Monday, May 02, 2016
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Semana Santa

The First Council of Nicaea (325AD) established the date of Easter as the first Sunday after the full moon following the vernal equinox. The Christian Church use March 21 as the date of the equinox; therefore, in Western Christianity, Easter always falls on a Sunday between March 22 and April 25. Holy Week in Spain runs from Palm Sunday through to Easter Sunday, with schools in Andalucía returning on what is known in the UK as Easter Monday.

Holy Week is known as Semana Santa in Spain and is arguably the most important celebration in the Spanish calendar. In Andalucía, Southern Spain the city of Seville is regarded as putting on the most extravagant and elaborate processions, making it the most famous Semana Santa celebration in the world. Up to 1 million people, young and old, religious or the merely curious, flock to the capital of Andalucía to be a part of this traditional pageant, which dates back to medieval times. From all over the city both religious fraternities and community groups will have spent weeks in preparation to ensure that the celebrations do justice to most important event in the Christian calendar.

Brotherhoods, known as ‘cofradías’, which have up to 3000 members and are affiliated to the various churches in the city, are responsible for organising the processions. Leading the processions, carrying the statues on a float representing scenes from the passion, death and resurrection of Christ, are the ‘Costaleros’. The float must be carried with maximum seriousness, grace and tradition to reflect the sombre mood. Following behind the ‘Costaleros’ are the ‘Nazarenos’, marchers who are dressed in long hooded gowns depicting the people of Nazareth, some of whom will be carrying heavy crosses on their shoulders. The reason behind participants being hooded is in order to protect the anonymity of the sinners seeking forgiveness.

easter-week-granadaComing a very close second to Seville in its celebration of Holy Week is the city of Málaga. Whilst not quite competing with the sheer size of the Seville celebrations, the Province of Málaga certainly puts on a spectacular performance. Processions commence on Palm Sunday continuing through until Easter Sunday and can go on for miles, many lasting until the early hours of the morning; the most dramatic and solemn processions are those occurring on both Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.

The Province of Granada is also renowned for its processions, the two most popular seeming to be the ‘Gypsy Procession’ on the Wednesday before Easter Sunday, where bonfires are lit along the route, which concentrates on the Albaicín/Sacromonte quarter of the city, and the ‘Silent Procession’ on Maundy Thursday when the street lights along the route are turned off and the procession takes place in absolute silence.

The ‘Gypsy Procession’ route is especially difficult due to both the steep climb to the Albaicín and at the beginning of the Sacromonte Road, which is even steeper and only wide enough for the procession itself. The procession finishes at about 4 o'clock in the morning in the Sacromonte Abbey.

Displaying a variety of tunics, hoods, ensigns and banners the entire Holy Week celebrations are alive with colour. The slow rhythmic beating of the drums, the swaying motion of the float bearers and the poignant wailing of the mournful Holy Week song, known as the ‘saeta’ all serve to make this an emotional fiesta not to be missed.