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Entertainment & Culture

Holy Week


The Semana Santa (Holy Week), like any other religious, cultural and sociological event, is in no means an ephemeral occurrence. The background of street processions resulted from the institutionalization of the Vía Crucis (Way of the Cross), which was introduced in 1521 by the Marqués de Tarifa (Marquis Don Fadrique Enríques de Ribera) upon returning from the Holy Land. From that date onwards it is tradition to celebrate annually this holy day; the different stages are divided by using portable Crosses and Altars.

Legislation emanated from the Council of Trent along with the prohibition of certain passional ceremonies, fostering the regulation that suppressed the proliferation of acts and solemn gatherings of that period.

In 1604 guidelines were set to secure greater vigilance, something which obliged all processions to follow a determined route: processions from Seville would pass by the Cathedral, while those departing from the Triana neighborhood, through Santana Plaza.
From the 17th C onwards the cofradías (Lay Brotherhoods) began to resemble the present model, until then grouped according to guilds, social class or racial minorities residing in the city (Golden Age).

During the 18th C due to social conflicts, the cofradías experienced minor declines of action, which was later resolved by introducing new social elements such as the first groups of lay brotherhood organizations in specific neighbourhoods.

In the 19th C and with the expressed interest of the Dukes of Montpensier, the cofradías began to receive more support. This created a domino effect as groups of bourgeois and merchants began to get involved for the first time. In the second half of the century the present model of Holy Week was crystallized, offering a universally recognized manifestation, a complex popular celebration which unites devotion and an aesthetic outlook.


Essential Vocabulary

Antifaz:(Masks, veils): Pieces of cloth that cover the head and face of the Nazarene penitents, opened with two slits at eye level. They preserve the identity of the brothers.

Armao: Macarena's brother dressed up as a Roman legionary who strolls behind the Jesús de la Sentencia float (the Christ figure pertaining to the Macarena brotherhood).

Bulla: Huge crowds of people who congregate alongside the religious floats and in specific areas following the routes of the brotherhood groups.

Capataz: (Overseers): men who are situated in front of the floats guiding the steps of the costaleros (team who transport the huge floats on their shoulders); overseeing the success of these monumental floats make way through the winding streets of Seville.

Capirote: pieces of cardboard that Nazarenes wear on head, under hooded robe. No nicknames such as capirucho or cucurucho (conehead) are accepted.
Carrera oficial: (official route): only itinerary in which all processions coincide: starting in the Plaza de la Campana, passing by the City Hall and ending up at the Cathedral. The only way to view the brotherhoods following this route is by renting strategically placed chairs.

Centuria: (Centurion) armed soldiers, proud protectors of the Macarena. Well worth observing them as they parade by. It is no easy task belonging to this group of guards.

Cirial: (Processional candles): tall candles carried by altar boys who from a distant bring joy and relief to crowds who've been waiting impatiently; announcers of the final arrival of a float.

Costaleros: men who carry the religious floats. In ancient times they were carried by dock-workers or masons who were hired for this event. Nowadays most costaleros are members of brotherhoods who even pay a quota to participate.

Cruz de guía: (Guiding cross) which opens the procession flanked by two Nazarenes carrying lanterns.

Esparto: type of wide skirt made of esparto grass worn often by Nazarenes on top of their robes.
Hermano mayor: (Head brother) in charge of brotherhood of Nazarenes, chosen democratically. Often carries a golden post during the procession.

Incensario: (Censer) ceremonial brass container with top and chains, in which incense is burned.

Levantá: moment in which the capataz rings a bell indicating the lifting of the floats. Depending on the type/size of the float, this movement is made in one gesture or slowly.

Llamador: metal bell, located on the front of the float which the capataz rings with a small hammer, indicating the lifting or putting down of the float. Some are examples of extraordinary craftsmanship.

Madrugá: the night/dawn between Holy Thursday and Good Friday during which time the Pasión de Jesús (Christ's Passion) occurs; the most intense moment of the Holy Week.

Mantilla: (Lace mantilla) piece of embroidered cloth used with a large ornate comb is traditionally used my women of Seville the afternoon of Holy Thursday and to a lesser extent on the morning of Good Friday; defining the traditional female.

Marcha: (March) musical composition that accompanies most of the routes of the floats, many of which are of beautiful pieces and of enormous musical quality. Examples include works such as: Amargura, Virgen del Valle or Jesús de las Penas.

