Semana Santa

Holy Week in Seville is known as Semana Santa de Sevilla. It is one of the city’s two biggest annual festivals, the other being the Feria de Abril (April Fair), which follows two weeks later. It is celebrated in the week leading up to Easter and features processions of  pasos ( floats of lifelike wooden sculptures of individual scenes of the events of the Passion or images of the grieving Virgin Mary). 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.

The Processions

There are up to three pasos in each procession. The pasos dedicated to El Cristo, use figures of wood, wax, and wire to depict scenes from the Passion, and are usually covered in gold. The pasos dedicated to La Virgen are usually covered in silver, and depict Mary weeping for her Son and sometimes holding Him in her arms. The processions are organized by hermandades and cofradías, religious brotherhoods. Members precede the pasos dressed in penitential robes with capirotes, (tall, pointed hoods with eye-holes).The capirotes were designed so the faithful could repent in anonymity, without being recognised as self-confessed sinners. Nearly 70 cofradias (church brotherhoods) take part, each with their own statues, as well as colourful misterios (tableaux of bible scenes), on elaborately-decorated pasos (floats). They may be accompanied by brass bands. The processions follow a designated route from their home churches and chapels to the Cathedral, usually via a central viewing area and back. The ones from the suburban barrios may take 14 hours to return to their home churches.The processions continue from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday morning. The climax of the week is the night of Holy Thursday, when the processions set out to arrive at the Cathedral on the dawn of Good Friday  known as the madrugá.

The standard structure of a procession is:

  • A great cross (the so-called Cruz de Guía – Guiding Cross) is carried at the beginning of each procession.
  • A number of people (sometimes barefoot) dressed in a habit and with the distinctive pointed hood and holding long wax candles (only lit by night), marching in silence. These are the nazarenos. Colours, forms and details of the habit are distinctive for each brotherhood – and sometimes for different locations within the procession. Usually the Nazarenos march in pairs, and are grouped behind insignia. Moving between the lines are diputados de tramo, guardians who keep the formations organized.
  • A group of altar boys (acolytes) dressed in vestments, with chandeliers and incense and other servants.
  • The Paso.
  • When applicable, the musical group follows (bands) or precedes the paso (chapel music)
  • A number of penitentes, carrying wooden crosses, making public penance. They wear the habit and the hood of the brotherhood, but the hood is not pointed.

This structure repeats itself depending of the number of pasos (up to three). Usually the last paso is not followed by penitentes, and the procession should be closed -presided- by the titular chaplain in full processional vestments known as el preste Although this is the standard structure, depending on the traditions of each brotherhood, details (and even the plan) may vary. A procession can be made up from a few hundred to near 3,000 Nazarenos and last anywhere from 4 to 14 hours, depending how far the home church is from the Cathedral. The largest processions can take over an hour and a half to cross one particular spot

The core events in Semana Santa are the processions of the brotherhoods, known as estación de penitencia (stations of penance), from their home CHURCH TO SEVILLA CATHEDRAL and back. The last section before arriving AT the Cathedral is common to all brotherhoods and is called the Carrera Oficial.

THE PASO At the centre of each procession are the pasos, an image or set of images set atop a moveable float of wood. If a brotherhood has three pasos, the first one would be a sculpted scene of the Passion, or an allegorical scene, known as a misterio (mystery); the second an image of Christ and the third an image of the Virgin Mary known as a dolorosa. The structure of the paso is richly carved and decorated with fabric, flowers and candles. As of 2007, all but one of the dolorosas are covered by an ornate canopy (baldachin) attached to the structure. The sculptures themselves are carved and painted, and often lifesize or larger. The oldest surviving were carved in the 16th century, though new images continue to be added. All of the principal images of the Semana Santa are on display for veneration in their home churches all year round.

 Overseer giving orders to the costaleros.

A distinctive feature of Semana Santa in Seville is the style of marching of the pasos. A team of men, the costaleros (literally “sack men”, for their distinctive – and functional – headdress), supporting the beams upon their shoulders and necks, lift, move and lower the paso. As they are all inside the structure and hidden from the external view by a curtain, the paso seems to move by itself. On the outside an overseer (capataz), guides the team by voice, and/or through a ceremonial hammer el llamador(caller) attached to the paso. Depending on weight (most weigh over a metric tonne), a paso requires between twenty-four and fifty-four costaleros to move. Each brotherhood has a distinctive way to raise and move a paso, and even each paso within the procession.

 Golden ‘caller’.

THE MUSIC

Singing a saeta.

Some processions are silent, with no musical accompaniment, some have a capella, choirs or wind quartets, but many (and especially those historically associated with poorer neighbourhoods) feature a drum andtrumpet band behind the image of Christ and a brass band behind the Virgin playing hymns or marchas from a standard repertoire. Those associated with the images of Christ are often funeral in nature, while those associated with the Virgin are more celebratory. As each procession leaves its home church, (an event known as the salida), at its return (the entrada), and along the march route, improvised flamenco-style songs may be offered by individuals in the crowd or from a balcony. These songs are generically called saetas (arrows). Whenever the images depart or arrive at their home churches or chapels,Marcha Real,  the National Anthem, is played.

TRADITIONAL DRESS

The traditional suit worn by women on Thursday (and sometimes on Good Friday) is known as La Mantilla (the mantle). This custom has become revitalised since the 1980s. The outfit consists of the lace mantle, stiffened by shell or another material, and a black dress, usually mid-leg, with black shoes. It is expected for the woman to hold and show a rosary. Jewellery may include, at most, bracelets and earrings.