Semana Santa: Easter in Spain
Posted March 31, 2016on:
The week before and including Easter is called Semana Santa here in Spain and is the largest religious festival of the year. Elaborate processions take place throughout the week in most cities and towns. During Holy week religious sculptures are taken out of the churches and paraded through the town to the main cathedral. Some of these precious sculptures,created by well known Spanish artists, are hundreds of years old. They are mounted on floats called pasos, surrounded with flowers and candles. Portapasos (or float-carriers) wearing traditional costumes, carry the heavy floats through the streets lined with spectators. No large trucks transport these floats, only dedicated men and women. I was eager to see one of these parades so we took a bus to nearby Murcia city to witness the Good Friday procession.
Ahead of the floats, carrying lamps, candles or incense, are the Nazarenos, often called penitents. These are members of various religious brotherhoods known as cofradias, wearing robes, capes and capirotes, a type of conical hat that usually covers the face. These robes were once worn by individuals doing penance. As a sign of atoning their sins, they would walk barefoot through the town, their faces covered so as not to reveal the sinners. Although the hooded cloaks look similar to the Ku Klux Klan, they have nothing to do with them. Many of these brotherhoods date back to the Middle Ages and are recognized by the colours they wear. They are responsible for the parade, pasos and music and spend countless hours in preparation, ensuring everything runs smoothly. There were about a dozen floats in this parade, each represented by a different brotherhood.
Included in the procession are women wearing the traditional mantilla, a black lace veil worn high on the back of the head. Mantillas are meant to show morning and pain. Marching bands and drummers follow the floats providing stirring music. The entire scene is alive with colour and sound, and the air is filled with the sweet scent of incense and melted wax. As always in Spain, this is a family affair with all ages taking part in the spectacle.
Candies and pastries play an important role in the Easter festivities. The Nazarenos and other members of the procession carry candy around their waists and hand them out to children who wait patiently with outstretched hands. Occasionally they give a treat to an adult too. A small robed participant caught my eyes, ran over to me, and placed some sweets in my hand, with a huge grin. So sweet.
It is difficult not to be moved no matter what your beliefs. A merging of art, culture and religion in a vital and poignant atmosphere, I found it to be emotional and exciting at the same time. I’m thankful I was able to witness the dedication and pageantry of this special event.
I hope everyone had a wonderful Easter, however you spent it.
The photographs are taken by me. Not easy to take pictures of a parade in the dark. If you click on them you will get a larger and better view.