Semana Santa in Seville

A 16th-century paso approaches during a Semana Santa procession.

When my parents came to visit for spring break, we traveled to Seville to watch the renowned processions during Semana Santa (Holy Week) from Palm Sunday to Easter, and to meet up with local friends from Andalusia who knew the best spots (familiar only to natives) to enjoy the culture and tastiest local cuisine.

Enjoying Seville with friends from Andalusia.

Only during Semana Santa, Spaniards eat a special sweet treat called Torrijas, which somewhat resembles french toast and can be found throughout Spain in bakeries and restaurants. Each region has their own twist on this classic. Prior to leaving Madrid, my family and I attended a torrijas cooking class where we learned how to make this fried snack of milk-soaked bread dipped in egg and covered in sugar and cinnamon. Although torrijas are eaten cold, and we ate many in Seville, I prefer eating them immediately after being fried to savor the warm custard-like interior.

Learning how to make torrijas.

One word can be used to describe Semana Santa in Spain: processions - a tradition that started 500 years ago.  In Seville, many churches organize processions (mini-parades) that consists of: hooded members of their congregation, a band, two ornate pasos (floats) one depicting a scene of the passion of Jesus Christ and the other with the church's statue of the Virgin Mary. Each enormous pasos is adorned with candles and flowers and elaborate gold and silver decor.  These pasos weigh about two tons and are carryed from below by 30 to 40 costaleros, who walk for miles bearing the weight on their necks and shoulders.

From Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, people (believers and non-believers) try to view as many processions as possible. Depending on their route, each procession lasts from 6 to 12 hours. At one point, they all enter one side of the Cathedral of Seville and exit the opposite door, so if you hang around the Cathedral, you are certain to see them. Fortunately, there is a schedule that allowed us to view one procession and then quickly walk to another part of town to catch another. A few times we were a bit lost, but we only had to follow the drums and music to find the closest procession.

Madrugada refers to the night between Holy Thursday and Good Friday, when some of the largest processions are held, including La Macarena (same name as the dance), which consists of 2,900 participants and lasts from midnight Thursday until 1:00 pm Friday. We watched this procession at 4:30 am and were amoung thousands of people who stayed up all night. 

On Holy Thursday, the processions and the crowds were somber and many spectators wore black. Some Sevillanas (women from Seville) wear a head covering consisting of a peina, tall tortoiseshell combs draped with a mantilla, a beautiful, intricate lace veil. At the urging of Andalusian friends, I, along with my mother and sister, joined in and wore a mantilla. Walking around the streets and watching processions wearing a mantilla made me feel like a local, especially when tourists took photos of us!

Dressed in a traditional mantilla for Holy Thursday.

Watching an ornate gold paso go by.

There is only one procession on Easter Sunday - the resurrection procession, and it was beautiful. The music was festive and jubilant and abundant flowers adorned the pasos. The warm sun shined as we walked through the city and soaked in our last picturesque views of Seville. Easter Sunday also marks the start of the bullfighting season in Seville, and we joined the crowds of locals to parktake in this popular event. This sold-out event was unlike any other I've attended and the spectators were the most dressed up that I've seen at a bullfight. Easter joy seemed to follow us to every part of this beautiful city of Seville.

Outside the Plaza del Toros before the bullfight.

In the midst of a Sevillian celebration.


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