Semana Santa Sevilla
Monday March 13, 2023 | Spanish Culture | Posted by studyspanishinspain
You are lucky if you are in Spain to learn Spanish in Sevilla in March or April because you will be at the most famous destination to celebrate Semana Santa or Holy Week worldwide! Semana Santa is one of Spain’s most important religious festivals – especially in Sevilla. This week-long celebration culminates on Easter Sunday and is a time for reflection, prayer, and processions. Seville is known for having some of the most elaborate and beautiful processions during Holy Week, attracting thousands of visitors worldwide.
Background of Holy Week in Seville
The roots of Holy Week can be traced back to medieval Spain, when Catholicism was the dominant religion. Holy Week is a time to commemorate the final days of Jesus Christ’s life, including his crucifixion and resurrection. In Seville, the tradition of Holy Week has been celebrated for over 400 years and has become an integral part of the city’s culture and identity. The city’s Catholic population takes great pride in its traditions and has made the processions a focal point of the celebration. During Holy Week, Seville’s streets are full of thousands of people who come to witness the processions and participate in the festivities. When learning Spanish in Sevilla it’s certainly something you cannot miss!
What to see and do during Holy Week in Seville?
The processions are the main attraction during Holy Week in Seville. There are more than 60 processions throughout the week, each led by different “hermandades” or brotherhoods. The processions are made up of floats or “pasos,” with scenes from the Passion of Christ, carried through the streets of Sevilla by the members of the brotherhood dressed in traditional robes and hoods (“capirotes”). The “nazarenos” or penitents who walk in the processions are one of the most striking aspects of the processions. Nazarenos are usually men who represent penitents seeking forgiveness for their sins. Each brotherhood has its own distinctive robe and hood, which can vary in color and design, but are often very ornate and include embroidered symbols and religious images.
The processions can be seen throughout Seville, but there are certain streets that are particularly popular. If you want to see the processions, you need a bit of planning and to arrive early. The streets get incredible crowded. Calle Sierpes, Calle Tetuan, and Avenida de la Constitucion (near the cathedral and the Spanish school in Sevilla) are some of the best streets to see the processions.
Avda de la Consitution is wide and lined with beautiful buildings, making it the perfect backdrop for the elaborate floats. Other good spots are the Plaza del Triunfo, but also Plaza del Salvador, and the Puente de Isabel II (towards Triana). The locals know exactly where to see their favorite procession, from what bar, what street corner, and more specifically, from what balcony. Make sure you ask them.
Apart from the processions, many other cultural events occur during Holy Week in Seville. The city’s museums and art galleries host special exhibitions and concerts, and other performances throughout the week. In addition, many restaurants in Sevilla offer special menus during Holy Week, featuring traditional dishes such as torrijas, a type of bread pudding, and potaje, a hearty stew made with chickpeas and cod.
Traditions of Holy Week in Seville
The traditions of Holy Week in Seville are deeply rooted in the city’s Catholic heritage. The brotherhoods, or “hermandades,” are central to the celebrations. These groups have been a part of Seville’s religious life for centuries and are responsible for organizing the processions and other events during Holy Week.
Each brotherhood has its own distinctive robe and hood, which are worn during the processions. The robes are often decorated with intricate embroidery and can be pretty elaborate. The hoods or “capirotes” worn by the ‘nazarenos’ are pointed and often have eye holes cut out. The hoods symbolize the penitents’ humility and willingness to sacrifice for their faith.
Another important tradition during Holy Week in Seville are the “saetas”. A saeta is a religious song that is sung during the processions. The saetas are often sung spontaneously and express the singer’s devotion to Christ.
What are nazarenos and why the hoods?
The nazarenos represent penitents who seek forgiveness for their sins and express their devotion to Christ. They walk in the procession in silence, often barefoot, carrying candles or crosses, and are accompanied by religious music and the sound of drummers. One of the most striking elements of the nazarenos’ appearance is their hoods, or “capirotes.” The pointed hoods cover the head and often have eye holes cut out. They are usually black or white but can also be other colors depending on the brotherhood. The hoods symbolize the penitent’s humility and anonymity, as they are supposed to be focused on their spiritual journey and not seek attention or recognition.
