My experience of Spain’s Holy Week in Seville forged an indescribable connection for me to Andalucía
The sharp notes from a piccolo broke clearly through the spring night in Seville. At two in the morning, the procession was coming to an end, but there was something magical, almost stopping time as I stood on the bridge near the Parrish of San Bernardo. Someone was throwing rose petals from their balcony to shower the ornate figure of the Virgin and something in my mind clicked, etching this moment in my memory. I was a junior in college, studying abroad in Seville and I was also a trumpet player in the “Banda de Musica de la Cruz Roja” (The Red Cross Band of Seville.)
The Spain’s Holy Week in Andalucia is an unforgettable experience for anyone involved, but actually being part of the processions gave me an insider’s look at what Semana Santa is all about. The preparations for the Spain’s Holy Week processions begin long before Palm Sunday, with the “costaleros” (the men who carry the 1,400 kilo floats with intricate statues of the Virgin Mary, Christ and various scenes as complicated as the Last Supper). These men practice all year round carrying mock floats through their neighborhoods in the months leading up to the big event.
During Lent you can also find many churches and towns with “pregones,” where there is a sermon of sorts and then music played by a town band. The music consists mainly of marches that, to an American ear, sound extremely somber. However, once I saw the way the costaleros “danced” making the huge statues of the Virgin Mary and Christ on the cross seem to float and almost come alive as they moved to the beat, the marches seemed just right.
Each day of Spain’s Holy Week, starting on Palm Sunday, you will find processions making their way through the streets from their Parrish to the Cathedral in the center of the city and back again. These processions take hours to wind their way through the narrow serpentine streets of the center city. As the procession passes by, led by the “nazarenos” who are dressed in long robes with a pointed hood, followed by the ornate floats and the bands, crowds form along the sidewalks making it almost impossible to move at some points during the day.
Since the processions stretch for so many hours, it’s not uncommon for friends and family members to bring water or snacks to the Nazarenos and band members. At one point we actually took turns leaving the procession for a chance to have a quick sandwich and soda. In the bar (which, if you’ve ever been to Spain, you know that there are bars on every street), I saw several Costaleros, a few Nazarenos with their hoods off, and band members in their distinct uniforms. It was a surreal experience to see this in the same place that is normally filled with businessmen and friends having a mid-morning coffee or a slice of Spanish Omlette.
I think the most important thing I learned participating in Spain’s Holy Week was the importance these processions have. Far from being “only a show” the processions, which have, in recent years become a tourist attraction of sorts, continue to be deeply important to the members of the brotherhoods and the devout. I was inside the church when the call was made that a procession would be cancelled due to bad weather and I saw grown men and small boys cry at the news. I was in the streets, in the silent black of the night when the procession stopped and a man came out on his balcony to sing a “saeta,” a song of devotion to the Virgin.
My experience of Spain’s Holy Week in Seville forged an indescribable connection for me to Andalucía and these magical moments that seemed so frequent at the time. There were so many discoveries during that semester, but undoubtedly, what drew me back to Spain were the emotions I felt during that first Semana Santa, its preparations, and my time spent in the band.