Holy Week in Spain is the annual commemoration of the Passion of Jesus Christ celebrated by Catholic religious brotherhoods and fraternities that perform penance processions on the streets of almost every Spanish city and town during the last week of Lent, the week immediately before Easter.
Spain is especially renowned for its Holy Week traditions or Semana Santa. The celebration of Holy Week regarding popular piety relays almost exclusively in the processions of the brotherhoods or fraternities. This associations have their origins in the Middle Age, but a number of them were created during the Baroque Period, inspired by the Counterreformation and also during the 20th and 21st centuries. The membership is usually open to any Catholic person and family tradition is an important element to become a member or "brother" (hermano).
Some major differences between Spanish regions are noticeable in this events: Holy Week sees its most glamorous celebrations in the region of Andalusia, particularly in Málaga and Seville, while those of Castile and León see the more sombre and solemn processions, typified by Semana Santa at Zamora and Valladolid. This is a religious holiday.
A common feature in Spain is the almost general usage of the nazareno or penitential robe for some of the participants in the processions. This garment consists in a tunic, a hood with conical tip (capirote) used to conceal the face of the wearer, and sometimes a cloak. The exact colors and forms of these robes depend on the particular procession. The robes were widely used in the medieval period for penitents, who could demonstrate their penance while still masking their identity. These nazarenos carry processional candles or rough-hewn wooden crosses, may walk the city streets barefoot, and, in some places may carry shackles and chains on their feet as penance. In some areas, sections of the participants wear dress freely inspired by the uniforms of the Roman Legion.
The other common feature is that every brotherhood carries magnificent "Pasos" or floats with sculptures that depict different scenes from the gospels related to the Passion of Christ or the Sorrows of Virgin Mary. Many of these floats are art pieces created by Spanish artist such as Gregorio Fernandez, Juan de Mesa, Martínez Montañés o Mariano Benlliure. Brotherhoods have owned and preserved these "pasos" for centuries in some cases. Usually, the "Passos" are accompanied by Marching bands performing "Marchas procesionales" a specific type of compositions, devoted to the images and fraternities.
Holy Week holds ("Semana Santa" in Spanish) one of the best known Catholic traditions in Valladolid. As a reflection of its importance, is also considered as a Fiesta of International Tourist Interest of Spain since 1981. The Good Friday processions are considered an exquisite and rich display of Castilian religious sculpture. On this day, in the morning, members of the brotherhoods on horseback make a poetic proclamation throughout the city. The "Sermon of the Seven Words" is spoken in Plaza Mayor Square. In the afternoon, thousands of people take part in the Passion Procession, comprising 31 pasos (religious statues), most of which date from the 16th and 17th centuries, by artists like Juan de Juni or Gregorio Fernández. The last statue in the procession is the Virgen de las Angustias, and her return to the church is one of the most emotional moments of the celebrations, with the Salve Popular sung in her honour.
Easter is one of the most spectacular and emotional fiestas in Valladolid. Religious devotion, art, colour and music combine in acts to commemorate the death of Jesus Christ: the processions. Members of the different Easter brotherhoods, dressed in their characteristic robes, parade through the streets carrying religious statues (pasos) to the sound of drums and music – scenes of sober beauty.
Holy Week processions in León are also very popular, with more than 15,000 penitents (called papones, in Leonese language) on the streets. Processions begin on "Viernes de Dolores" (the Friday in the week before Holy Week) and last until Easter Sunday. The most solemn and famous procession is the "Procesion de los Pasos", also known as the "Procesion del Encuentro" (Procession of the Meeting). During this nine-hour marathon procession, about 4,000 penitents carry 13 "pasos" around all the city. The most solemn moment is El Encuentro (The Meeting) when the pasos representing Saint John and La Dolorosa face one to the other and are "bailados" (penitents move the paso as if Saint John and La Dolorosa were dancing).
Also famous is a secular procession, called Entierro de San Genarín, the "Burial of Saint Genarín". In 1929 on Holy Thursday night, a poor alcoholic called Genaro Blanco was run over by the first rubbish truck in León. The procession consists of a march through the city bearing Orujo at the head of the procession; at the spot by the face of the city walls where the man was run over a bottle of Orujo and two oranges are left in commemoration.
