The sound of the rattling metal ball and chain is disturbingly lugubrious as the penitents walk barefoot on the cobbled streets of Ronda. The attentive public watches them in utter and complete silence.
I am on a trip to southern Spain, attending one of its most vivid traditions and most popular celebrations: the Semana Santa in Andalucia. Tonight is the night of “El Silencio”, probably the most impressive procession during the “Holy Week”.
Semana Santa is one of the most important celebrations in Andalucia, southern Spain. It is the annual commemoration of the “Passion of Christ” and every city has its own traditions.
The one in Ronda is my first one, but it definitely left a big impression on me! I can not help but being astonished by the motivation of the penitents! Some of them do it out of religious beliefs, other ones purely out of tradition!
The next day, I make my way to Sevilla, the motherhood of all processions and probably the most famous Semana Santa celebration! The city prepares itself for its most beautiful night, called “La Madruga’”, meaning “the early morning”. It becomes immediately clear why it is called like that: most of the processions only start between midnight and 3am and some of them contain more than 5000 nazarenos (penitents) !!
The inhabitants of Sevilla spend the evening and night waiting by the side of the road, eating and playing the occasional card game: it looks like a huge family night-out!
I find the wait long and tiring, but then finally, the pasos (big wooden sculptures representing Jesus or the Virgin Mary) arrive! People applaud and cry, while the music enhances the feeling of “suffering”. From the balconies people start singing “saetas”, religious hymns.
I get back to the hostel at 5.30am! Absolutely knackered from the waiting and battling with the crowds, but this must truly be one of the most impressive celebrations I’ve ever witnessed!
My third Semana Santa celebration is of a totally different kind. I arrive in Cartajima, the small mountain village where I volunteered at a boutique hotel a few weeks before. Upon my arrival I call Silvia, the cleaner. She is involved in the local womens’ organization and will show me how Easter is celebrated.
I start off helping the local women preparing ham, olives and cheese for the big party. Meanwhile, children and adolescents scare the whole village with firecrackers that explode when you least expect it! After that it’s off to the church, where a statue of baby Jesus is stripped and new clothes are put on for the occasion. Even if I’m not religious I feel truly honoured to participate in this community!
The next day is the BIG day, Easter. In Cartajima this means the day of “Las Cortesias”, where a statue of the Virgin Mary and Jesus finally reunite. But the most impressive thing is the explosion of Judas! Literally! People shut their doors and windows when fire-crackers are put onto a petrol-drenched puppet of Judas and after a loud bang, everything literally explodes!!
In the afternoon, the village square is filled with drinks, music and food and everyone comes together to chat, have fun and dance! What a fantastic way to celebrate Easter!
Have you been to the Semana Santa in Spain? Or anywhere else? Looking forward to your comments!