Darlene Foster's Blog

Semana Santa: Easter in Spain

Posted on: March 31, 2016

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.


Paso carried through the streets of Murcia

Jesus Nazareno, 1797

Jesus Nazareno, 1797

San Juan Evangelista, 1952

San Juan Evangelista, 1952

float 2

Descendimiento, 2001

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.

Penitent with bare feet

Penitent with bare feet

green robes

Each brotherhood wears its own colour

red robes

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.

Women wearing Mantillas

Solemn women wearing Mantillas

all ages

All ages take part in the procession


Incredible embroideries of gold and silk on standards, cloaks and coats

Drummers are heard throughout the cities and towns

Drummers are heard throughout the cities and towns

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.

Handing out candy to the children

Handing out candy to the children

This person is not fat, he is carrying candy around his waist.

This person is not fat, he is carrying candy around his waist.

Easter candy in the bakery

Easter candy in the bakery.

I love the stockings of the float bearers

I love the stockings of the float bearers

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.

43 Responses to "Semana Santa: Easter in Spain"

This is a wonderful post, Darlene. For me your photos turned out great, not hard to see. I think it would be a very emotional event for me to be there and see this in person – I’m that way, touched by everything*. 🙂 I’m not into the religious aspects of things so much, but tradition can be fascinating. (when I say religion, I mean man’s efforts in relating to God) It’s so nice you were able to take this in and share with us.

*When my sister and I went to Holland with Dad to celebrate the Liberation of the Netherlands, one day my sister and I were out shopping with one of our host ladies. The lady got all excited and ushered us out to the sidewalk in time to see a parade of military vehicles going by. It was in commemoration of the soldiers arriving to save them in WWll. Yes, we cried.

I would have cried as well. That would be very moving. Thanks for sharing that story with me. I am off to Holland in three weeks.

Be sure to let them know you are Canadian. You’ll be amazed at how much they love us. Really.

I have heard that. We did play a large part in their liberation.

What a wonderful way to celebrate Easter and the beginning of Spring!

It was wonderful. These processions are so very historical and tell a lot of the local people.

These folks must have divine protection to parade such ancient treasures into the streets. Observing that would make me a little apprehensive. Thank you for giving us a ring-side seat here on your blog.

When our children lived near a Mexican neighborhood in Chicago, they photographed similar parades during Easter weekend. Lovely tradition . . . meaningful across the generations too.

I must admit I was nervous when the floats passed by us. I was sure they were about to topple over. But I guess they know what they are doing. It is nice that the traditions are being carried on by the younger generations. They don’t take it as serious as the older folks but still participate and respect the tradition.

Fantastic post, Darlene. Love the color and can almost hear the music. Love church processions but haven’t seen any since I was much younger.
Wonderful photos. You made stunning captures. Thank you for sharing. Fascinating to hear about how other parts of the world celebrate. ❤ 😀

It is nice to see how other cultures celebrate special occasions. I am pleased you enjoyed the post and pictures.

Oh yes. That’s why I love the blogging world. We get to learn all kinds of things at the click of a button when we read a post. ❤

Great article and photos Darlene! I hear the Seville processions are spectacular but think the smaller communities provide a much more initimate experience for the community and for visitors.

Thanks Ann. I agree the smaller venues work better for me. This one was just right. I may even check out a smaller village next year.

Thank you, Darlene. You captured the mood really well and your pictures are wonderful, as always. Last time I saw an Easter parade was 10 years ago in Granada. I can’t believe how quickly time has gone.

The next thing you might enjoy are the Romerías in May, the most famous and spectacular of them all being El Rocío in Huelva, when they parade their patront saint and people ride in old-fashioned gypsy carts and horses: not to be missed! I know that’s a bit far from you, but they might also do them around your area. Ask your Spanish friends. 👍

Thanks Fatima. I will ask around. So thankful I got to experience Easter here in Spain this year. Last year I went back to Canada for Easter. Easter in Granada would be quite splendid I’m sure. Perhaps next year. Glad it brought back good memories for you. Looks like you are having a nice time in France.

As you say, no matter your beliefs, you can appreciate it – the ceremony, the tradition, the…wait…did somebody say candies and pastries? The candies and pastries… 🙂

Yes, there was something for everyone!

It must have been astounding to see in person Darlene. I’m with you and Vanessa that no matter what one believes such displays are spectacular and something for everyone.

It was like something I had never witnessed before. The pictures just don’t do it justice. These displays are truly part of the rich culture and history of the country.

This is fascinating, Darlene. I haven’t heard of or seen such parades (not even on TV). So sweet of that kid to come over and hand you a piece of candy!

I had not seen or heard of it it before I moved to Spain either. That little girl was so sweet, it made my evening.

What a spectacle, and from your photos it looks as if you had a great view of it all. There can’t be many places in the world more interesting to be in at Easter. Your posts often impress me with how rich the Spanish culture is. It’s a shining example to the rest of the western world when it comes to keeping old traditions alive. I’m so pleased you got some candy. 🙂

The Spanish people work hard to keep the old traditions and customs alive. It was so nice to see how many young people were involved. The candy was such a nice surprise.

How amazing….what a spectacle for holy week…love it Darlene!!Thanks for sharing!

Pleased you enjoyed it! It was truly amazing!!

There is a book I’ve read recently , where the author refers to ‘witch walking ‘ meaning going places in the mind rather than the body .
Can I witch walk with you Dalene …you are having so much fun😌

Of course you can witch walk with me any time!! What is the name of the book?

Fabulous post, Darlene, especially the photos. It’s incredible that the floats are carried by people. I am amazed.
blessings ~ maxi

It was incredible. You could see that it was quite an effort to carry the floats. People would spell each other off every now and again as it was a long parade. Such devotion and dedication! Glad you liked the pictures.

What an experience you must have had – it looks fantastic!

It was mind blowing!! The real Spain.

That sounds like a fun celebration! Happy (belated) Easter! 🙂

It was fun and meaningful. A great combination the entire family could enjoy. Happy belated Easter back at you!!

I was thinking about the difficulty of capturing those images. You did an awesome job. They certainly bring the story to life. Thank you for sharing, Darlene. Everything looks so mediaeval.

It was all so mediaeval! I discarded many photos but managed to have enough to create the blog. Thanks for your positive comments.

What an interesting post Darlene, thank you so much for sharing the experience with us. It had to be very moving to be there in person.

It was incredible, something I will never forget.

What an interesting celebration. I can’t believe they carry the floats!

I know. Such dedication!!

[…] I plan to attend an Easter parade and festival here in Spain. Easter is a huge holiday here called Semana Santa (Holy Week) and is spread out over the full week. I wrote a post about it. https://darlenefoster.wordpress.com/2016/03/31/semana-santa-easter-in-spain/ […]

[…] I love seeing how different cultures celebrate religious festivals via Semana Santa: Easter in Spain […]

How great to learn more about how spain celebrates easter! I loved this Darlene!

It is amazing! I plan to attend another Easter celebration this year. Every community does it a bit different so it will be interesting to see how Lorca does it.

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