I really didn’t know what to expect when Semana was on the horizon. After asking many of my Spanish friends about it, I received a wide variety of opinions for many different reasons. For some, it is a very significant week which they hold dearly to their heart, and for others its just another week in the year but consisting of more people, more ceremonies and more street parades where its impossible to get anywhere on time, due to huge crowds and closed roads. So after hearing both sides of the story I was no further forward gaining some insight of what I should expect.
However, as the first day of the week arrived I was greeted with a procession of music and locals dressed in religious clothing, marching right outside my window. This definitely set me up for what the rest of the week was going to be like and I was not complaining in the slightest. There were exactly 32 processions during the week, each one as spectacular as the other. All of these processions start at their local church and then make their way to the Cathedral for penitence.
The start date varies every year but it always takes place on the last week of Lent, which was the 20th – 27th this year. The first day – Palm Sunday – commences with the Borriqilla procession. On this day a procession of penance also takes place involving four other Brotherhoods, outside the Cathedral. The celebrations last until Easter Sunday when the whole city comes out to celebrate on last time. You can pick up an itinerary of the week at many bars and cafes so not to miss any of the celebrations.
There are many procession everyday of the week, most of which involve a paso – a huge decorative float, usually adorned with a large wooden statue of a religious figure such as Jesus or the Virgin Mary. The floats are carried on the shoulders of costaleros – porters – for long periods of time through the narrow winding streets of Granada. The head costalero – capataz – controls when the float should be set down. He signals this with a knocker at the front of the paso. The costaleros usually wear white and wear headdress which protect the nape of the neck from serious damage. After the parades you could see how badly bruised the costaleros neck’s were due to the insane weight that they were carrying. Its was very moving to see these people in a substantial amount of pain but despite this continuing to march, as an act of penance. The porters are hidden inside of the paso so it looks like its moving itself.
As well as the unforgettable bands, the procession is also made up of lots of people dressed in medieval religious attire called the nazareno. It consists of a cloak, a tunic and a capriote which is a cone shaped hood. Children and adults wear these and as they walk down the street to the slow music it looks very sinister.
If the pasos weren’t spectacular enough themselves, they are followed by a band of trumpets and drums playing exquisitely passionate music. When I was first subject to this music, I stood there in awe, completely bewildered that anything could sound so beautiful. The band, made up of trumpet and drum players, combined with the slow and monotonous steps of the parade create a very sombre atmosphere. I was undoubtedly moved to say the least and its one of the many elements of Semana Santa that really sticks in my memory.
One thing that I found very enjoyable about the week was how surprisingly involved I felt. I thought as a temporary resident in Granada that I would feel completely separate from the whole thing; not that I would be shunned by the rest of the Granadiños but I would unconsciously take a step back from the celebrations due to the fact that I had never experienced such a profound cultural festival before. But I felt completely integrated into the celebrations and the rest of the community. Not only did I feel involved in the celebrations on a mental level but also on a physical one too. It was not unusual to join the back of the procession as they walked through the streets; sometimes for fun, sometimes to get where you wanted to go, joining the slow march through small streets, enjoying the music as you go, rather than take an extremely long route to your destination. I must note that if you want to get anywhere on time during this week, leave 20 minutes early as there are sometimes up to three processions marching at the same time. There were occasions when I was trapped in the middle of the three and all I could do to pass the time was to go grab some churros – I know, I know, poor me.
I have never experienced a religious celebration on such a huge scale – yeah I am not going to count commercialised Christmas. I would highly recommend visiting Granada at this time of the year because it’s a great way to experience such a large part of the culture. I think because the week is such a personal event for everyone, the feeling of being in a different country, immersed in a different culture, is enhanced. You are not just sightseeing, observing the architecture and eating the food; you are experiencing the people that live there in very significant and personal time in their lives. Semana Santa was a such a memorable experience that revealed even more of Spain’s interesting and historical culture.