Getting Stuck in to Semana Santa

| April 4, 2012

“If you want to get anywhere during Semana Santa, whatever you do avoid the centre”.

This was easier said than done. During my time living in Granada, in the south of Spain, I was lucky enough to have a flat slap bang in the middle of the city, my balcony doors opening out onto the beautiful square next to the magnificent Cathedral of the Incarnation. Avoiding the centre was not an option for me, and besides, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

Nazarenos, Semana Santa

Nazarenos. Credit Flickr: pasotraspaso

A few days into Semana Santa, or Holy Week, one of the biggest annual events in Spain, I was starting to become accustomed to the somewhat strange sight of the endless processions marching solemnly through the streets of Granada. The Cathedral was the end point for every procession and the funereal music accompanying each one had become a permanent fixture, floating in through the open windows, a melancholy soundtrack to the week.

So far I had not experienced the gridlock in the centre that I had been warned about. Feeling a bit peckish I set off to the shop around the corner, a journey which would normally take about seven minutes, there and back…

A procession passes by

A procession passes by. Credit Flickr: Viajar24h.com

Having made it to the shop without too much difficulty, it was getting home that posed bigger problems. Weaving through the crowds of people I saw a paso coming towards me. A sort of float, it looked like a miniature temple housing a shrine to the Virgin Mary. Hoisted into the air by thirty or forty men, it was moving very slowly along the street, carried by the tiny shuffling steps of the men bearing its weight, the costaleros. Apart from the sight of their shoes edging along, they were invisible, silently struggling under the huge weight of the paso.

Step by step

Step by Step. Credit Flickr: pasotraspaso

On the opposite side of the crowd a woman was sobbing, tears rolling down her cheeks as she watched the Virgin Mary pass.

I turned down a side street in an attempt to find another route and was confronted by a troupe of nazarenos, or penitents. Following a different paso, this one with a figure of Jesus adorning it, the sinister looking figures draped in long purple robes with tall pointed hoods were marching slowly in the direction of the Cathedral. I stood and watched as they passed by while trying to calculate another route in my head.

Nazarenos

Nazarenos. Credit Flickr: Ángelgrubio

Setting off in another direction, I was halted by yet another procession, the nazarenos dressed in orange this time. Some carried candles which reached down to the floor, others bore crosses, their eyes barely visible through the small holes cut out in their hoods. The only thing that made them look human was the occasional glimpse of a scruffy trainer poking out from under a robe.

Behind the nazarenos came a succession of women all wearing the traditional mantilla, a lace or silk scarf draped over a high comb falling down over the back and shoulders. Keeping to the slow beat of the solemn music, they were also making their way to the Cathedral.

Traditional Mantilla

Traditional Mantilla. Credit Flickr: Alaskan Dude

From every direction processions were making their way to the Cathedral, the square I lived in was surrounded and there was no getting through.

It’s all very well saying “avoid the centre” during Semana Santa, but what do you do if you live there? Having run out of alternative routes, I gave in to the crowds and propped myself up against a wall, watching procession after procession make their way past. I’d only popped out to get some crisps; two and a half hours later the 50 metres to my front door still seemed miles away. But this didn’t seem to matter as I took in what was going on around me; the overwhelming sense of tradition, the extravagance and the beauty of Semana Santa far outweighed any inconvenience to my journey.

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Category: Events & Seasonal Celebrations

About the Author ()

A born and bred Londoner, she recently graduated from the University of Sussex with a degree in French and Spanish and has a slightly unusual passion for all things grammatical. She fell in love with Spain after having lived and studied in Granada for a year and after a few dabbling’s with travel she is eager to explore more of the world.

Comments (3)

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  1. Will Jones says:

    Love this post, Ellie – those hoods are pretty creepy!

  2. EmmaSparks says:

    Did these go on into the night? I hope you got some sleep… So interesting! Will have to visit Spain one Easter, but I’ll stay on the outskirts. :P

  3. Emily Waller says:

    Great post Ellie! I think I would have been a bit overwhelmed by it all especially those pointed hoods on mass…