In Spain, religious traditions are of great importance and this is especially true for Semana Santa [Holy Week]. Semana Santa is the last week of the Great Fast, the week immediately before Easter – from Palm Sunday until Easter Sunday. The festival dates back to the 16th century and pays homage to Jesus Christ’s last days before he was crucified. During the celebrations, Catholic religious brotherhoods, commonly associated with a specific church, organize penance processions on the streets throughout Spain. Thousands of people take part in the processions completely transforming the cities and towns.
Throughout the week, processions leave their churches and walk slowly on a set route with crowds lining the streets to witness it all. The processions are led by penitents, dressed in nazareno [penitential robe], which consist of a long tunic and a capirote, a conical headdress, which covers their faces. It is a haunting site because of the similarity to the robes worn by the Ku Klux Klan. However, the Spanish tradition has nothing in common with the American white supremacist hate group. Historically, the capriote was a means of humiliating those publicly punished by the Spanish Inquisition. From Medieval times, Catholic brotherhoods started to use them 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, walk barefoot or wear shackles and chains as penance. Some participants wear stylized historic uniforms in accordance with the concept of the parade. Whereas, some women are dressed in black and wearing mantillas [black lace veil] in mourning of the death of Jesus Christ. Usually, the processions are accompanied by marching bands or drum and trumpet groups playing solemn music. Occasionally, from a balcony along the route a singer joins in and sings a saeta dedicated to the float. Saetas are traditional religious songs best known for evoking mournful emotions.
The highlight of every procession are the pasos [floats] with sculptures that depict different scenes related to the Passion of Christ (events that happened in the final period of Jesus’s life) or the Sorrows of Virgin Mary (images of the Virgin showing grief for the torture and killing of her son). Usually, the brotherhoods have owned these elaborate floats for centuries. Some of the sculptures can be considered masterpieces of art and are religiously and culturally important to the local population. The floats are carried through the streets by costaleros [float bearers]. They consider it a great honor. Bearing in mind that the floats can weigh up to 5,000 kilograms and the procession can last for many hours, this is also a big challenge. While each Spanish city has its own unique Holy Week festival, the most elaborate celebrations are held in the region of Andalucía.