Holy Week in Andalucia is one of the most extraordinary events in the cultural calendar. Deep-rooted in tradition, both social and religious, the processions that take place throughout the region are well worth including on your holiday to Spain.
The largest and most spectacular processions take place in Seville and Malaga. Seville is most famous for its ‘Madrugá’ procession with the Macarena and Triana virgins who appear in the small hours of the morning. In Malaga, it’s the procession led by the Legionnaire soldiers (complete with their goat mascot) who take centre stage.
But all towns and villages, whatever their size, celebrate Easter with processions. You’ll often find that these smaller, less elaborate events give you the chance to soak up the atmosphere without the crowds in the larger cities. Probably the best place to see all this in the Axarquia region is in Nerja where the pretty, narrow streets add even more mystique to the occasion.
An Easter Procession Guide
For the uninitiated a Spanish Easter procession can be a confusing affair raising plenty of questions. It’s always better to know a little about what you will see prior to the event so this guide will help give you a general idea of who is who and what is what in a typical Andalucian Easter procession:
- Brass band: The local band accompanies the procession and plays most of the time. The music is usually slow and solemn except on Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday when it’s more upbeat to match the happier occasion.
- Brotherhoods: Local religious associations who own and look after the statues and floats that make up the main part of the procession. It’s considered a great honour to belong to one of the brotherhoods (most towns have several) and membership is traditionally passed down the family.
- Floats: Called tronos or pasos in Spanish (literally thrones), there are usually two floats in each procession (one with a statue of Christ and the other of his mother in mourning, the Virgin Mary). The floats are decorated with hundreds of flowers and candles that surround the statue centrepiece.
Each float is massive and weighs several tonnes. Members of the brotherhood (known as costaleros) stand at each side of the float and walk along supporting it on their shoulders. The weight and effort involved in this means they can usually walk no more than a few paces before having to rest, the reason why processions last hours. Some bearers walk blindfold and/or barefoot.
- Nazarenos: Men, women and children dressed in dark robes (usually black or purple) parade in front of the floats and they usually carry a candle or lantern. They also wear a long pointed hat that covers their face and has just two slits for their eyes. (It’s believed that the Ku Klux Klan adopted this outfit after seeing it during Easter in Spain.) On Easter Sunday, nazarenos dress in green, red or white.
- Penitents: Men and women dressed in black (the women usually wear a black lace mantilla) and carrying lighted candles and rosaries, walk in front of or behind the float. Those doing actual penitence walk barefoot or even crawl along on their knees.
- Saeta: This is an improvised song, part of the flamenco cante hondo (deep song) genre, in honour of the statues. It’s sung by an onlooker when the floats get to certain points in the itinerary and forms one of the most moving parts of the procession.
This year Easter week falls between 28th March and 5th of April. The key processions include:
Palm Sunday (30th March): A joyful celebration involving floats with statues of Christ on a donkey, this procession is joined by children and families who carry typical palm decorations.
Easter Monday-Thursday (30th March – 2nd April): Mournful processions that increase in solemnity as they approach the small hours of Good Friday. Many that take place on the Thursday evening are silent except for the occasional saeta.
Easter Sunday (5th April): In stark contrast, this is a happy event with upbeat music and church bells. Floats depict the Resurrection of Christ.
Reproduced with kind permission of Explore Nerja.