Another vital element of the ‘nazarenos’ appearance – when not barefoot – are their shoes, or “esparto sandals.” These are simple, flat sandals made from esparto grass, a traditional material in Andalusia. The sandals are worn to symbolize the penitent’s humility and to remind them of the suffering of Christ, who walked to his crucifixion in bare feet.
Another typical characteristic of the Nazarenos is that they often distribute candy to children who line the streets to watch the processions. There are different explanations for why the Nazarenos give candy to children during Semana Santa in Seville. One explanation is that the candy represents the sweetness of the gospel and the joy of the resurrection. Another explanation is that the candy is a way for the Nazarenos to create a connection with the community and to show kindness to children.
Whatever the reason may be, the tradition of distributing candy during Semana Santa processions in Seville has become a beloved custom that is enjoyed by both locals and visitors alike.
The nazarenos play a central role in the processions during Semana Santa in Seville, during the processions that last for hours; the nazarenos must maintain their solemnity and focus throughout the procession. For many people in Seville, being a nazareno is a lifelong commitment and a significant expression of their faith. The brotherhoods are a central part of the city’s cultural and religious heritage, and the nazarenos’ appearance in the processions is a powerful reminder of the importance of spiritual devotion and humility. For visitors to Seville during Semana Santa, seeing the nazarenos is a unique and unforgettable experience, providing a unique insight into this vibrant cultural tradition.
Study Spanish in Sevilla and immerse in local culture
Holy Week in Seville is a unique and fascinating cultural experience that people of all faiths can enjoy. The processions are genuinely spectacular, and the city comes alive with energy and excitement during this week-long celebration. For foreigners, it’s an opportunity to witness a deeply ingrained tradition and to learn more about.
Tip: There is an app on app store or Google Play called “Paso a Paso” where you can see the program of the different processions.
Semana Santa brings a whole new set of Spanish words with it, typical Spanish words used that are only used during Semana Santa in Sevilla.
Antifaz – a ‘hood’ worn by almost every member of procession.
Capirote – a Cone-shaped hood worn by the nazarenos that symbolizes grief
Capataz – Person who is in charge of the costaleros and who gives directions to carry the paso throughout the streets of Sevilla
Costaleros – people that carry the paso through the streets of Sevilla
Canasto – a wooden structure with the statue of Christ (or the Virgen)
Caramelitos – sweet candies the nazarenos carry with them to give to the children
Cirio – the big long candle that the nazarenos carry with them
Costalero – Person below the canasta that carries the paso.
Entrada – The entrance of a procession from a church; the end of the procession.
Faja – Wide belt worn by the costaleros to protect their back while carrying the paso.
Hermandad – Synonym of cofradía or brotherhood. This is a group of people that belongs to the same church and they organize religious events
Hermano – Member of the hermandad
Mantilla – Long piece of lace that women wear on Maundy Thursday and sometimes on Good Friday.
Nazareno – Member of the brotherhood dressing in a robe, cone shaped hood (to hide his or her identity), and a cape. The colors of robes and hoods is different in each brotherhood
Paso – Float with Christ (and other sculptures) representing scenes of the Bible. It’s the wooden structure carried by costaleros.
Penitente – A member of the procesión who repents of his sins by carrying a cross over his shoulder. Penitentes are easily recognizable because they are dressed like nazarenos but without the capirote. Some can carry up to four crosses and lots walk barefoot.
Procesión – Procession or parade organized by brotherhood.
Saeta – A serenade sung by a person (usually on a balcony) to the image of Jesus Christ or the Virgin Mary.
Salida – The exit of a procession from a church, marking the start
Torrija – Slice of bread prepared with milk, eggs, honey and then fried on a pan. Torrija is a typical Spanish Semana Santa dessert. There are also also other particular dishes (e.g. pestiños).
Túnica – Tunic or robe worn by the nazareno.
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