Intercultural

Holy Week in Sevilla: Discovering Semana Santa

Maggie Reade is a student at the University of South Carolina and an ISA Photo Blogger. She studied abroad with ISA in Sevilla, Spain.

Although Semana Santa is observed throughout Spain, no celebrations compare to the processions that take over Sevilla for the week leading up to Easter Sunday. Thousands of people flock to Sevilla each year to see the incredibly decorated floats depicting scenes of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, beginning with Jesus’ arrival into Jerusalem and ending with the Resurrection. These floats, known as imagenes, can weigh up to one metric ton and are carried for hours on end by groups of men called costaleros that make up each cofradía, or religious brotherhood. Surrounding these floats are men, women, and children dressed in the traditional tunics and capirotes, pointed hoods, who march with the procession throughout its paso. Semana Santa made me fall in love with this city all over again, and hopefully these photos represent the beauty I witnessed.

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Though at first the concept was a little lost on a foreigner like me, I was soon able to see why so many people come to Sevilla each year to witness this incredible spectacle. Each imagen is ornately decorated, with gold details reserved for imagenes of Jesus and silver details on imagenes of the Virgin Mary.

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At various points during the paso, los costaleros would trade places to give others a short break. Seeing these men during the actual Holy Week took me back to my first month here in Sevilla when I saw an hermandad in Plaza Alameda practicing with weighted sand bags. They had worked almost an entire year for this one week, and I could see on their faces just how excited they were that it was finally time for all of their hard work to pay off.

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.Although in the beginning years of Semana Santa only men were allowed to participate, that outdated rule has since been abolished. Now, the hermandades consist of almost equal numbers of men and women. Their traditional dress symbolizes a rising toward the heavens as each Penitente is seeking forgiveness for their sins.

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Los Monaguillos, pictured here, are children dressed as priests who hand out candy to those watching in the crowd.

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The dedication of each nazareno is incredible, but some take it one step further, electing to march the entire paso barefoot. Cobblestone, hot pavement, and dripping wax make this already daunting task even more difficult.

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Every day Sevillians dress to the nines, and Semana Santa is no exception. Men dress in suit jackets and ties while the women wear the tradition mantilla, black lace kept in place with an ornate shell and fastened with a broach in the back.

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The pasos dominate every road they occupy, especially the small winding back roads like La Feria where this photo was taken. El Silencio is the oldest hermandad, dating back to 1340, and its members maintain the strict tradition of complete silence that other hermandades have since abandoned.

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Many of the nazarenos carry velas throughout the paso, though they are only lit at night. Days after Semana Santa the wax is still visible on the streets where the pasos traveled.

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La Esperanza de Triana is one of the most notable imagenes of Semana Santa and is an immense source of pride for the people of the Triana neighborhood. One of the most famous parts of the paso occurs over Triana bridge in the early hours of Friday morning, as La Esperanza makes her way back to her cathedral. It is important to note that the Sevillans are so attached to these imagenes that they never use “it” to the Virgin Mary, always “she”.

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La Macarena, though similar, is not to be confused with La Esperanza de Triana. La Macerena holds the longest paso at fourteen hours, and rightly so provokes the most emotion from its participants and the surrounding crowd. As she passes, shouts of “Viva la Virgen!” and “Guapa, guapa!” can be heard from men, women, and children alike.

The entire week is based in tradition, something that each and every spaniard is immensely proud of. You can’t find anything like Semana Santa anywhere else in the world, so I would recommend planning your trip now. Hotels fill up fast!

Want to read more about Sevilla? Check out Maggie’s post on “10 Hidden Byways of Sevilla.”