Salamanca has one of the oldest celebrations in Spain. The earliest penance processions can be traced back to 1240. Three are the characteristics that make Holy Week in Salamanca unique: The monumental background provided by the Old City, declared UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988, the quality of the images and pasos, created by important Spanish artist such as Luis Salvador Carmona or Mariano Benlliure and the links with the University of Salamanca, the oldest institution of its kind in the country.
10,000 penitents associated to 16 brotherhoods organize 22 processions that walk the streets of the center carrying 41 pasos from Friday of Sorrows to Easter Sunday.
Semana Santa in Salamanca was declared Fiesta of International Tourist Interest of Spain in 2003.
Holy Week in Zamora is celebrated by 16 brotherhoods and fraternities that perform 17 penance processions on the streets of the old city. Thousands of penitents walk the streets while the processions are attended by a crowd of locals and visitors. Zamora incresases its population 5 times, up to 300.000 people during the festival.
The singularities of this celebration include the medieval set up of some of the parades where the brotherhoods use monk´s robes instead of the most usual nazareno´s conical hat, torch fire instead of candles or male choirs instead of marching bands.
The processions in Cartagena do not closely resemble others in Spain due to their strict order and unique characteristics. Every brotherhood is divided into smaller groups (“agrupaciones”), each in charge of one of the floats in the procession. The members of the group are all clad in the same colours and wear a robe, a sash around the waist, a cloak, a high pointed hood to cover their heads and faces, and sandals.
Each float is preceded at the front by a richly embroidered standard (“estandarte”), carried by three members of the group and followed by two symmetrical lines of members, who march and stop in unison to the beat of drums. When they stop, they all remain absolutely still and in total silence. Their military-like discipline may have earned their nickname of "tercio", a word which broadly means “regiment”.
At the rear of the "tercio" come a music band and the drummers, and then the trono made of artistically carved gilded or painted wood. Some of these floats move on wheels whereas others are carried on the shoulders of hundreds of “portapasos” (or float-carriers), who also march to the rhythmic beat of the drums.
On the top of the float you can see the processional images, polychrome wooden sculptures which are displayed either separately or in groups. The images include works by classic artists such as Francisco Salzillo, José Capuz, Juan González Moreno, Mariano Benlliure, or Federico Coullaut-Valera as well as others by contemporary sculptors. Unlike in other cities, in Cartagena the order of the floats in the procession follows the chronological order of the events narrated in the Gospels.
The images are surrounded by “cartelas”, a kind of electric candelabra or sometimes a sort of upside-down chandeliers, fixed to the float and decorated with colourful and intricate floral arrangements.
Also unique in Cartagena are the infantry companies (“piquetes”) at the rear of the main processions, escorting the float of St. Mary which, under popular Marian advocations such as Our Lady of Sorrows or Our Lady of Solitude, usually closes the procession. It must have been this uniqueness which awarded the Holy Week of Cartagena the rank of International Tourist Interest Festival in 2005.
Holy Week in Lorca is one of the most important demonstrations of celebration of Holy Week in Spain. Regardless of the existence of religious processions in the traditional way, are the Bible Parades Passionate dotting the Easter lorquina of a unique and different, with representations of the Old Testament or the Christian symbolism or with the participation of horses and chariots and floats of enormous dimensions. The embroidered silk are also a prominent feature of Lorca processions, marked by an extraordinary rivalry between two of its fraternities or steps, the Blue and White.
The most important step is the Royal and Illustrious Confraternity of Our Lady of the Rosary (White Pass) is traditionally considered going back to the 15th century, although the oldest documents referring to the same date of 1599. Its owner is the virgin of bitterness known as the beautiful, which is carried on Good Friday in a golden throne carried by over 130 people. The White Pass has over 1.500 embroideries in silk and gold. The other step is Brotherhood of Farmers Lorca (blue pass). Holder is Our Lady of Sorrows, and also embroidered in silk and gold.