Mecer: (Swaying) peculiar movement made by costaleros in rhythm to the music. Accompanied by others who sway the lanterns, dressed in cloaks; all together provide a splendorous spectacle.

Nazareno: (Nazarenes) brotherhood members who make up the processional entourage and who carry candles or insignias are dressed in tunics, capes and masked.

Palcos: (Stands) tiers set up in Plaza de San Francisco, adjacent to the City Hall and considered the most "noble" section of the Official Route (Carrera Oficial). These terrace seats are not rented on a daily fee and can take years to reserve.
Palio: cloth canopies that cover a framework of poles which support the religious floats, acting as a roof protecting the statue of the Virgin. Many are authentic works of art, embroidery and craftsmanship.

Paso: (Religious Floats and Sculptures) group of images and statues carried on these stages. They can be scenes of Christ, Jesus, the Virgin Mary or a series of sculptures representing a specific scene of the Passion, know as misterio (mystery).

Penitente: (Penitent) brotherhood members of the processional entourage who carry wooden crosses, dressed in tunics and masked. Unlike the Nazarenes, they do not wear a cape.

Recogida: (Retreating) path taken by cofradías from the Cathedral back to their temples.

Saeta: (Flamenco style song) brief flamenco ballad usually sung from a balcony. The lyrics are an emotional praise to the respective effigies and statues.
Trabajadera: large wooden beams that the costaleros use to carry the floats.

Varal: (Metal poles) twelve vertical poles that support the canopies framework of the floats. These beautifully decorated crafted pieces characteristically represent the slight movement of the floats carried by the costaleros


La Bulla

As sited in the Holy Week vocabulary list above, bulla refers to the agglomeration of people, who in this case gather round the processions, or the surrounding streets. The increase in crowds experienced during Holy Week in Seville has made this an inseparable phenomenon in this city. Locals and foreign visitors gather in closely knit masses in and around almost all of the brotherhoods. Nonetheless, la bulla reaches it highest levels of density in certain places. They include those highlighted places of a procession, especially during the departure and return of the floats. Also, in the surroundings of the Official Route, the Plaza del Duque y la Campana, or at the ending site, the Plaza de la Virgen de los Reyes, at the edge of the Cathedral.

During a complete route, from the time in which they leave until they return, the brotherhoods and their processions that spark the most popular devotion are: la Macarena, el Señor del Gran Poder and la Esperanza de Triana. According to experts, la bulla differs from common crowds in that during this phenomenon certain norms of behaviour are maintained. Usually, during the crowds of Holy Week people breathe a certain ambience of behaviour, understood amongst all, while rejecting any abrupt or selfish attitudes. Everyone in Seville complains about la bulla, but in the end accept that this is precisely just part of the spectacle; a sea of people where the processions appear to sail.

Holy Week nowadays would be incomprehensible without masses of people who gather to stage this event.However, fluid as it is, la bulla, can reach certain levels of high density in which it is difficult to enjoy the event. Thus it makes sense to attempt to avoid these obstructions.Advise on how to navigate through la "bulla"There is no danger being caught in such crowds. Some people who aren't familiar with this phenomenon may feel overwhelmed or in danger when stuck in one of these agglomerations and may get very nervous. Not to worry, as there is no recollection of anything significant ever happening in a bulla during Holy Week.

Refraining and good manners are an efficient safe-conduct if one is caught in one of these jams. Also, people in Seville during such a situation tend to be more tolerant with foreigners than with their fellow countrymen (and women).Just the same it is best to avoid going the opposite direction and of course never cross through areas where there are large crowds (especially when a procession approaches).

If ever found trapped in such a situation, most times its best to just hold on and be patient and wait until the crowd thins. If one wishes to catch a procession as it exits or enters a church, or along a narrow street or small plaza which is hard to access, try at least to get there with enough time.Of course, if you're with children its best to watch a cofradía in open spaces, places with less crowds, allowing for the little ones to make the front row without any danger (soon they'll be imitating the local children by chanting, "nazareno, dame un caramelo!" (Nazarene, toss me a candy!).


