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Semana Santa in Spain, or the tourist’s feelings in front of Holy Week celebrations in Andalucia

Article by Sandra Dantis

The translation of Easter in Spanish is Pascua. Nevertheless, this word is not so used, as Spaniards normally refers to this period of the liturgical year as Semana Santa (Holy Week). After witnessing Spanish Holy Week celebrations and such large, impressive, striking demonstrations of faith, it is not so difficult to understand the reason why Spaniards reckon that the week preceding Easter Sunday is more important than the day that conferred Christianity all its meaning.

The aim of the present article is not to give an in-depth description of the events as there are plenty of literature about that. This is rather an attempt to explain some symbols and the meanings of the rites, along with aspects that chiefly strike the visitor that first assist to the celebration of Semana Santa. We will focus just on few aspects. We will give a brief historical overview of the origin of the rite and will try to explain who the nazarenos are and what they represent, who the costaleros are and their task, and how this celebrations are lived by Spanish spectators.

Seville and Málaga are the Andalusian cities that display the most pompous and magnificent countenance of Holy Week and a spectator arriving from abroad can be completely astonished, confused and stunned. The origin of the celebrations of Holy Week are due to the Marquis of Tarifa, Don Fadrique Enríquez de Ribera, who, further to his journey to Holy Land in 1521, decided to organise a large Via Crucis – Way of the Cross – that crossed all the city of Seville. The holy performance had also a didactic aim. In fact, the celebration helped common and lacking of culture folk to understand the story of the Passion of Christ. This event was then repeated and the costume spread to other cities and countries. Over the centuries, the original rite changed and became bigger little by little. The processions began multiplying and turning into the present representations of the Passion scenes, involving a major number of people grouped into several cofradías – brotherhoods. For seven days – there are no processions on Holy Saturday-, the processions pass through the city’s streets in slow parade. Worshippers follow the floats, sculptural groups of precious artistic value dated back to XVII century. The “pasos” – so called in Seville – or “tronos” – so called in Málaga – are carried by “costaleros” from the church where they are kept during the year, to the city cathedral, where the floats proceed to the Station of Penitance, before reaching its church again. Each of this procession takes between 5 to 8 hours to cover the route.

The members of the various brotherhoods, dressed up as “nazarenos” – hoodie penitents, with tunic, cloak and coat of arms – march in front of the heavy floats, often carrying a large candle. The conical shape of the hood evokes an approach of the penitent to heaven and it has nothing to do with the Ku Klux Klan. On the contrary, it seems more likely that the members of this hate group organisation acquired the costume after watching a procession. Nazarenos represent the followers of Jesus but it is not clear why they wear a hood. There are a lot of theories about that. Many theories state that this is a sign of humility as well as protection. There is also a theory that explains that the usage of this hood is dated to the Inquisition. During this period the head of the accused was covered with a sack and received a hood. From that moment, all the worshippers that wished to expiate his sins wore this costume as a symbol of sacrifice. Besides, it is not unusual to see nazarenos march barefoot as an additional effort to pay for sins.

The costaleros are the men who carry the floats and consider themselves lucky and they are proud to be charged by this heavy burden. As it was previously said, the procession last many hours and it is not easy to carry the floats. Some of these costaleros walk the entire route barefoot or blindfold to beg pardon for a sin or to thank heaven for a grace. The number of costaleros vary from float to float and from city to city depending on the weight of it. Málaga has the hugest floats in Spain (maybe in the world) and its small floats are carried by a minimum of 42 costaleros, whilst huge floats are carried by 270 men.

Málaga celebrates Holy Week in a queer manner, quite different from other Andalusian or Spanish cities. The tourists that visit Málaga for the first time will be stunned to see how the most important week of the year for a Catholic believer is lived by Malagueños. Far from being silent and meditative, this week is noisy, euphoric and joyful. People applaud the floats, sing flamenco verses, military parades march in front of the floats and sing their hymns.

A foreign visitor might misinterpret this odd way that Málaga celebrate its faith during the Semana Santa as a lack of religiosity. It is often wondered how far this manner of celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus is felt as a religious and inner feeling and when the bound is overstepped and all the expressions turn into a showing off and merchandising moment completely alien to the purpose of the ancient worshippers that conceive the rite. In spite of this, Holy Week in Spain offers undoubtedly a unique scenario both for worshipper eager to attend the celebration and tourists keen to admire the processions and the manifestations. If you would like to experience the most rooted tradition of Spain, the perfect place to do so is Andalucia with no doubt. Rent an apartment in Málaga or get a rental accommodation in Seville city and enjoy unforgettable days.

About the Author

Sandra Dantis works as SEO for GlobalCityBreak and collaborates with Steffen Hansen to the process of development of the company. http://www.globalcitybreak.co.uk is specialized in City Breaks and offer quality holiday apartments in the city centre of a number of different cities in Europe. All of our holiday rentals have been inspected by our staff to make sure that standard and location is perfect.

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