Semana Santa: How Sevilla turns into a life-size passion

All throughout the year, “hermandades”- brotherhoods of each Parrish, prepare for the most important religious week of the year, Semana Santa. The streets, usually populated by cars and motorcycles turn into paths for beautiful images to pass through, accompanied by penitents and bands. Semana Santa is a week-long event which has a tradition for each day, and I was very lucky to be able to experience it. Below is a break down of each day of Semana Santa I was able to experience.

Viernes and Sábado de Dolores/ Friday and Saturday before Palm Sunday:

A poster informing people of the Besamanos at a Parrish by my house

During the days leading up to the processions (Friday and Saturday before Palm Sunday), “Hermandades” expose their images in an area of the church where people can go in and look at them. On the Friday before Palm Sunday there is a tradition called “besa manos y besa pies” which consists of kissing either the feet or the hands of the images as a sign of respect. As a Catholic, I wasn’t surprised when our professor told us about this tradition, because many Catholics around the world practice the “Veneration of the cross” on Good Friday, where people kiss a wooden cross during the service as a sign of respect.

Here you can see a man actually doing the kissing of the hand

The lines for the besa manos were extremely long, and I quickly learned that people from all around Sevilla, and the neighboring towns come to participate in this tradition. As I stood in line I was amazed by the smell of incense, which every church has burning and it’s a sign that Semana Santa has started. I walked around a couple of churches looking at the pasos that are getting ready to process around Sevilla in a couple of days, and I was amazed by the beauty and detail of the images. Semana Santa not only brings people in Sevilla together during this week but is also a tradition which has allowed for many jobs to keep afloat. Sculptors, painters, embroiderers, goldsmiths, wouldn’t be able to practice their art if it wasn’t for Semana Santa.

After a long day of walking around some of the churches, I finished my day trying some of the traditional sweets of Semana Santa, torrijas, a kind of French toast bathed in honey; and pestiños, a deep-fried piece of dough glazed with honey. Torrijas were my personal favorites, but pestiños were delicious too.

Domingo de ramos/Palm Sunday

On Palm Sunday, my host dad (Juan Carlos), host sister (Lola), Catherine (a SMC woman who stayed with my host family 5 years ago and is working in Sevilla for the semester), and me left our house bright and early to go visit more churches and continue the “besa manos”. The lines in the churches weren’t any shorter than they have been on the days leading up to Sunday, and since the first procession started on this day many more people had arrived to Sevilla. As we walked around I noticed that everyone was very dressed up, men were wearing suits and ties, and women were wearing dresses, skirts, heels, etc. Juan Carlos told me that there is a long tradition of wearing something new on Palm Sunday “en Domingo de Ramos, quien no estrena, no tiene manos”, which loosely translates to “whoever doesn’t wear something new on Palm Sunday, doesn’t have hands”… so it was a good thing that I had a new shirt to wear.

Left to right:Me, Juan Carlos, Lola, and Catherine

It was really nice to walk around the churches with my host dad, because not only was I able to go to churches I had no idea existed, but he is also a very smart and knowledgeable man, so it was incredible to hear all the history and meaning behind some of the churches and images. I lived Sunday as a true Sevillana… After hours of walking around, we went to mass and after eating lunch prepared to head to the first procession of the week.

At around 4 o’clock we headed to my host mom’s parent’s house, who live on the street where all of the pasos go through. As the processions started going by I was amazed not only at the images that were going by but also by the way they were moving. Costaleros, the brothers who carry these “pasos” go underneath the “paso” carrying all of the weigh of it on their necks… I had seen them practicing on the streets some weeks before Semana Santa but I did not expect it to look the way it did. Since the “costaleros” are under the “paso” and a cloth covers the side of the Paso, in this way people can’t see the “costaleros” and they can’t see the people or streets, there is a man at the front or back who guides them and tells them where to turn, where to stop, etc. The way these “pasos” are carried makes it look as if the image is floating, and it is an incredible sight. Before the image comes by, “Nazarenos” walk in front of it holding long candles. For us Americans, the sight of “Nazarenos” is usually a scary one, since one of the most horrible groups in America wears similar outfits to them… Nazarenos have no relations with the KKK, and instead are brothers and sisters of the brotherhood who accompany the “Paso” for hours (some at least 12 hours), as they walk the streets of Sevilla. They wear these outfits in order to “hide” who they are, since being a penitent isn’t supposed to be a public act for others to admire, but instead, an act that is supposed to be a humbling and personal experience.

The last supper


On Monday through Wednesday processions continued in Sevilla, but I took a trip to Barcelona so I wasn’t able to see the any of the pasos those days.

Jueves Santo/ Holy Thursday

Women wearing mantillas

On Thursday people are in mourning. Women wear “mantillas” which are a kind of Spanish veil that is only worn in special events; while men wear dark suits. The processions continue this day, but unfortunately, it was a rainy day in Sevilla… It literally never rains here, but 4 of the brotherhoods weren’t able to take their pasos to the streets because of the rain. While the rain passed we decided to walk around some of the churches that were supposed to go out that Thursday so we could see the images, while hoping that the rain would go away. At around 7 o’clock the rain stopped and the last 3 brotherhoods of the day were able to process through the streets. The pasos were absolutely amazing, and we were able to see someone do a “saeta”- a song dedicated to the image that someone sings either as the “paso” is leaving or entering the church.

If you listen closely you’ll be able to hear the Saeta

Madruga’ & Viernes Santo/ Dawn & Good Friday

This day was probably the longest day of my life. On Friday there are 2 sets of processions, the first one starts at midnight and goes through the morning/afternoon of Friday, and the second one starts in the afternoon and goes until late at night… I started my morning watching “El Gran Poder” from the balcony of my apartment at 6 in the morning, and after that left to go find the rest of the “pasos”. Despite the fact that it was exhausting it was beautiful to see some of the most famous pasos of the week such as “La Macarena”, which has a 13-hour long procession… I got back home around 2 pm for lunch, and after a well-deserved nap went out to try to see the afternoon “pasos”. Unfortunately, like every other Good Friday it started to rain, and this time it did not stop… so again, we walked to one of the churches to see the images, and even though we got soaking wet, the image was absolutely beautiful, so it was definitely worth it.

Sábado Santo/ Holy Saturday

And you guessed it… More pasos!! However, my friends and I took it easier this day and watched the pasos from one place only instead of going all over the city finding them…

Domingo de resurrección/ Easter Sunday

After going to mass with some of my friends, we headed to see the last procession of the week. On Easter Sunday there is only one “paso” that goes through the city, the hermandad of La Resurrección, which has an image of Jesus resurrected, as well as the Blessed Virgin Mary that accompanies every “paso”.

El resucitado

Despite Semana Santa being an exhausting week I was so glad I was able to experience one, if not THE MOST beautiful Holy Week in the world. The work that everyone puts into making these processions not only a form of art, but also a way to spread their faith amazed me. Sevillians love their Semana Santa, and are so proud of it; and the love and effort that they put into it definitely makes it an incredible experience worth it of seeing.

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