Spectacular Semana Santa - A Novice’s Guide to Holy Week
If you travel to the Andalusian capital of Seville in the run up to the spring months of Easter, you’ll encounter a city alive with the pageantry of Semana Santa. But for the non-Spaniard’s out there you could be easily forgiven for wondering -- What the heck is Semana Santa? Fear not we’ve got you covered.
A much revered celebration, drawing flocking crowds, Semana Santa or Holy Week in Seville counts itself as one of the city’s top beloved festivals. Featuring processions of pasos which can last sometimes up to 12 hours, floats with huge statues representing different scenes from the Passion of Christ and the Virgin Mary parade through the streets via designated routes. Of these, many sculptures are antiquity pieces cherished for both their cultural and spiritual significance amongst Catholic devotees.
Spanning seven days, from Palm Sunday through to Easter, the festival's origins can be traced as far back as the 16th century, when locals first began the long held tradition honouring the the death of Christ. Regardless of whether your religious or not, Semana Santa is must see, a passage of time where Seville is transformed into a mesmerising display of grandeur and devotion. So if you're lucky enough to visit Seville during Holy Week, chances are you’ll encounter a whole array of Semana vernacular.
Here are our Top 5 Holy Week Lingo terms, to get you up to speed and win major kudos points amongst Sevilians.
Elaborate floats which usually fall into two types of depictions - El Cristo (Christ) and La Virgen (The Virgin). Characterising the imagery of Holy Week, there are an impressive over 60 Pasos established.
The Brotherhoods are members of organised parishes who celebrate Semana Santa. Every Brotherhood is unique and is dedicated to specific scenes from the Passion of Christ.
Carriers of the paso, they bear the weight of these floats upon their shoulders, moving in time with the music of the procession. The load of one paso is typically borne by costaleros, for 8 hours at a time. Despite these labours, being a costaleros is a coveted role and many consider it a privilege to carry the paso, a high honour of devotion and penance.
As a result of being hidden under the pasos, costaleros are all but blind and have to rely on the capataz (an overseer). Responsible for guiding, a capataz leads his team of bearers by voice and beating of the el llamador (ceremonial hammer) hanging of the float.
Hooded figures decked out in dress robes, capes and pointed hoods, their distinctive costumes can often be mistaken with Ku Klux Klan imagery for those unfamiliar. Nazarenos, by cloaking themselves signify penitence for of sins committed. Some nazarenos choose to walk barefoot and usually march in silence leading the processions. They typically carry with them either long wax candles, poles or sometimes even lanterns.
To witness Holy Week is to be transported in time. Its incredible to see this rich age old practice and tradition still flourishing, living history enacted. So, if your still curious and enjoyed our whistle stop tour of the Semana Santa, be sure to check out DOCCO 4 Episode 1 Joselito’s Holy Week Masterclass: