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Posts tagged ‘processions’

Seville | Semana Santa 101

semana santa poster 2013If you find yourself in Seville in the week before Easter, and nobody has told you what goes on here during Semana Santa (literally Holy Week), you may be in for a surprise. Why are there so many people in town? Why are the main street by the cathedral and the square beyond lined with chairs? Just who are those strange people with towels round their heads? And the even stranger people with the pointy hoods and cloaks, for all the world like some surreal multi-coloured gathering of the Klan (they’re not, just so you know)? Fear not, all will be revealed in our handy beginner’s guide to Semana Santa in Seville.

Religious processions are hardly unusual in Spain, but the Easter Week processions in Seville take them to another level. During the course of the week around 60 processions will wend their way from their home churches to the Cathedral and back again, which for those furthest away can mean a journey of up to 14 hours. The religious purpose of the processions is to take the sacred statues, usually one of the Christ depicted in one of the stages of the Passion, and one of the grieving virgin, from where they “live” in their various churches and chapels to be blessed in the Cathedral. Each procession is organised by its own Hermandad (brotherhood), and the week’s celebrations are co-ordinated collectively. The oldest brotherhood dates back to the 14th century, and in late mediaeval times they played a role similar to the guilds. After a period of decline in the 19th century, the 20th saw a progressive revival and the fixing of many of the forms and traditions we see today.

costaleros at practice prior to Semana Santa

costaleros at practice prior to Semana Santa

The statues are carried on floats known as pasos, by groups of men hidden underneath (these are the costaleros, the ones with the towels on their heads to protect them from the weight), whose movements are controlled by an overseer (capataz), usually by a system of coded knocks. Both the pasos and the statues, some of which are important artworks in their own right, are often ornate and gilded, the virgins decked with flowers beneath a canopy, and the sight of them as they sway down the streets is surprisingly moving, even for the non-religious.

They are accompanied on their journey by the Nazarenos and Penitentes (the ones in the cloaks and hoods, worn to preserve anonymity) carrying candles or crosses, various functionaries, and the brass bands who are responsible for the distinctive music that seems to be everywhere during this week. The largest processions can take up to an hour and a half to pass.

Although the final procession is on Easter Sunday, the climax of the week for most people is in the early hours of Good Friday morning, when six of the most popular processions take place, including both of the Virgenes de Esperanza (Triana and Macarena), El Silencio and Jesus de Gran Poder. If you’re here for Holy Week it’s worth staying up all night to see some of these.

0379_giralda-terrace-seville-apartment

If you are here for Semana Santa bear in mind that you’ll pay a premium price for apartments and hotel rooms (anything up to double), and that most of the bars (in the centre at least) won’t be serving tapas but rather larger plates (raciones), and will be very crowded. In fact, the whole city will be crowded, and in the afternoon and evenings the area around the cathedral, and through Plaza San Francisco to La Campana, is often impassable and may interfere with any sightseeing strolls you have planned. 

On the other hand, it’s an unusual and interesting experience, whatever your religious affiliations or non-affiliations, and maybe one that everyone should catch a glimpse of just once in their lives.

Veoapartment still has some apartments available on or close to the Cathedral and main procession routes in LarañaConstitución, and best of all, right by the cathedral in Calle Alemanes.

Seville | El Rocío

If you’re visiting Seville in late May, you may be surprised by the sight of little ox-drawn wagons, looking like some strange combination of something out of the wild-west and a traditional gypsy caravan. This is the annual pilgrimage (Romería) to the shrine of the Virgin of El Rocío in the village of the same name, and, visually at least, it is perhaps the most unusual event in the local religious calendar.

It takes place over the Pentecost (Whitsun) weekend (this year May 26-28), but although the pilgrimage proper only starts at noon on the Saturday, when the cofradades (brotherhoods) begin the last leg of the journey into the town, the real pilgrims (rocieros) travel to the shrine “cross-country”, either in these little wagons, on horseback, or in trailers pulled by tractors, following one of the traditional pilgrims’ routes from Seville, Huelva or San Lucar, in the days leading up to Whitsun.

On Wednesday and Thursday mornings the Seville rocieros leave in groups from Triana, Macarena and Salvador, and pass through the city centre to the cathedral to be blessed. The men are mainly dressed in the instantly recognisable Andalucian horse-riders short jacket and tight trousers, and the women in a looser version of the flamenco dress, but it’s those little wagons that are the stars of the show.

It’s also possible to get to El Rocio by more conventional means, by car or bus, although the traffic is often horrendous. However you get there, nothing quite prepares you for how packed the town is during the pilgrimage, especially after the statue of the Virgin leaves the sanctuary of the church at around midnight on Sunday to visit the chapels of the various brotherhoods during the course of Monday morning.

By comparison, a visit to El Rocio at other times is a bit like visiting a ghost town, as most of the main buildings belong to the brotherhoods and are used only during the pilgrimage, but there is still a stunning view of the huge church that is the Virgin’s sanctuary, and there is loads of birdlife, including herons, flamingoes and storks in the nearby marshlands on the edge of Doñana Park.

[photos courtesy of ©azahar-sevilla and ©guspemar]