Easter, or Semana Santa for Spaniards, is the biggest religious celebration of the year. In a country that is predominantly Roman Catholic, all the pomp and ceremony of the Church is unleashed during Holy Week, providing visitors with one of the most extravagant celebrations to be seen anywhere in Europe. You won’t see anything like it even in Italy, home of the Vatican.
This public holiday is filled with theatrical and emotionally moving processions, even for those who don’t believe, including re-enactments of the Passion. These celebrations are accompanied by much eating and drinking, and there are a number of Spanish dishes that are specific to this period, many of them sweet delicacies.
Sevilla and Málaga are regarded as hosting the most elaborate processions. In these, ‘cofradías’, or ‘brotherhoods’, carry extremely heavy and ornate ‘pasos’ (floats) of Jesus and the Virgin Mary through streets lined with people. This tradition dates back to the Middle Ages, and it has survived the centuries more or less intact. The floats are adorned with flowers and candles, and are the focal point of the procession. Many Brotherhoods have owned and preserved their pasos for hundreds of years.
Some overseas visitors are perplexed by the costumes worn by members of the Brotherhoods, which cover them from head to toe. They also hark back to the medieval period and are only intended to signify that the wearers are penitents. The latter wear a high conical hat –a capirote—that covers their faces as a sign of atoning for sins, and the participants’ faces are covered so they may not be recognised as sinners by the crowds.
Music also plays a big part in the processions with several marching bands accompanying each one. In Málaga there is a tradition of including the city’s flamenco heritage, with the performance of the ‘saeta’. It is an unaccompanied song that is believed to date back to the 18th century. This guide explains the best processions to follow during Semana Santa in Málaga, and where they take place.
Many visitors flock from overseas to witness the spectacle of Easter in Spain, and no wonder, because there is nothing quite like it elsewhere.
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