Religious traditions hold immense significance in Spain, and this is particularly evident during Semana Santa [Holy Week]. Semana Santa marks the final week of the Great Fast, occurring immediately before Easter, from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. Originating in the 16th century, this festival commemorates the final days of Jesus Christ before his crucifixion. To honor this occasion, Catholic religious brotherhoods, often affiliated with specific churches, arrange penance processions along the streets throughout Spain. The processions involve the participation of thousands of people, completely transforming the look and atmosphere of cities and towns.
Throughout the week, processions depart from their respective churches and proceed slowly along a designated route, attracting crowds of spectators lining the streets to witness it all. These processions are led by penitents, dressed in nazareno attire [penitential robe], which consist of a long tunic and a capirote, a conical headdress that obscures their faces. It may be a disconcerting sight due to its resemblance to the robes worn by the Ku Klux Klan; however, the Spanish tradition bears no commonality with the American white supremacist hate group. Historically, the capirote served as a means of publicly humiliating individuals who were punished by the Spanish Inquisition. Over time, Catholic brotherhoods adopted the capriote during Easter processions as a voluntary guise, symbolizing their repentance over past sins.
The nazarenos can also carry candles, torches, or wooden crosses, and in some cases, they may walk barefoot or wear shackles and chains as acts of penance. Some participants wear stylized historical uniforms in line with the parade’s theme, while women often dress in black and wear mantillas [black lace veil], as a sign of mourning for the death of Jesus Christ. Typically, the processions are accompanied by marching bands or groups playing solemn music on drums and trumpets. Occasionally, a singer from a balcony along the route joins in and performs a saeta dedicated to the float. Saetas are traditional religious songs renowned for evoking mournful emotions.
The highlights of every procession are the pasos [floats], adorned with sculptures depicting various scenes associated with the Passion of Christ (events that occurred during the final period of Jesus’s life) or the Sorrows of the Virgin Mary (images of the Virgin expressing grief over the torture and death of her son). Usually, these intricately crafted floats have been owned by the brotherhoods for centuries, with some sculptures considered artistic masterpieces and holding deep religious and cultural significance for the local community. The floats are carried through the streets by costaleros [float bearers], who consider it a great honor despite the tremendous challenge they face. Given that the floats can weigh up to 5,000 kilograms and the processions can last for hours, it is indeed a formidable task. While each Spanish city has its unique Holy Week festival, the most elaborate celebrations take place in the region of Andalucía.