For someone born in Seville spotting thousands of Nazarenes invading the streets every year is something normal - so much so that, many of them take this for granted and don't even know why Nazarenos wear their characteristic costume.
Many others, alien to the Andalusian culture and traditions, may unwittingly associate the costume of the Nazarenos with the xenophobic and supremacist organization known as the Ku Klux Klan. This confusion even caught out the BBC in 2015, who used by mistake, an image of a Nazareno of the Brotherhood of San Gonzalo to illustrate a video in which they spoke of the list that Anonymous published, at that time.
However, this unfortunate coincidence is misleading and there are no links between the two. And to clarify further false myths, here is a brief explanation on the origin of a Nazaren´s costume and when it began to become popular among brotherhoods during Spanish Holy Week:
The capirote and its origin are tied to the Inquisition. In fact, those condemned by the court of the Inquisition of the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages were given a similar cap, which usually had painted figures alluding to the crime committed or its punishment (for example, the flames of hell).
The Sevillian brotherhoods adopted it in the seventeenth century, and the custom soon spread to other Spanish cities. The conical shape of the capirote alludes to the approach of the penitent to heaven. The cloth that falls on the face and chest serves to hide the face and preserve the identity of the penitent.
We can find this image represented in some paintings by the painter Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828)
The case of the Ku Klux Klan is very different. To begin with, the members of this racist and supremacist organization adopted a similar outfit long after the custom of dressing as a Nazarene first emerged Spain. This organization was created in the second half of the nineteenth century, immediately after the Civil War, and mainly promotes xenophobia, as well as the supremacy of the white race, homophobia, anti-Semitism, racism, anti-communism, and anti-Catholicism.
They use the mask and capirote to hide their identity, but not for the same reason as the Nazarenes, since the members of this undesirable organization do so to hide their identity when they commit their terrible criminal acts.
An unfortunate historical coincidence that, many times, has led to misunderstandings from people unfamiliar with Spanish culture and traditions during Holy Week. We hope to have have clarified and set the record straight with this article!
And, if there is any other lingering doubts, here you have this week’s episode in which we see our young host Jose tells us what Nazarenes clothing consists of: