Semana Santa - Holy Week - Easter
Ascetic and Passionate
Throughout seven days, Andalucia is surrounded by a spiritual halo. Semana Santa is a tradition which is repeated year after year; a time when the devout and curious join together to participate in the procession and converge on the streets and squares which take on the ambience and mystique of an open air temple.
The skill and expertise behind the parades rest with the religious fraternities and brotherhoods. They have the responsibility of maintaining the statues as well as coordinating the penitents and musicians. Sometimes up to two thousand members of a brotherhood take part, some carry candles, rods or banners depending on their level of seniority. The most senior is the president who carries a golden rod.
The "costaleros" who carry the weight of the floats and their sculptured representations of the biblical scene are directed by the overseer or head of the group who ensure that the float is carried with maximum seriousness, grace and tradition. To be able to survive the long hours and distance carrying the heavy "thrones" the costaleros have a cushion, known as the costal, which prevents the direct contact of the wood rubbing against the skin. The thrones are followed by "nazarenos" dressed in tunics, hoods and masks and women dressed in traditional costume.
The high point of the procession is when the float exits and enters the respective church. This is the moment when art and religion seem merged into one. A sculpture of images created by superb craftsmen. The best floats date back to the 16th and 17th centuries and can still be seen today.
The entire scene is alive with color and sound, thanks to the polychromatic variety of tunics, hoods, ensigns and banners. Emotions are stirred by the slow rhythmic beating of the drums and processional marches, the swaying paces of the bearers and the poignant wailing of the "saeta" which is a sacred song, similar to the flamenco and sung through the Holy Week processions.
Even if you are not religious, it is difficult not to be moved, the atmosphere is so vital and poignant. For some it is a fun filled fiesta time, for others a week of ritual and reflection. Without a doubt, Holy Week in Andalucia is a tradition that is an integral part of the culture and appropriately reflects the spirit of the people.
Year after year, each and every village proudly enjoys the beauty and mystery of "Semana Santa" although there are variances and some towns for instance, will preserve certain traditions more than others. The villages and hamlets generally hold their parades on Thursdays and Fridays, while the large capital cities have week long celebrations and attract thousands of people from far and wide.
Irrespective of size, each float represents the pride and enthusiasm of every Andaluz who will spend the entire night, from dusk until dawn, accompanying them in solemn reverence to his or her religion.
The considerable variants of the Holy Week are determined by the historical evolution of religious fiestas and, above all, by folk traditions which determine individuality and character.