the pasos I now know why they were weighted down so much! They are huge, elaborately carved wood floats with silver or gold candleholders and clay or ceramic figures on top representing Christ in a Biblical scene (the first paso) and the Crying Virgin Mary (the second paso). The clothing of the figures, especially that of Mary, is heavily brocaded velvet – very ornate and luxurious. The whole paso is also covered in a sheet of flowers, hand placed there in the days before the procession.
The music that accompanies the processions is either a brass band with drums, an a capella choir, a lone Saeta singer (reminiscent of flamenco), or complete silence. It is eerie and funeral in nature; it sends chills up your spine and in an odd way moves you, as does the whole procession which may take up to two hours to pass by you on the street.
I saw only a handful of the Semana Santa processions, and some of them were just by chance. The first one I saw was on Holy Monday, El Beso de Judas (Judas’ Kiss), a long and purple and green-hooded procession with two floats and two brass bands!
The second one that day was by the Santa Marta Hermanidad. This is one of two silent marches; there is no music to accompany the black-clad, barefoot penitents. Their procession was, however, extensive, and both men and women participate. And, as it turns out, it is the only Hermanidad whose costaleros are still paid for the task. V era-Cruz (True Cross) was the last one I came across that day (as I was exiting the grocery store!). This Hermanidad has the oldest representation on its Paso – the image of Christ on the Cross has been used since 1448 (!), with the exception of some years where it disappeared (for example, during the anticlerical Second Spanish Republic (1936), when many churches and religious images were destroyed, and the period immediately following the II Vatican Council, and the death of Francisco Franco).
So much culture and history!