Saturday, 29 April 2017

My Spanish Semana Santa: Easter in España

So I think it’s about time now I tell you about my Semana Santa experience in Spain. For those of you that don’t know, Semana Santa translates to “Holy Week” in English and is the Spanish Easter celebration.

As you can probably tell by its name, Semana Santa is celebrated very differently in Spain to the way the British celebrate it. It seems that in the UK, Easter has completely lost its original significance. Initially Easter was a Christian festival, a time to remember the Jesus’ crucifixion and celebrate his resurrection. Nowadays, this seems to have all been forgotten as people instead concentrate on the giving and receiving of chocolate Easter eggs. Shameful… (Don’t worry, I’m guilty of it too)

Throne-carrying at the Alhama procession on Good Friday
However, in Spain the religious significance of Easter still remains at the heart of the festivities. Staying here throughout Easter therefore gave me the opportunity to immerse myself in a foreign culture by celebrating in a completely different way.  And I have to say, I loved every minute!  

One of the huge thrones at the Lorca procession

Semana Santa started on Friday 7th April (Viernes de Dolores), and continued until Easter Sunday (Domingo de Resurrección) on 16th April. These 10 days were filled with a series of street processions, expositions, masses in church and general festivities. I went to four street processions in total, and even though each one shares certain characteristics, to my surprise they were all completely different.

Nazarenos carrying a throne in Alhama
They all consist of a parade through the streets, observed by residents. Each parade is made up of “pasos”, which is the name given to both the passing of one cofradía/hermandad (brotherhood) in a community, and the throne that they carry. Each paso is split up into sections: those that carry the paso throne, those that walk in line often carrying religious objects, and the band. Members of the paso are called “Nazarenos” and dress in coloured robes which indicate which paso or cofradía they belong to. They also wear cloaks, tall hats (called capirotes) with a rounded point, gloves, and sandals.

Nazareno of my first procession in Murcia
I’ve heard the rounded point of the hat has three meanings: to denote a rising toward the heavens, bringing the pertinence of the wearer closer to the heavens; to represent cone-shaped shrubs such as the ones planted in Spanish cemeteries to symbolically raise the dead towards the heavens; and to represent the Spanish huertas (orchards) during the springtime, in reference again to the shrub connotation. Some Nazarenos wear face coverings to avoid being identified and some opt to not wear shoes. The thrones that are carried by the Nazarenos are adorned with intricate details and flowers, and display biblical scenes or religious figures.

Jueves Santo procession in Murcia
The first procession I went to took place in Murcia on Jueves Santo (Holy Thursday), and was very solemn in comparison to the others. Nazarenos were dressed solely in black and walked extremely slow, and the music played by the band was quite melancholic. I could appreciate that participants of the parade took their part very seriously, which heavily impacted me as I felt a sense of holiness throughout my body – particularly as members spread a holy smell through the streets by swinging scented lanterns.

The boy dressed in white and red is swinging the scented lantern
whilst the girl next to him carries a thorn crown
and the Nazarenos behind carry a throne
On Viernes Santo (Good Friday), I went to two different processions. The first one took place in the morning in my little town of Alhama de Murcia. This time we didn’t go to watch the initial parade, but what’s called the Encuentro where all the different pasos come together after the parade presenting their thrones, whilst a special speech is broadcast through megaphones before each paso then begins another parade to display their thrones once more.

The Encuentro
This was much more optimistic, as each
cofradía lifted their throne in unison in time to the band playing cheerful music. I loved the thrones in this procession, particularly as the care taken to construct each one was so evident. I loved how on one of them stood a black-skinned Jesus, and on another the Jesus figure had real hair!

Carrying of the throne with the real-haired Jesus

Members of the paso colorido

Nazareno of the paso blanco
My favourite part of this parade was after the Encuentro though when they began to parade through the streets once more, as the Nazarenos handed out handfuls of sweets to the children in the audience which they had hidden inside their robes!

Spot those sweet-filled hands

The second procession of Viernes Santo I went to took place in the nearby town of Lorca and is becoming more and more famous as the years go by. If you fancy taking a look at the trailer from previous years, click the link here. It was made up of Nazarenos from each cofradía as normal, but also included horses and members wearing spectacular embroidered clocks called bordados hand-stitched with gold thread. Huge floats were presented which were jaw-droppingly impressive and supporters of each paso (blanco y azul) waved their pañuelos (hankies) shouting “viva el paso blanco/azul” (long live paso blanco/azul).

Pretty multi-coloured feathered head pieces
One of the magnificent floats, which transported
Roman God figures through the centre of the crowds

Horses and riders wearing bordados preparing
to perform stunts down the parade "runway"

p.s. don't judge my awful camera skills: moving targets
and broken phone camera are not a good combination
The final procession I watched was on Domingo de Resurrección in my town, which was packed full of residents dressed in their Sunday best and eager to get a good spot. By “good spot” I mean a place where you could see all of the magnificent thrones - which were even more packed full of the most beautiful flowers – dancing in time to the music played by the bands, the releasing of the dove and the uncovering of the Virgin Mary on one of the thrones to reveal her wearing a beautiful dress. It was another magnificent procession and you could really feel a sense of unity and happiness amongst the crowds and residents, especially when they shouted “¡viva Alhama y sus habitantes!” (long live Alhama and its residents!). *Link to the video of this perfect Easter Sunday celebration is here*
One of the amazing Easter Sunday thrones
I ended Easter Sunday allowing myself to indulge on biscuits and sweets which I had successfully given up for lent, and witnessing one beautiful red-skied sunset. And although I did somewhat miss the chocolate-oriented Easter celebrations I’m so useful at home, the way Easter is celebrated here is so much more than that, and I feel humbled to have been a part of it.

There’s plenty more I could talk about in this post regarding what else I’ve been up to these past few weeks, but through fear of boring you all to death (if you’re still reading, that is) I’ll save my other recent adventures for another post.

So until next time, or as the Spanish say ¡hasta luego!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...