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Legionnaires carry El Cristo de Mena in Malaga. SUR
Semana Santa in Andalucía: distinct traditions and rivalry
Semana Santa 2024

Semana Santa in Andalucía: distinct traditions and rivalry

Ornate processions over Easter are a symbol of the region and there are a surprising number of differences depending on where you are

Tony Bryant

Malaga

Friday, 22 March 2024, 13:00

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Holy Week is the largest and perhaps the most eagerly awaited event of the year in southern Spain. Over this religious holiday period the streets are filled with hundreds of thousands who flock to watch the scenes of the Passion paraded through the streets morning, noon and night.

Roads are shut, public transport is thrown into chaos and the shortest of journeys will take forever to complete as a seemingly never-ending parade of penitents accompanied by blaring trumpets, pounding drums and crashing cymbals signals the arrival of the iconic images of Christ and the Virgin Mary.

'Semana Santa', as it is known, is one of the most magical times to be in Andalucía because it demonstrates the utterly baroque nature of its traditions and its people.

To a newcomer, this display of grandeur can look fairly similar wherever they are. But, in fact there are important differences in these rituals across the eight provincial capital cities of the region that give each place its own extravagant flavour.

Penitents and pasos

Between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday up to 12 processions can be in the streets of the main cities at the same time. The actual processions vary little in their make-up, although the names of the various aspects that make up the spectacle are different in Malaga from those of Seville.

The rows of draped attendees wearing the pointed hoods originally used by the Inquisition are known as Nazarenos in Seville, whereas in the rest of Andalucía they are known as Penitentes (penitents).

The 'pasos' (floats), as the ones in places like Seville and Cordoba are known, are smaller in order to manoeuvre the narrow streets around the cathedrals; while the tronos, the huge floats in Malaga and Jaén for example, are carried by up to two hundred people.

In Malaga, as in other cities like Granada, the bearers (portadores), are visible, whereas in Seville, Cordoba and Cadiz, the costaleros, as they are known in these provinces, generally cannot be seen, as they carry the floats from underneath the platform.

One of the most spectacular moments in Malaga is on the morning of Maundy Thursday: El Desembarco de la Legión, the disembarkment of Legionnaires in the port of Malaga, and the subsequent transfer of El Cristo de Mena, also known as the 'Christ of the good death', to the church from where the procession itself will begin later that evening. The image of the crucified Christ is carried from the port horizontally by the soldiers.

Flamenco and Gypsy tradition

Jerez de la Frontera stands out as being one of the most important in Andalucía in terms of the quality of its carvings. Being one of the main cradles of flamenco, Jerez is also celebrated for its ancient saetas, religious mantas based on the siguiriya, one of the oldest, unaccompanied flamenco styles.

Of course, all of the processions that take to the streets of the main cities are an incredible sight, and although much rivalry exists, they are all spectacular in their own right.

The Gypsy processions in cities like Seville, Cadiz and Malaga are quite a spectacle, as these are more joyous and colourful. Along with the singing of the sombre saetas, the spectators dance and sing flamenco, mainly bulerías, to the images as they pass.

The floats have a certain route and timetable to which they must adhere, but the Gypsies are normally too busy enjoying themselves to worry about a planned schedule, resulting in the confraternities being fined for not adhering to the time allowed for the route.

Debate and rivalry

Semana Santa is a time for much debating and discussion in bars, cafes and shops, and the excitement created about aspects such as the Virgin wearing a new gown, as is the case with La Trianera (Seville) this year, will generate much interest among the devout.

While there has long been an altercation between Seville and Malaga regarding the superiority of their images and their processions, there has also been a similar rivalry between the different districts of individual provinces.

This is especially true in the neighbourhoods of Triana and La Macarena in Seville, whose images of the Virgin are probably the city's most admired. The faithful devotees will fiercely defend their images at any cost, often claiming their Virgin to be the most beautiful and the most striking, their gowns the most stunning and the floats the most magnificent, and this is one topic which rouses much emotion.

The emotion generated will depend on factors that most foreigners fail to perceive entirely. The way the floats are decorated, and carried, the gown that the Virgin is wearing, even the route that she takes, will all be of great significance.

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