The Point of it . . .

Sevilla Travel Blog

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How do I begin to convert 8 days of madness to words on a page conveying every colourful emotion I experienced? Semana Santa began as an idea in my head – a new Sevillano experience, another way to learn a little more of the culture of my adopted city. What transpired was the blossoming of an energy that took on a life of its own. I was under the spell of Semana Santa and could not break away from the magic of the pasos.

To make any sense of my experience I first have to go back to basics and explain the mechanics. From there I can embroider the experience around the words and hopefully give you a sense of the mysteries that I discovered along the way. As Semana Santa marks the beginning of spring, it is also a time for Sevillanos to get out their best summery clothes and enjoy the pervading smell of the azahar (orange blossoms) which is so delicious, I willed it to last much longer that the few weeks of early spring.

I am not sure of the exact date the first procession took place but a significant date in history seems to be 1521 when the Marqués de Tarifa returned to Spain from the Holy Land. He instigated the Via Crucis (Stations of the Cross) in Spain and perhaps this is when the first processions began. The processions (also known as pasos) take place over 8 days prior to Easter starting with Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday) and continuing until the Resurrection.

During these processions, enormous ‘pasos’ (like floats) are carried through the streets in Sevilla – anywhere up to 10 in a day. The routes are predetermined but every Paso ends up taking the final ‘official route’ down lovely Calle Sierpes, through the main Avenida de la Constitución to my favourite place, the Cathedral, and then returns to the church of origen.

There are normally two pasos (floats) per paso (complicated, I know); the first is always a scene from the traditional Easter story incorporating an image of Jesus (El Gran Poder). The final paso is always a beautiful statue of the Virgen Mary in mourning and is adorned with delicious bouquets of flowers, rows and rows of tall white candles, and covered with an intricately embroidered canopy.

As the days passed and I spoke to more and more locals, I learned about the subtle differences between each Virgen and garnered an understanding of why Sevillanos have a leaning towards a particular one. For example, the favourite, Virgen de Macarena is crying but on a certain angle you can almost distinguish a slight smile. When she passes, everyone calls out ‘Guapa, guapa’ (beautiful, beautiful) throwing rose petals over her.

The pasos are supported and carried by a team of 30-50 Castaleros – very strong Spanish men supporting the weight on the backs of their necks and shoulders. Each paso may have it’s own distinct ‘walking’ style and the synchronicity of the men creates a swaying of the paso, akin to walking. It is very eerie at times. I have seen some pasos swing side to side as if skipping in slow motion. Another common action is to ‘bow’ at the entrance to a Church or motion forward and back a few times before entering. The costaleros are hidden by a ground-length velvet cloth and the site of 50 pairs of soft black or white sandshoes shuffling along is freaky at times.

The statues themselves are religious works of art and some date back to the 17th Century. The wood sculptures and embroidered adornments are very delicate and for this reason, if there is the hint of rain, the paso will be cancelled. It has been known to bring some nazarenos and penitents to tears as they have prepared for Semana Santa a year in advance.

There are over 55 brotherhoods (or Cofradias) in Sevilla and each one has a paso. The Cofradias consist of thousands of members and each year a percentage of these will walk in the pasos, dressed in the traditional clothing of nazarenos/penitents (please, please please do not compare to KKK – it has absolutely nothing to do with that awful group).
A ground-length tunic or robe is worn and may be covered with a cape. The various colours and fabrics are dependent on the confradia. My favourites were the deep blue or green velvet ones! The antifaz is the hood worn by some members of the procession - penitents wear just the antifaz, while nazarenos carry long coloured candles and wear the antifaz and the capirote (the pointed or cone shaped hood symbolizing repentance and grief).

The penitents are nazarenos who are repenting their sins carrying one or more crosses over their shoulder. Some have up to 4 crosses depending on the amount of repenting, and many walk barefoot (or with only socks) through the streets. Bear in mind that many of the pasos take over 10 hours to complete the circuit from Church to Cathedral and back to church!

In the biggest of the Pasos (Macarena, Triana and Gran Poder), there are over 2000 Nazarenos, including children either walking alone or in prams pushed by adoring parents.
If you are standing in the same place, some pasos can take over an hour from the beginning to the end so you can imagine the chaos in the streets of Sevilla during Semana Santa. It is all good-humoured though and people have infinite patience and endurance.

Crossing streets involves a deal of friendly ‘permiso’ and smiling. You also have to choose a point in the paso when the nazarenos have stopped. Thankfully, this occurs frequently. Planning any trips in the centre of Sevilla involves a project plan and a very good booklet with all the maps, times and lengths of each paso.

I became a professional at planning my day by the end of the week. It would take me up to two hours every morning to plan the rest of the day. The first pasos leave around 4pm and the last ones continue through the night except for Thursday when a second set leave after midnight and finish around lunchtime the next day. Most of Sevilla stays up for Madrugá, incredibly dressed up to the nines. During the day on Thursday, many of the women wear the traditional mourning clothing of a simple black dress, enormous mantilla overlaid with a black lace shawl. The look so lovely and I was in awe of their commitment to wearing heels all day long.

Most Pasos are accompanied by wonderful marching bands – la marcha procesiónal – they influence the speed and the way the costaleros will walk or shuffle. (some Pasos are carried out in complete silence, especially those taking place through the might of Madrugá (Thursday).

The smells and sounds and tastes of Semana Santa are now etched in my mind along with a permanent smile every time I think of my experiences. The rich aromas of incense, azahar, and constantly burning candles. My favourite sounds; the haunting melodies of 40 beating drums, shuffling costaleros, the haunting saetas (a serenade sung by someone to the image of the Virgin), squeaking car tyres in the morning as they slip and slide on the layers of multi-coloured wax.
I have memories of the tiny babies lovingly dressed in the a miniature version of their confradia clothes, dummy in mouth and sometimes a tint basket of sweets for children watching the pasos.

As usual, there are traditional foods to be eaten during Semana Santa and the Torrijas (like toasted bread soaked in wine and honey, semi sweet white wine in the local bar, and bocadillos (bread rolls) wrapped in foil to eat while you wait for a paso.

I have over 1000 photos but none can compare to the memories etched in my soul - all of it; sights, sounds, smells, taste, touch and the most important of all – an enriched sense of belonging. Thankyou again Sevilla.
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photo by: JP-NED