Strolling through Seville

During Holy Week the whole concept of time and space throughout the city are radically modified. The urban geography of the old town is transformed; pedestrians once again own the city. Up until the early dawn you’ll find people in the street. Hundreds of thousands of people wander mainly through the old quarters in search of one or another procession. Thus, already many parts of the old town are considered a labyrinth; now add the possibility of coming across a brotherhood entourage which has just crossed our path, or the fact that the Official Route has actually divided most of the old city into two.

Finally, all of this comes down to strolling through parts of Seville that one rarely visits, including the locals, thus provoking many a “discovery”.


Advise on getting around Seville (on foot) during Holy Week

During Holy Week, the shortest distance between two points is almost never a straight line. If in your path a procession crosses, in most cases you're better off going round it than trying to cross through it.

The Official Route divides the city into two parts, however there are a few passages which are very well organized by the Municipal Police, allowing one to move freely from one side to the other.

Walking around in a group larger than six can be very uncomfortable, among other reasons, because the risk of someone getting mislead is high. Spending the afternoon looking for someone is not the most enjoyable way to spend Holy Week.
Always ask people from Seville. Most will know how to advise you with good judgement on where to go and how to get there.


Bits of advise

In order to witness these points at a close range requires a certain skill for people who are inexperienced. Losing oneself in the labyrinth of streets in Seville's old town is not difficult, not even for the locals. On the other hand, holding out by standing for the duration of a procession is not always a good idea. Some processions can take up to an hour and a half to pass through completely (from the sign of the guiding cross until the band which accompanied the float), sometimes even longer. An experience such as this can leave one's kidneys (and feet) numb for the rest of the day. Of course one can always rent a chair along some portion of the Official Route.

Before setting out for a day of observing processions, draw up a basic map of what you'd like to see and where. Use this guideline to later coordinate what you believe is most convenient.

Don't become obsessed with seeing everything. Accept that this is impossible to begin with, not only with the time permitted during the Holy Week, but considered throughout the lifetime of dedicated local. A good motto to go by: quality above quantity.


La Madrugá

Good Friday at dawn (popularly known as la Madrugá) is considered the culminating moment of the Holy Week. The Christian liturgy calls for the commemoration of the tragic hours of the Passion of Jesus, which lasts from the Last Supper (night of Holy Thursday) up until the Crucifixion (around three pm on Good Friday).

Advise on catching la Madrugá

Wear comfortable clothing, especially shoes. Be prepared to experience cold weather during the early hours of dawn. Although it may appear strange, stopping to rest during the break of dawn can have devastating effects; sleepiness can take over. It's best without doubt to have a coffee in some bar (all bars are open that night) and continue ahead as long as you can. At the end, a hot chocolate with churros (fritters) before heading home isn't a bad idea at all.


The program

Palm Sunday:

La Borriquita. Parroquia del Salvador. Plaza del Salvador s/n
Jesús Despojado. Capilla de Molviedro. Plaza del Molviedro s/n
La Paz. Parroquia de San Sebastián. c/ San Salvador s/n
La Cena. Iglesia de los Terceros. Plaza Ponce de León, 10
La Hiniesta. Parroquia de San Julián. c/ San Julián, 2
San Roque. Parroquia de San Roque. c/ Virgen de Gracia y Esperanza s/n
La Estrella. Capilla de la Estrella. C/ San Jacinto, 41
La Amargura. Iglesia de San Juan de la Palma. c/ Feria, 2
El Amor. Parroquia del Salvador. Plaza del Salvador s/n

Lunes Santo (Holy Monday):

El Beso de Judas. Iglesia de Santiago Apóstol. Plaza Jesús de la Redención s/n
Santa Genoveva. Parroquia de Santa Genoveva. Avda. de Los Teatinos, 69
Santa Marta. Parroquia de San Andrés. Plaza de San Andrés s/n
San Gonzalo. Parroquia de San Gonzalo. c/ Nuestra Señora de la Salud s/n
Veracruz. Capilla del Dulce Nombre de Jesús. c/ Jesús de la Veracruz s/n
Las Penas de San Vicente. Parroquia de San Vicente. c/ Miguel Cid, 2
Las Aguas. Capilla del Dos de Mayo. Plaza del Dos de Mayo s/n
El Museo. Capilla del Museo. Plaza del Museo, 9

Martes Santo (Holy Tuesday):

