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What you need to know about Holy Week in Spain

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Easter may make you think off chocolate, eggs and chicks, but in Spain expect extravagant processions, oversized crucifixes, dramatic religious depictions and ornate floats. On the Iberian Peninsula, Easter holds a special place in the psyche of Spaniards. Semana Santa or Holy Week, marks an important period in the year for both the religious and secular, upon attending one of the processions it won’t take long to see why…

When is Semana Santa?

Holy week takes place in the final week of Lent, with the festivities kick starting on Palm Sunday and continuing until Easter Monday.

What is Semana Santa?

Semana Santa in Spain is the annual catholic commemoration of the Passion of Jesus. The brotherhoods or cofradías take part in the ancient processions from their church to the city’s cathedral. Alongside the parades of nazarenos, music accompanies the processions, ranging from live marching bands, choral choirs and uniquely in Seville, spontaneous Saetas hailing from Andaluz folklore, all which create an indescribable atmosphere.

Customs & Traditions

The infamous conical tall hats are called a capirote. These hats date back to the medieval tradition and are worn with belted robes. Their origin is derived from the earliest days of the celebration of Semana Santa, capirotes would be reserved for people atoning their sins and their faces were covered to mask their identity of a sinner. Although they bear a striking resemblance to the Ku Klux Klan they have no connection. The women typically dress in black with a mantilla, or lace veil draped over their faces. The spectators also dress up in their finery.

Although characterised by its sombre mood Semana Santa is a national holiday and as with all festivities… Spain knows how to throw a good party, food and drink will be in plentiful supply. Torrijas are not to be missed, the traditional Semana Santa sweet snack, of bread which is soaked in milk and egg before being fried and served with sugar or honey. Other popular dishes include Hornazo, a meat pie filled with eggs, pork loin and chorizo, a local speciality in Salamanca. In Madrid a bartilillo, a fried empanada filled with creamy custard and in Catalonia a Mona de Pascua, a cake typically decorated with boiled eggs.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Where should you go?

Andalucía

The spectacle, drama and fervour cannot be found to be stronger in any other community than in Andalucía. Seville, the beating heart of the south, rich in history and tradition, holds a festival which dates back to the 16th century. The theatricality of the decadent floats pasos, of intense biblical scenes, makes it favourite for tourists. Throughout the entire week visitors descend upon the city to witness the 50,000 strong catholic procession.

Malaga is also renowned for their elaborate processional thrones dressed in gold, as well as the tradition of freeing a prisoner, which dates back to the reign of Charles III.

Castilla y Leon

If looking for an authentic experience, the autonomous community of Castilla y Leon is home to some of the oldest processions. Zamora holds one of the most traditional Semana Santa weeks and are known for their eerie Gregorian chants and choral pieces. Similar spectacles can be seen in the ancient university town of Salamanca or Valladolid.

Murcia

The City of Murcia was the birthplace of the famous religious sculptor Francisco Salzillo, who lived during the 18th century and made many of the floats, which are still used in the processions today.

Cartagena also has some of the most famous processions, due to their unusual nature of symbolising a rivalry between the two religious brotherhoods – the marrajos and the californios.

Wherever you decide to go, it is certain that you won’t be able to escape the religious fever that takes hold of the country. Watch as the Spaniards take to the street to watch elaborate re-enactments of the Passion and enjoy their time off from work with family and friends.

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