For more than 500 years, Holy Week of Málaga has been constantly present in the religious and popular feeling of people from Málaga. The Holy Week religious celebrations in Málaga are famous countrywide. Processions start on Palm Sunday and continue until Easter Sunday with the most dramatic and solemn on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Images from the Passion on huge ornate "tronos" (floats or thrones) some weighing more than 5.000 kilos and carried by more than 250 members of Nuestra Señora de la Esperanza, shape the processions that go through the streets with penitents dressed in long purple robes, often with pointed hats, followed by women in black carrying candles. Drums and trumpets play solemn music and occasionally someone spontaneously sings a mournful saeta dedicated to the floats as it makes its way slowly round the streets.
The Baroque taste of the religious brotherhoods and associations and the great amount of processional materials that they have been accumulating for centuries result in a street stage of exuberant art, full of color and majesty. Although many brotherhoods have been affected by the burning churches of 1931 and an important part of their heritage were destroyed as the trousseau, imagery, and others during the Spanish Civil War, in the years following it revival was slow but these recovered with much greater numbers. Also in the 1970s Cofradías nuevas began to be formed in the city, and some old brotherhoods, which were forgotten, are reorganized by young people as: Salud, Descendimiento, Monte Calvario and many more others to adapt to the changing times.
Every year, the Passion Week in Málaga takes out to the streets a real festival perceptible by the five senses: processional thrones carrying images that sway all along the entire route, thousands of penitents lighting and giving colour with their candles and robes, processional marches, as well as aromas of incense and flowers filling the air as the processions pass by and thousands of people crowded to see and applaud their favorite tronos.
Holy Week in Málaga is very different from that celebrated in other Andalusian or Spanish places, and those who go to Málaga for the first time will be surprised, as the Passion Week there is not lived with meditation and silence, but it is full of happiness, noise, cheer, spontaneous saetas (flamenco verses sung at the processions) and applause as the images pass by.
Some tronos (floats) of Holy Week of Málaga are so huge that they must be housed in other places different from the churches, as they are taller than the entrance doors: real walking chapels of over 5,000 kilos carried by dozens of bearers. There are also military parades playing processional marches or singing their anthems along the route. All of this does not imply a lack of religiosity (nor the opposite though, since not few of the participants consider themselves lapsed catholics), but it is just the particular way that many people from Málaga live their faith, folkloric gustoes and/or feelings during the Holy Week. One of these military celebrations is that of the Spanish Legion, which parades the image of Christ of the Good Death together with the Legions own military band and Honor guard on Maundy Thursday, very pouplar among tourists, locals, and military veterans.
Seville arguably holds some of the most elaborate processions for Holy Week. The tradition dates from Counter Reformation times, or even earlier. The "Semana Santa de Sevilla" is notable for featuring the procession of "pasos", lifelike painted wooden sculptures of individual scenes of the events that happened between Jesus entry in Jerusalem and his burial, or images of the Virgin Mary showing restained grief for the torture and killing of her son. Some of the images are artistic masterworks of great antiquity. These "pasos" (which usually weigh over a metric ton) are physically carried on the neck of costaleros (literally "sack men", for their distinctive -and functional- headdress). The "costaleros" (from 24 to 48) are hidden inside the platform of the "paso", so it seems to walk alone. Historically dock workers were hired to carry the "pasos". From 1973 onward, that task has been universally taken over by the members of the confraternities who organize each procession.
Holy Week in Viveiro is one of the best known religious events within Galicia. As a reflection of its importance, is also considered as a Fiesta of National Tourist Interest of Spain since 1988.
This week features the procession of pasos, floats of lifelike wooden sculptures of individual scenes of the events of the Passion, or images of the Virgin Mary showing restrained grief for the torture and killing of her son. Some of the sculptures are of great antiquity and are considered artistic masterpieces, as well as being culturally and spiritually important to the local Catholic population.
During Holy Week, the city is crowded with residents and visitors, drawn by the spectacle and atmosphere. The impact is particularly strong for the Catholic community. The processions are organised by hermandades and cofradías, religious brotherhoods. During the processions, members precede the pasos, dressed in penitential robes. They may also be accompanied by brass bands.
The processions work along a designated route from their home churches and chapels, usually via a central viewing area and back. As of 2011, a total of 15 processions are scheduled for the week, from the previous Friday to Palm Sunday through to Easter Sunday morning.