Currently, I’m seated tranquila as I do some schoolwork and listen to the sounds of “GOOOOOOOOLLLLL” fill the air. It doesn’t matter that we aren’t watching the game in our apartment, Sevilla FC is playing Valencia, so half the town is watching anxiously. Spaniards love their fútbol. Today as a whole was very relaxing. It’s May Day (Labor day, day of the worker) so there was no class. My roommate and I went down by the river and sunbathed for most of the day (I stayed in the shade). But just a few weeks ago the environment was completely different – I’m referring to Semana Santa, or Holy Week, for which Seville is famous.
I was in London for the first half of Semana Santa, so I came back on Wednesday, where I had the luck of seeing a procession pass by my balcony. Everything in the city basically shuts down for the week, especially the second half. It would be hard for it not to. Basically, every hermandad, which is, from what I understand, some sort of religious fraternity, has a procession that leaves from their church and goes to the Cathedral and back. Every procession has as a focal point of pasos, or floats, which are contain religious images of Jesus and the Virgin Mary. Every procession also includes nazarenos, walking with a large candle and in their garb of long robes and pointed caps. I know in the US we have the misfortune of associating this clothing with the KKK, but I promise they have existed a lot longer here. There are also penitents who walk carrying large wooden crosses and sometimes going barefoot…all of this to show religious devotion. Some of the larger processions contain thousands of people. The procession that my roommate is in, because of its size and distance from the Cathedral, takes a 13 hour round trip. No wonder the city shuts down. Processions are also frequently accompanied by extra-devoted regular folk who decide, (voluntarily!) to walk behind the Virgin and accompany her on her journey. Also included frequently are people carrying incense and a band. Oh, and those super heavy floats? No wheels – there are dozens of people under those floats carrying them. Wow.
There are also a lot of traditions built around Semana Santa. For example, special desserts – notably torrijas, which I basically think of as a less eggy-tasting french toast. Bread is usually soaked in an egg mixture, milk, or wine, then fried and dipped in honey or cinnamon sugar. People usually can dress how they want, but people usually dress up more on Palm Sunday, and some of the classier women wear black and mantillas, a black lacy headdress thing, to mourn the death of Jesus. When a procession goes by, people on balconies that are feeling moved at seeing the Virgin and know how sing saetas, or songs of devotion, to the Virgin. This video isn’t mine, but it’s an example of a saeta. Semana Santa is also fun for Spanish children. Sometimes, the nazarenos carry candy. It’s also a common activity for the kids to take a little bit of aluminum foil, roll it into a ball, and ask candle-carrying nazarenos to drip wax on their aluminum foil. As more and more wax gets rolled onto the aluminum, it essential becomes a giant ball of wax. My friend said her host sisters still have their balls of wax they added to every year throughout their childhood. This saeta video is actually sung in a church, but it’s a lot easier to hear than the recordings of ones sung on the street.
Luckily, I arrived in time for the pinnacle of Semana Santa, viernes madrugada (viernes = friday, and madrugada is basically the word for the middle of the night-morning time, around 2-6AM) On viernes madrugada, several important processions leave for the Cathedral at 12 AM, so the devoted Sevillians usually leave their house to view the pasos at around 12:30 and get home at 1 or 2…the next afternoon. I went with my roommate and her boyfriend to view la Macarena, a really popular procession that our other roommate is a nazareno in. Around 2:30-3, we had seen the pasos and went to view another in another part of the city. The craziest part of this for me was that even at 3:00, 4:00, 5:00 in the morning, the city was ALIVE. Old people, children…the streets were full of life in the absolute middle of the night. At around 4:30 am, my friend Shannon and I had about had enough, so we walked through the center of the city on our way home and came across my favorite procession of the week, el Silencio. As the name implies, this procession has no band or any noise at all. For this reason, it was really impressive, and almost eerie to watch. Just thousands of nazarenos trooping through the streets and beautiful floats gliding on the shoulders of some really devoted Sevillanos. I got home and asleep at around 5:30am, and woke up the next day in time to see my roommate finally coming home.
The next few days, I went to view some more processions here and there. I’m really glad I got to see Semana Santa, although I am not religious and so I think a little of the magic was lost on me. Either way, it is a huge part of life here for a lot of the people in Seville and throughout Spain, and it was definitely something completely unique and steeped in tradition. Here’s a not-so-great video I took of the procession going by my balcony.