El Cerro. Parroquia de Ntra. Sra. de los Dolores. c/ Afán de Ribera, 122
Los Javieres. Parroquia de Omnium Sanctorum. c/ Peris Mencheta, 24
San Esteban. Iglesia de San Esteban. c/ Cristo del Buen Viaje, 10
Los Estudiantes. Capilla de la Universidad. c/ San Fernando s/n
San Benito. Parroquia de San Benito. c/ San Benito, 4
La Candelaria. Parroquia de San Nicolás. c/ Muñoz y Pabón, 21
Jesús ante Anás (La Bofetá). Parroquia de San Lorenzo. Plaza de San Lorenzo, 13
Santa Cruz. Parroquia de Santa Cruz. c/ Mateos Gago s/n

Miércoles Santo (Holy Wednesday):

La Sed. Parroquia de la Concepción. c/ Cristo de la Sed s/n
San Bernardo. Parroquia de San Bernardo. c/ Santo Rey, 13
El Buen Fin. Convento de San Antonio de Papua. c/ Cristo del Buen Fín, 8
La Lanzada. Iglesia de San Martín. Plaza de San Martín s/n
El Baratillo. Capilla del Baratillo. c/ Adriano, 13
Cristo de Burgos. Parroquia de San Pedro. c/ Doña María Coronel, 1
Las Siete Palabras. Iglesia de la Misericordia. Plaza de Zurbarán s/n
Los Panaderos. Capilla de San Andrés. c/ Orfila s/n

Jueves Santo (Holy Thursday):

Los Negritos. Capilla de los Ángeles. c/ Recaredo, 19
La Exaltación (Los Caballos). Iglesia de Santa Catalina. c/ Alhóndiga, 6
Las Cigarreras. Capilla de la Fábrica de Tabacos. c/ Juan Sebastián Elcano, 7
Montesión. Capilla de Montesino. c/ Feria, 29
Quinta Angustia. Parroquia de la Magdalena. c/ San Pablo, 1
El Valle. Iglesia de la Anunciación. c/ Laraña s/n
Pasión. Iglesia del Salvador. Plaza del Salvador s/n

Viernes Santo (Good Friday (Dawn)):

El Silencio. Iglesia de San Antonio Abad. c/ Alfonso XII, 3
Jesús del Gran Poder. Basílica del Gran Poder. Plaza de San Lorenzo, 13
La Macarena. Basílica de la Macarena. c/ Bécquer, 1-3
El Calvario. Parroquia de la Magdalena. c/ San Pablo, 1
Esperanza de Triana. Capilla de los Marineros. c/ Pureza, 53
Los Gitanos. Iglesia del Valle. c/ Verónica s/n

Viernes Santo (Tarde):

La Carretería. Capilla de la Carretería. c/ Varflora, 15
La Soledad. Convento de San Buenaventura. c/ Carlos Cañal, 15
El Cachorro. Capilla del Patrocinio. c/ Castilla, 162
La O. Parroquia de la O. c/ Castilla s/n
San Isidoro. Parroquia de San Isidoro. c/ Luchana s/n
Montserrat. Capilla de Montserrat. c/ Cristo del Calvario, 1
Sagrada Mortaja. Capilla del ex Convento de la Paz. c/ Bustos Tavera, 13

Sábado Santo (Good Friday (Afternoon)):

Los Servitas. Capilla Ntra. Sra. de los Dolores. Plaza de Santa Isabel, 1
La Trinidad. Iglesia de la Trinidad. c/ María Auxiliadora, 18
Santo Entierro. Convento de San Gregorio. c/ Alfonso XII, 14
Soledad de San Lorenzo. Parroquia de San Lorenzo. Plaza de San

Domingo de Resurrección (Easter Sunday):

La Resurrección. Iglesia de Santa Marina. c/ San Luis, 31

The program is always the same. All processions take place every year on the same day. Each procession leaves it's church and follows an established route. However all of them must pass by what the locals call, the official route (Carrera Oficial), which starts in la Campana Plaza, and ends with the departure of the procession which exits the Cathedral through the Puerta de Palos door. Once this float has left the Cathedral, each procession returns to its own church along a different route than the one that they started on. Along the "official route" there are chairs and stages set up in order to see the processions. To acquire a seat one must contact the Consejo Superior de Hermandades y Cofradías (Procession Superior Council).

Superior Council of Hermandades and Cofradías (Lay Brotherhoods - Processions)
c/ San Gregorio, 26
Tel: 954215927
Check website for prices of balconies and seats.