Instead of just bringing you a reader photo this week, I’m very excited to share with you An Out of the Way Place‘s very first guest post! Hopefully only the first in a long series to come, this post is brought to you by long time reader and friend Lilidh Kendrick, along with her friend and photographer Monika Rudžinskaitė (with captions by yours truly). Enjoy!
Holy Week in Sevilla
A year of study abroad is the perfect time to travel around, be spontaneous and have lots of unique experiences, or as they say in Spain ‘disfrutar de la vida’. I am currently spending a year studying in Salamanca in the north of Spain and, being an enthusiast of all things Spanish, I have made it my pursuit to explore every inch of this vibrant country and its many traditions (in between studying very, very hard, of course). With a week-long break from classes stretching ahead of me and no plans to return home this Easter, a couple of friends and I decided to do Easter the Spanish way – that is, without one single chocolate egg in sight. Everyone I asked seemed to be in agreement that Easter, or Semana Santa, in Seville is the one event that cannot be missed this time of year.
Easter in Spain could not be further from the bunny-worshiping, commercialized chocolate-fest that it has evolved into in the UK. In Spain, Semana Santa, is a festival steeped in religious tradition and people travel from the every corner of the world to witness and take part in the festivities.
Semana Santa processions take place all over the country, but the tradition of the processions was born in Andalusia, where religious fervour is perhaps at its highest. From Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, Semana Santa celebrations take over the Andalusian capital of Seville, where residents have been celebrating and commemorating the death of Jesus through religious devotion, art and music, in the same way since the 16th century. The processions are organized by various different religious brotherhoods and involve large pasos (floats) featuring scenes from the Passion, accompanied by thousands of members, known as Nazarenos, dressed in hooded robes of different colours. The figures are covered from head to toe with only little slits for their eyes and often walk bare foot through the city, a form of penance. With up to 50,000 of them filling the city, they can be quite sinister looking to outsiders.
Despite knowing a few basic facts about the celebration, we really weren’t prepared for we would be faced with. “Remember, the Andalusians are very dramatic”, I was warned by the rather more reserved northerners before setting off on my trip down south. And I can’t say they were wrong, it is impressive how seriously many of the Spaniards take the ritual. The processions, which they spend almost a whole year rehearsing and making the preparations for, are a union of mourning and celebration. Some are intense, silent and sobering with women sobbing as they watch the crying ‘Macarena’ pass by, while others embody the real spirit of fiesta with brass bands, bright costumes, drinking and general merriment. There was a surreal moment when my friends and I were awoken from our hostel beds at 5:30am, not by drunks returning to the hostel, but by the sounds of a very loud brass band blasting upbeat flamenco-style hymns outside of our window and hundreds of spectators passing by.
The processions start in the afternoon and go right on through the night, lasting up to fourteen hours before they reach their final destination, the cathedral. As we were leaving the hostel at 9.30 am to start our day of sight-seeing, the crowds were just dispersing and the bars were closing up – we were clearly on a different schedule. The fact that families had stayed out all night, even with babies, shows their real commitment to the tradition.
The processions snake through the narrow streets of Seville turning the city into a labyrinth, every corner we turned we seemed to stumble upon another cluster of people and a sea of pointed Nazareno hoods stretching back for as far as the eye can see. On a practical note, it is near impossible to make any plans as your route is sure to be interrupted. It took us an hour and a half to wind our way around the maze created by the processions to get to a restaurant which should have been a hop, skip and a jump away from our hostel. When we finally arrived it felt like finding an oasis in the middle of the desert, except our oasis was filled with wine, not water. We felt it was deserved.
But as long as you are prepared to just go with the flow and put up with the large crowds you will stumble upon some incredible scenes. The processions were especially beautiful at night; a sea of candles and incense filling air, the processions create a mesmerising and hauntingly surreal atmosphere.
Spending Easter in Seville, it is hard to lose sight of the real meaning of the holiday, but this doesn’t mean that you have to be religious to appreciate the spectacle. You will discover a very special and magical experience, whether you are there for spiritual reasons or – like me – just curious to explore new cultures.