Friday, 13 March 2015

Caminos de Pasión: Semana Santa in small-town Andalucía

Being from a country where traditional festivals have all but died out or become so commercialized they bear no resemblance to the original event, Spain's fiestas fascinate me. It's no secret I'm a fan of feria, and I'll attend any saint's day going (although you won't catch me running with any bulls or getting involved in a tomato fight any time soon). However, until 2014 I hadn't really engaged with one of the country's biggest events: Semana Santa.

A paso begins its journey in Carmona

Easter is taken much more seriously in Spain than in the UK, with its supermarket shelves of chocolate eggs distributed by the Easter Bunny. Semana Santa (Holy Week) retains a strong religious link, with towns and cities around the country (notably in Andalucía, Toledo, Valladolid and Zamora) hosting processions of pasos (huge wood and metal platforms) topped with biblical figures, often intricately adorned and bedecked with candles. As someone who isn't remotely religious, I was never quite sure about Semana Santa: what would it mean to me?

In 2014, Caminos de Pasión invited me to experience Semana Santa in the eight Andalucian towns that make up its route: Alcalá la Real, Baena, Cabra, Carmona, Lucena, Osuna, Priego de Córdoba and Puente Genil. These small towns provided a unique insight into Semana Santa: the cultural and traditional implications; the way the festival weaves itself into the fabric of local life. Through meeting members of cofradías of all ages, both men and women, I learned that Holy Week is more than a religious ceremony. It's an event of huge cultural significance, a social opportunity, a shared experience that has the ability to unite a community, even if just for a few days.

Starting young: Nazarenas in Priego

In the Caminos de Pasión towns, it's also much more fun than I had imagined. Yes, there's pomp and ceremony; there are solemn moments such as the poignantly silent night-time processions. However, there's also a riot of colour, notably so in Baena with its red-blazered drummers in their feather-topped helmets, and noise – the characteristically Spanish soundtrack of chatter overlayed with the blast of a marching band. Add in high emotions and a high calorie count from traditional Easter dulces such as honey-soaked torrijas and pastry flores and you have a sensory feast.

Flores: A Spanish Easter treat

In this article for Flush the Fashion, I explain more about Semana Santa and its traditions, as well as the experience of visiting the Caminos de Pasión towns. Here's an extract to whet your appetite:

The heady waft of incense hits you first. Then you notice the relative hush settle over the expectant crowd. Next, it’s the distant bang of the drums and the strident notes of the brass band starting up. The guiding cross and its bearer step into view. The procession is beginning.

No matter where in Spain you find yourself during Semana Santa, or Holy Week, this will be how most processions start. A tradition observed mainly in the southern region of Andalucía and certain pockets around the country (including Valladolid and Zamora), processions during Easter week involve members of local brotherhoods carrying ornate figurines of Jesus, the Virgin Mary and sometimes other saints and biblical characters around the town’s official route. If this sounds deeply dull or irrelevant to all but the most devout, throw in crowds of hundreds (or even thousands), from newborns to the elderly; a marching band or two; rich cultural traditions, and above all some Spanish passion, and it may start to sound more inspiring. And if that doesn’t move you, maybe the night-time fiestas that often accompany Semana Santa celebrations might.

You can read the rest of the article and see more photos here.

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  1. I am so curious about experiencing my first semana santa in Spain this year!!

    1. I'm sure you'll love it! Whereabouts will you be?


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