Processions and saetas. Here are 15 things you should know about Holy Week in Andalucia
The Holy Week holidays are very important for many believers and is when Andalusia starts to smell of incense, the trumpet and drum band rehearsals multiply so they can give their best on their big week and endless Brotherhoods finish up their preparations to carry out their longed for Easter Week processions with much honour and reflection. This is when Andalusia truly has a special colour. In these lands, the history of Holy Week is experienced in a very particular and intense way, since it is only here that you can enjoy the emotion of the traditional Seville madrugá, experience the passion of El Cautivo, the “Lord” of Málaga, enjoy the joy and the revelry behind the Christ of the Gypsies during his passage through Merced Square in the city of Malaga or bear witness to the solemnity of Good Friday. When you watch these Easter Week processions, you will discover carved images of great artistic wealth that are carried through the streets amidst the candlelight, the colourful tunics of the penitents and the music of the trumpet and drum band.
This Holy Week, enjoy the thrill of being “your best self” and share your emotions to the sound of a heartfelt snare drum.
The Roots of Andalusia Holy Week
Along with Christmas, Holy Week is the most important celebration of the year for Catholics. Its origin dates back more than 2,000 years to the death and resurrection of the Messiah. During the course of this celebration, numerous religious acts are carried out, although the most important dates of this festivity are without a doubt the Easter Triduum, which is celebrated from the evening of Maundy Thursday to dawn on Easter Sunday. This is because three historic events take place during this period of time: Maundy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper and the Eucharist; Good Friday commemorates the passion of Christ; and Holy Saturday commemorates the resurrection of Christ.
1. The images on the streets
The main attraction of Holy Week in Spain is the procession. The images kept by the churches during the year are taken out on a tour, mounted on beautiful floats and accompanied by beautiful floral embellishments. Images of Virgins, Christ, crucifixions or Nazarenos, among others, represent the Passion and death of Jesus of Nazareth. The procession is accompanied by a procession around the streets and all the people come together to watch it and pray. If you are passionate about art, you cannot miss this religious expression which features sculptures by the best Spanish carvers as well as an excellent example of metalwork.
2. ‘Mantilla’ women
One of the most widely-seen figures in Holy Week is that of women who wear mantillas during the procession, a traditional Spanish veil which is most-often used on the days of the Passion of Christ to show mourning and pain. A black dress, a sign of respect, is accompanied by a mantilla of the same colour. It consists of a kind of high comb called a peineta which is covered with a lace veil. The beauty of this dress is one of the reasons why you cannot miss Holy Week.
Nazarenos are adherents of different religious brotherhoods that accompany their images in procession. Their outfit is none other than a robe and cape accompanied by a capirote, a type of conical hat that, in most cases, covers the face. Also known as penitents, they are responsible walking in front of the images holding candles and incense. They are one of the symbols of Holy Week, so you won’t be able to ignore them.
4. The saeta
Undoubtedly one of the most significant cultural events of Holy Week is the singing of saetas to images that are being paraded. This is a type of traditional religious singing which takes place during these days of Passion and resembles flamenco. The saetero has to have a strong and powerful voice which is filled with emotion as it is sung without musical accompaniment and is aimed towards the image. The throne stops or slows down during the saeta. Do not miss this cultural event if you come during Holy Week, especially in Andalucia as it is one of the most exciting moments of each procession.
5. Wax and the smell of incense
One of the features which tell us that we are in Holy Week in Spain is the smell of incense and wax residue on the streets. Smaller children especially enjoy this time of year because, during the procession, it is very common to see children walking behind the Nazarenos collecting the falling melted wax, pushing it into large balls. A tender image that accompanies each procession.
6. The bands
Every float and procession includes its own musical accompaniment. Throughout the year, bands rehearse the traditional Holy Week melodies giving them a sad sound. Trumpets and drums are the instruments most commonly used. This is very important for all of the processions except those known as “silent”. On those, you will only hear the Nazarenos‘ footsteps and the noise of moving floats. They are very solemn processions which demand great respect.
Processions are not the only cultural and religious event that takes place during Holy Week. There are Andalusian and Castilian people who act out the Passion and death of Christ. Some are dressed as Romans and others as Jews in the streets, and they act out different episodes of this religious history. The arrest, trial, scourging, the carrying of the cross and the crucifixion are some of the biblical episodes that take in the street scene.
8. The candle
Churches also have an important role within the Spanish Holy Week, especially on Holy Thursday night. This is the moment when it “the candle” is lit for the Lord. This is a special wake where the faithful accompany the image of Christ overnight in the temple. During this time there is silence, interrupted only slightly by the murmur of prayers.
9. The vigil
The Spanish Holy Week is accompanied by another series of demonstrations and religious customs. One is that of the “vigil”, which consists of abstaining from eating meat on Good Friday as a sign of respect for the death of Jesus on the cross. On this day, people very often prepare food with cod. Restaurants also offer a special menu for all those who want to continue this tradition.
Easter is closely linked to the preparation of pastries which are different from the rest of the year. Torrijas are one of these traditional sweets, made with toast soaked in milk and honey, dipped in egg and fried. Petiños and buñuelos can be found in every house. If you come to Spain during Holy Week, you simply must try these great-tasting snacks.
11. Pointed hood
The characteristic pointed hood worn by the penitents during Holy Week originates from the Spanish Inquisition, since sentenced prisoners had to wear this hood as a sign of public shaming. The Brotherhoods adopted it in the 17th century because it had a penitential meaning according to the symbols of Holy Week.
12. When it is celebrated?
The date on which Holy Week is celebrated changes from one year to another, since its designation oddly lies in the hands of nature. The decision to do it this way was taken during the First Council of Nicaea, when an agreement was reached whereby Easter Sunday would be the first Sunday after the first full moon of spring. This is why Holy Week often changes date by up to one month. Odd, isn’t it?
13. Holy Week and its relationship with Carnival
Curiously, Carnival and Holy Week are very closed linked. The former is celebrated a few days before the start of Lent, which is nothing more than a period of 40 days in which the faithful practice fasting and abstinence.
14. Holy Week sayings
Many sayings and proverbs we use in our day to day have their origin in Holy Week. Some examples of this are phrases like “like the cat that got the cream”, “once in a blue moon” or “to pester”, which comes from the word for “ratchet”, the instrument used to announce the death of Christ.
15. Brotherhoods, Confraternities and Archconfraternities
During Holy Week, you will always hear about Brotherhoods, Confraternities and Archconfraternities, but do you actually know what they are? The Confraternities and Brotherhoods were formerly two completely different things, since the Brotherhoods came about to include people from a different origin, profession or social level. Conversely, the Confraternities came about to group people together from a certain profession. Over time, both adopted the worship of a saint who represented their patron saint who they prayed to. For this reason, today there are no differences between them beyond the name they use.
Conversely, the Archconfraternities are confraternities or brotherhoods who have more privileges because they are older than the rest or who deserve such distinction due to their nature. Only the Pope can confer such title.
Spain has undoubtedly become a destination par excellence in Holy Week. Don’t miss its cultural and gastronomic wealth. A good choice for enjoying these days of rest in an ambience of reflection and artistic wealth.
If you want to discover Andalucia’s extraordinary Holy Week, be in no doubt that the best option is Fuerte Hoteles. Hotels and apartments with excellent amenities, which are leaders in quality according to Tripadvisor and backed up by over 60 years’ experience, are the best choice for a getaway to switch off and experience this Week of Passion. Marbella, Conil, Grazalema, El Rompido and Torrox are just some of the enclaves where you can find this magnificent accommodation.