Easter / Holy Week in Spain: A celebration to enjoy with the five senses
Easter or as called in Spain, The Holy Week, is an important religious celebration in Spain. The most popular events are those that are celebrated in Seville, Granada and Malaga. In fact, Easter or Holy Week is celebrated throughout all of Spain but Andalucía is where the Easter festivals and events are celebrated with most devotion, and Granada is together with Seville and Malaga where the Passion, Crucifixion and Glory of Christ are remembered by the Spanish people with heartbreaking passion and tears.
Easter in Seville
Unquestionably, Holy Week is Seville’s grand fiesta, unique in its aesthetic and spiritual intensity. In the days between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, nearly 60 brotherhoods take to the streets to re-enact the Passion of Christ. Although many of the brotherhoods were founded by people of note or ecclesiastic congregations, their origin dates back to the first guild meetings of the sixteenth century; hence the tradition of starting out at their own particular church to join a procession of penitence in which all districts and social groups are represented.
One of the salient features in Seville’s Holy Week is the involvement of the sevillanos themselves, either as part of the processions or as spectators, adopting a different attitude in accordance with the theme of the procession, with unfailing respect for the brotherhoods.
Seville’s brotherhoods are active all year round, holding solemn ceremonies of devotion to their respective images of Christ and the Virgin Mary. They also do a lot of charity and social work. In most cases, the brotherhoods have two pasos (huge, mobile altars borne on the penitents’ shoulders): one depicting Christ and the other, the Virgin, placed beneath a canopy. The procession makes its way along the streets of the city to Plaza de la Campana, where the “official itinerary” begins. Passing City Hall, the procession ends at the cathedral. So that everything runs smoothly, the brotherhoods must strictly abide by the times set by the General Board of Brotherhoods of Seville, the brotherhoods’ highest governing body.
Many of Seville’s Holy Week images are admired and revered beyond the bounds of the city. Instances which immediately come to mind are the Virgen de la Esperanza Macarena and Señor del Gran Poder. Their respective brotherhoods bear them along the streets in the procession held early in the morning on Good Friday. Moreover, some of the images worshipped by Seville’s brotherhoods are true works of art, born of the hands of artists like Martínez Montañés, Juan de Mesa, Ruiz Gijón, Bautista Vázquez el Viejo and Francisco de Ocampo.
Easter in Granada
Granada is an unbeatable place to visit due to its impressive scenario of historical streets and squares. The Historical Alhambra Moorish palace on a hill in the background and the very close high peaks of Sierra Nevada makes Easter and Holy Week in Granada an unique experience, especially when Granada celebrates the holy week with deep religious devotion.
Nowadays, there are thirty two fraternities that take out on the streets of Granada the best sculptures of the Spanish and Andalucian art of images. All these sculptures represent all the scenes of the suffering of Jesus and his mother the Virgin Mary. The “thrones” and images go out on the shoulders of the costaleros, bearers of the religious images during processions. They carry hundreds of kilos on their necks and spines that they protect with a cloth called acostal. The sight is a fundamental element in order to enjoy the scenery and details because of the difficult way through the narrow streets of Granada and the Albaicin, declared a World Heritage Site.
Easter / Holy Week changes its date every year and it is always celebrated between the 22nd March and the 25th April.
Probably, Holy Week is celebrated since the Reconquest. The more ancient brotherhoods are from the 16th and 19th centuries, although the real reappear occurs in 1926 until now, when we live it with the same grip and popular support from all the brotherhood members or brothers.
From the Palm Sunday until the Resurrection Sunday, Granada is full of people who want to see the strength of the religious images on the street. Visitors from all the parts of the world arrive to the city, that in these days has a special smell of wax and incense. But the city smells too of roast potatoes, codfish stews (typical from the Lent) and all the gastronomy that Granada gives through its famous tapas bars, that in this period offer the best of them.
The appointment is always every Palm Sunday at five in the evening. It is the beginning of the celebration where the people who march in single file with the procession, the penitents, dressed in blue and white colours, flood the streets. Every year, the streets seem to be more crowded if possible.
A custom starts the celebrations: the Major Brother of the last Passion brotherhood of the last year (Sta. Maria de la Alhambra) hands over the opening key to the first brotherhood of the present year in order to begin the penance season. At the end of the penance seasons, the Borriquilla brotherhood (this image has a small donkey) returns the key to the Brothers of Sta. Maria de la Alhambra. They will keep it until next year.
But every day there are significant moments in this special Holy Week of Granada. From Monday until Thursday, there are different routes that show us a fervent Albaicin and a unique enclave. However, the Wednesday the Cristo de los Gitanos procession (Christ of the Gypsies) takes place, when the ascent to the Sacromonte surrounded by bonfires and saetas (devotional songs sung in Holy Week in Andalusia) makes this procession spectacular, exceptional and touching. On the Sacromonte hills, when the Christ passes, immense bonfires are lighted between the caves, homes and dwellings of the Gypsies. In this places can be found the zambras (parties with flamenco singing and dance). It is a unique mixture of religious fervour and folklore in the world, having as a witness the Alhambra.
The Holy Friday is very special because of the processions that pass though the Realejo (ancient Jewish area) but it is the Saturday when only one procession takes place in Granada: Santa Maria de la Alhambra.
The exclusiveness of this procession shows its importance in the city. The image is the Virgin of the Angustias, the main character of the Saturday becuase she is the patron saint of Granada. The Virgin is on a silver throne that reproduces the galleries of the Patio of Lions from the Alhambra and the Lord descended from the Cross.
Going up to the Alhambra hill and accompanying the image until the descent to the city is a tradition.
It is an eye-catching moment and a light spectacle due to when the image goes out through the Alhambra door, sparklers are lighted and thousands of rose petals are thrown. The return to the Alhambra is unforgettable. It is made through the Cuesta de Gomérez, a steep slope, where the Granadian people join forces.
Knowing Granada in Holy Week is a unique opportunity to meet the art and live the special environment of a city that is celebrating an event with centuries of tradition.