Have you decided to visit Spain in March or April? Your trip may coincide with Spanish Holy Week. Easter you said? Holy Week in Spain is much more important than Easter can be in the rest of Europe or in North America. After Christmas Holidays (the order of importance of dates is not the same here either, but it will be the subject of another post), Holy Week is the second major holiday season in Spain.
When is Holy Week
The dates of this week vary every year. According to the Catholic tradition, very anchored in Spain, it begins on Palm Sunday and ends on Easter Sunday.
This year: March 25 to April 1st, 2018
And next year: April 14 to 21, 2019
Holy Week: holiday period
Everyone in Spain get two days off (that are different according to the autonomous community), which fall between Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Monday. As it is the first holiday period of the year after Christmas, and it usually falls in the early days of the good weather period, the vast majority of Spaniards take the opportunity to take a vacation (often the full week) and go whether to the seaside, their hometown, or even travel abroad. If you are traveling in Spain at this time, consider booking your accommodation and tickets in advance as prices go up quickly!
Holy Week: religious holiday first and foremost
According to the Catholic tradition, which is deeply rooted in Spain, Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday and ends on Easter Sunday. It is at the same time a period of recollection in commemoration of the Passion of Christ, but also of jubilation with that of its resurrection. On this occasion, processions are organized across many cities of the country. The religious brotherhoods carry out these processions towards the cathedral of the city and then return to their point of departure. During them, they carry richly decorated altars in homage to Christ, to the Virgin or to a Saint. These processions, silent or accompanied by music according to the occasion, can be spectacular and for an uninformed public, to be a real cultural spectacle. You can obviously attend as a tourist, taking care to respect the religious tradition that accompanies it, which can be for example to maintain silence.
The symbols of Spanish Holy Week
The statues of the processions
Processions are the most important events of Holy Week. And at the center of these processions, religious statues can be admired. These sometimes very imposing statues sumptuously decorated and carried by several pairs of arms represent Christ, the Virgin or a Patron Saint. They can sometimes be very powerful, as when they represent Christ carrying the Cross. Prepared for weeks or months by the local brotherhoods, they are sumptuous and worthy of admiration.
The costumes of the Nararenes
The Nazarenes are a Catholic brotherhood very present in Spain and especially in Andalusia. During Holy Week, they perform processions with penitential stations in front of religious buildings. They are therefore solemn processions. The costumes of the Nazarenes are very particular and are one of the main attractions of Holy Week. The members of the brotherhood are completely hidden under capes and capirotes (high pointed hoods), in memory of penitents of the Inquisition. Do not be afraid to see them!
Women in mantilla
To attend the processions of the Passion of Christ, women wear the traditional mantilla as a sign of mourning. This black lace veil covering the head and shoulders worn with a black dress is a typical costume characteristic of Spanish folklore.
The songs that accompany the processions in honor of the Passion of Christ are known as Saetas. Mainly performed during the solemn processions of Holy Week, especially in Andalusia, the Saeta is sung from a balcony during the passage of the procession.
Music groups accompany many Holy Week processions with traditional religious music, whose dominant instruments are drums and brass.
Like any traditional festival, Holy Week has its typical dishes. Want a sweet dish? Try a delicious Torrija (kind of French toast), a Buñuelo (“donut”) or rice pudding (“Arroz con leche”). Rather salty? Opt for a Potage de Vigilia (“soup of the day before”, vegetable soup with cod marking the end of Lent) or a Buñuelo de Bacalao (“Cod donut”).
Tradition of the city of Elche (largest palm grove of Spain and Europe), but that can be found in other cities of Spain, for example in Madrid, the white palms are symbols of the Holy Week. These are palm leaves that are prepared and harvested according to a specific artisanal method initiated since the summer preceding Holy Week. The palms are then manually transformed into sculptures that members of the Catholic Church will bless on Palm Sunday. You will find more information about this on the website of the tourist office of Elche (to read with an automatic translator if you do not speak Spanish as it is not available in English).
Major processions of Holy Week in Spain
Seville: the Madrugá
The most important procession of Seville takes place on the night between Holy Thursday and Good Friday. It is known as Madrugá (abbreviation of madrugada, “dawn” in English). The processions leave the Basilica of la Macarena at midnight, and last a good part of the night. These processions are accompanied by Saetas which are particularly appreciated by the public.
Malaga: the Procession of Legionaries
In Malaga, it is Holy Thursday which is particularly awaited by the crowd. This is the day that the Spanish Foreign Legion and Navy carry the “Christ of the Good Death” (Cristo de la Buena Muerte) in the city from the port of Malaga.
Zamora: the Procession of the Brown Capes
The night of Holy Wednesday is particularly important in Zamora: at midnight, the “Brown Capes” (Capas Pardas) begin their procession from San Claudio de Olivares Church. Their costumes are particularly impressive, and each member wears an iron candlestick, which is the only lighting of the city during the event. They go over the city with the statue of the Santísimo Cristo del Amparo (“Holiest Christ of the Protection”) to arrive at San Claudio Square where they will sing the Spanish Misere before returning to the temple of departure. This very solemn procession is particularly outstanding.
Cuenca: the Turbas
A l’aube du Vendredi Saint a lieu à Cuenca la procession des Turbas (grondement des tambours qui ouvrent la procession), également connue sous le nom de “Chemin du Calvaire” (Camino del Calvario). Lors de cet évènement auquel assiste un très grand nombre de personnes, la foule recrée les huées subies par le Christ sur son chemin de croix.
At the dawn of Good Friday, the procession of the Turbas (rumble of the drums opening the procession) takes place in Cuenca. It is also known as the “Calvary Way” (Camino del Calvario). During this event attended by a large number of people, the crowd recreates the boos suffered by Christ on the Way of the Cross.
Toledo: the Procession of Christ the Redeemer
In Toledo, the night of Holy Wednesday is the most awaited of the week. On its occasion, the statue of Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor) is taken out of Santo Domingo el Real Monastery a little before midnight, and through the narrow streets of the city. The porters sometimes almost have to kneel on their way to pass some streets, which makes this solemn procession particularly difficult.
Madrid: the Procession of Saint Christ of the Crossbowmen
Several processions take place in Madrid, and the most impressive is probably that of Santo Cristo de los Alabarderos (“Saint Christ of the Crossbowmen”), since it starts from the Royal Palace. It takes place on Good Friday at 7pm, and the Royal Guard participates.
Even without having religious conviction, Holy Week is an event worth living in Spain as it is impressive to observe and its atmosphere is special. We strongly advise to plan a trip to Spain at this time of the year if you have never done it before, especially in one of the regions where Holy Week is intensely lived. And if your choice is on another destination, you should also have an unforgettable stay since all of Spain is buzzing at this time and you should come back with a lot of great memories. Have you ever experienced Spanish Holy Week?
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