The Salamanca Diaries: Semana Santa in Spain | Easter Week Festivals

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SEVILLE, SPAIN – Writing from Seville, the capital of Spain’s most southern community, Andalusia. As a traditional, Catholic stronghold, Seville is the¬†undisputed center of Semana Santa activities in the country, which conclude today (April 2nd). Easter week here is one of the most austere and liturgical times of year – a stark contrast to the painted eggs and peep marshmallows of the U.S.

For the third year in a row, record heavy rains have somewhat halted the activities and slowed seasonal tourism – tourism the crisis-ridden country depends on more than ever. This has lent an even more somber air to the daily and nightly processions of local religious clubs carrying their various Virgins and saints on pillars on their backs, ducking and doing some pretty nifty knee work to lower them into and out of the cathedrals. In some places, women may participate and in others they cannot. Here in Seville, Antonio Banderas is known to make a regular appearance carrying the local Virgin, La Dolorosa.

Semana Santa practices vary. Some of the most extreme include public self flagellation in a town just outside of La Rioja. Or carrying a giant wooden cross tied to your back during the whole procession, practiced in a town just outside of Extremedura’s Jerez. In general, many of the procession walkers, who wear a costume that resembles that of the KKK (though there is no connection that I know of), go without shoes in the cold March weather during processions that can take place as late as 2 am. There has been some recent debate from the left about the Holy Week’s near complete occupation of public space during the processions, as many Spanish have come to see religion in an increasingly modern sense as a private rather than public matter.

Last week on Wednesday I woke up to the sounds of funerary music and drums as a 2 am procession went below my window, bringing together hundreds of people – some barefoot – in freezing weather.

One of the more upbeat processions is the last of the series reliving the final days of Jesus. It’s called El Encuentro and involves the meeting of a statue of Mary Magdalene and The Christ. The music is happier and the procession generally has a positive and even jovial tone. I have a friend from a pueblo in Extremadura who satisfied my curiosity to know what would happen, if ever, the procession dropped the famed dolls. He showed me this video of one such incident during El Encuentro in his village, here is the video below:

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They just get right back up. Carrying the broken statue who was now missing one arm. A memorable last meeting. Another cost incurred for the town to repair their Christ.

If you ever get the chance to make it to Seville during Easter Week, don’t miss it. The processions are strange, beautiful affairs that create a truly unique ambiance for the many who still believe and the even more who come out to spend a good time drinking and reveling. Also, the traditional Easter food, torrijas, abound and must be sampled to be believed.