After spending some time in Santiago, I boarded a plane and headed south for Sevilla (Seville, in English). Sevilla is located in the autonomous community of Andalucía.
Sevilla is one of my favorite cities in Spain. It hosts everything that a foreigner would consider quintessentially Spanish: flamenco, bull fighting, beautiful architecture, etc. It also boasts the 4th largest cathedral in the WORLD (you will see in the background of several photos below) which is registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with its Alcázar.
Additionally, it is famous for the number and size of processions during Semana Santa (Holy Week). Holy Week is the week leading up to Easter (Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday). With Spain being a predominantly Catholic country, nearly all businesses are shut down during this week (banks included). Many go on vacation, but nearly a million of Spaniards and foreigners flock to Sevilla for Semana Santa to catch all of action. It is famous for having the highest and most elaborate of processions. That many people can be extremely overwhelming, but fortunately, I had a friend-of-a-friend who helped lead me around Sevilla to see these processions. And remarkably, the city is extremely organized for these processions. Schedules are posted along buildings for each day of Semana Santa, indicating which procession will hit a certain intersection or plaza at a specific time. Some begin as early as 9 in the morning, and some go as late as 2 am.
I was not familiar with the traditions of these processions, so I had to do a little bit of research before arriving in Sevilla. There are multiple brotherhoods that manage these processions (upwards of 50 processions during the week). Each procession includes a large group of people, sometimes a marching band, and most importantly – a huge float that depicts a scene from the Easter story. Sometimes the float is followed by a float of Mary, but not always. Each procession begins from its brotherhood’s church. It snakes through the streets and plazas of Sevilla and then it ends by entering the Cathedral (Alcázar). Police and guardians begin making way in the street nearly an hour or more before the procession arrives, ensuring that observers are out of the way. Children align the street in hopes of collecting candies and wax from the candles that the nazareños hold. Nazareños are those dressed in capirotes (pointed hoods) and they hold candles and are sometimes barefoot. The color of their hood is different for each brotherhood. But nazareño is just one role within the procession. After the nazareños come the altar boys, then the float or paso, then the band (if present), then members or penitentes of the brotherhood that are making public penance by carrying a large cross. Sometimes the penitents are also barefoot.
So what is it like when a procession is coming? By checking the city’s schedule and talking with locals and police officers, one can figure out when and where the next procession will cross. And one can typically hear the drum beat of the band before actually seeing the arrival of the procession. A massive “Shhhhhhhh!” runs across the crowds of people and they become silent. And then the nazareños appear. And then the altar boys. And then the paso. OH, the paso. I can’t even describe to you how moving it is to see people carrying this extremely heavy float through thousands of people with such precision. It is immaculate. It goes from those thousands of people talking to utmost silence. I’m not Catholic, but I actually cried at the sight of my first procession. The scene was the crucifixion of Christ. And you wouldn’t believe how fast these pasos are moving. I would have both cameras out, ready to take photos. But once the paso is close enough to take photos, it is nearly gone. All that is left behind is the trail of incense engulfing the brass band.
As I mentioned, these floats are H-E-A-V-Y. So, of course, the people carrying them need a break every once in a while. The paso will pass through a plaza and then pause and lower. The carriers never exit from underneath the float, but sometimes you can see their bare feet sticking out from under the curtain. Then, you hear the leader call them to lift the float again. The float bobbles upward and a few “Olés” are shouted by the crowd and a roar of applause makes it way across the plaza.
Once the procession nears the Cathedral, one must have a ticket to sit in the reserved seating in order to see the procession enter the Cathedral…unless you climb up on the walls and watch from a distance. I eventually was asked to get down by a police officer, but my friend, Elike, was more discreet and was able to stay up for an entire paso.
Below are some professional videos taken by TeleSevilla. Keep in mind that these processions are broadcasted on national television. If you walk into any restaurant or bar during Semana Santa, I guarantee you that a procession will be on the tv. There are even commentators!
Professional Procession Video: El Señor de la Tres Caídas – I have photos this paso above.