The Spanish take Easter seriously. Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are public holidays and lots of people take the whole week as holiday. Cities, towns and villages all over Spain will hold Semana Santa processions, often several, that continue for hours with more people involved than you would have thought possible.
It is a celebration of Holy Week rather than just Easter, characterised by hundreds of processions throughout Spain, arranged mainly by cofriados – church brotherhoods. The tradition dates back to the Middle Ages and many of the costumes and the music is still from then. The people participating, from adults down to tiny children, wear the nazareno – a ceremonial robe with a tunic and a capriote – a conical shaped hood. When the costumes are in white, they are reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan – although the two have absolutely nothing to do with each other. My favourite thing is to look at the feet of those taking part and spot the Nike trainers peeking out from beneath the Nazareno, or spot the hermano with a cigarette in one hand as he waits for the procession to continue.
The main highlight of the processions though is not the slow moving people in their ancient costumes, it is the tronos or pasos – huge thrones carrying statutes of Jesus and the Virgin Mary – sometimes weighing as much as 5,000kg. Processions are often (but not always) accompanied by music, saetas played by drums and trumpets. It is mournful and incredible to listen to.
We watched the Thursday night parade in Frigiliana, hundreds of tiny children spilling out of the church and standing solemnly in lines, engrossed in the flame from their candles and adjusting their nazareno so that they could see out of the tiny eyeslits. The tiniest held hands with a parent, eyes wide as they gazed around them.
After about half an hour of silently taking 20 or so steps forward and then stopping and waiting, the tronos came out. These huge structures hold statutes of Christ and of Mary and are carried by young, strong men. In Frigiliana they were followed by men wearing solemn masks of the disciples. The slow moving of the procession is so that they can stop to rest the trono on the sticks they all carry. Once everyone has passed through, the people of the town join on the end of the procession.
I couldn’t believe how many people were involved, after passnig Frigiliana off as a touristy place – it took over an hour for the procession to go past and the darkness, the flickering lights of the candles and the hooded figures made it seem a very sombre, solemn occasion.
The procession in Malaga was slightly different – at midday on a Sunday with the sun shining down upon the gleaming streets of old Malaga. It was absolutely ginormous – there are thousands of participants. As an example, one trono is carried by 280 men!!! It also has music which the Frigiliana processions did not, and seating areas lining the streets for watching the procession pass.
We weren’t there to watch but rather to meet up with my sister and her boyfriend for lunch, but wherever we went in the city we kept stumbling upon it – whether streets were being cleared of pedestrians in advance of the procession, huge tronos were being carried past, or whether we were slipping over on the wax left from the thousands of candles.
Because that is a little-known fact about the aftermath of the Semana Santa processions – the wax on the cobbled streets makes them not only extremely slippy after the processions have passed through, but also, for days afterwards, car wheels and rubber-soled shoes will squeak horribly!!
We didn’t go to Andalucia over Easter in order to celebrate or see any of the Semana Santa processions, but we ended up at two of them, and I’m glad we did as they are an incredible sight and well worth seeing if you’re in the area at that time of year.