What is Semana Santa?
Semana Santa is a Spanish Holy Week, celebrated throughout the town of Seville with colourful processions moving through the streets. The festival brings together a collection of church brotherhoods, some of which date back to as early as the 13th Century.
The procession floats (known as pasos) are accompanied by marching bands and almost every procession contains an image of Christ and the Virgin Mary. Following the floats are members of the church who dress in ceremonial clothes, designed to show their repentance in the eyes of Christ. Semana Santa is celebrated in several towns across the country and the events in Seville are well known to be spectacular.
Why is it celebrated?
Semana Santa is much more than the colourful processions which fill the streets. It also signifies the beginning of spring, with locals flocking to churches, bars and restaurants to celebrate together. It’s an event which affects the entire town of Seville, with crowds clamouring for the best spots to catch sight of a procession or float.
Each day of the festival is different, with processions occurring at various times of the day and night. La Madruga is a series of processions beginning on Thursday night and lasting until Friday morning. Some people begin celebrating late at night and follow the action until the early morning of the next day. Above all, Semana Santa is a collection of amazing sights, sounds and smells which captivate the town at any time of the day or night.
The customs of Semana Santa
If you are visiting Seville during Semana Santa, there are several customs which are important to uphold. Because there are so many people clamouring for the best spot from which to view a procession, it’s considered very rude to push in front of someone. If you step off the curb into the street, you will almost certainly be moved, and spots where you can watch from high (such as bins or stairs) are highly sought after.
Because the streets of Seville are so busy during Semana Santa, be prepared for lots of pushing and shoving. Sometimes it will be very difficult to move smoothly through a crowd. While you might see lots of local people dressed up for the occasion, it’s a better idea to dress for comfort as you might be standing in the same spot for a long time.
As the processions pass, the crowds may begin to fall silent out of respect. It’s a good idea to copy this. During processions such as El Silencio, street lights and store fronts will often go dark to accompany the silence. This part of the festival can feel spooky but also incredibly atmospheric.
Semana Santa terms
• Hermanos – members of the church brotherhood who are part of the processions
• Nazareno – members of the church brotherhood who dress in robes and cone-shaped hoods to hide their identity. Many are forbidden from speaking once dressed in their ceremonial clothes
• Paso – a float with the Virgin Mary or Christ, decorated with flowers and candles
• Monaguillos – children dressed like the priests in the procession who hand out candy to the crowd