Holy Week in Seville

Misterio de la Sagrada Lanzada de Nuestro Señor Jesucristo y Nuestra Señora de Guía.

Holy Week in Seville is known as Semana Santa de Sevilla. It is one of the city’s two biggest annual festivals, the other being the Feria de Abril (April Fair), which follows two weeks later. It is celebrated in the week leading up to Easter (Holy Week among Christians), and features the procession of pasos, floats of lifelike wooden sculptures of individual scenes of the events of the Passion, or images of the grieving Virgin Mary.

Some of the sculptures are of great antiquity and are considered artistic masterpieces , as well as being culturally and spiritually important to the local Catholic population.

The Processions

There are up to three pasos in each procession. The pasos dedicated to Jesus use figures of wood, wax, and wire to depict scenes from the Passion, and are usually covered in gold. The pasos dedicated to the Virgin Mary are usually covered in silver, and depict Mary weeping for her Son and sometimes holding Him in her arms.[1]

The processions are organized by hermandades and cofradías, religious brotherhoods. Members precede the pasos dressed in penitential robes with capirotes, tall, pointed hoods with eye-holes.[2] The capirotes were designed so the faithful could repent in anonymity, without being recognised as self-confessed sinners.[3]

Nearly 70 cofradias (church brotherhoods) take part, each with their own image, as well as colourful misterios (tableaux of bible scenes), on elaborately-decorated pasos (floats). They may be accompanied by brass bands. The processions follow a designated route from their home churches and chapels to the Cathedral, usually via a central viewing area and back. The ones from the suburban barrios may take 14 hours to return to their home churches.[3]

The processions continue from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday morning. The climax of the week is the night of Holy Thursday, when the processions set out to arrive at the Cathedral on the dawn of Good Friday, known as the madrugá.[3]

The Marching Order

The core events in Semana Santa are the processions of the brotherhoods, known as estación de penitencia (stations of penance), from their home church or chapel to the Cathedral of Seville and back. The last section before arriving to the Cathedral is common to all brotherhoods and is called the Carrera Oficial.

The standard structure of a procession is:

This structure repeats itself depending of the number of pasos (up to three). Usually the last paso is not followed by penitentes, and the procession should be closed -presided- by the titular chaplain in full processional vestments known as el preste

Although this is the standard structure, depending on the traditions of each brotherhood, details (and even the plan) may vary.

A procession can be made up from a few hundred to near 3,000 Nazarenos and last anywhere from 4 to 14 hours, depending how far the home church is from the Cathedral. The largest processions can take over an hour and a half to cross one particular spot

The Paso

At the centre of each procession are the pasos, an image or set of images set atop a moveable float of wood. If a brotherhood has three pasos, the first one would be a sculpted scene of the Passion, or an allegorical scene, known as a misterio (mystery); the second an image of Christ; and the third an image of the Virgin Mary, known as a dolorosa.

The structure of the paso is richly carved and decorated with fabric, flowers and candles. As of 2007, all but one of the dolorosas are covered by an ornate canopy or baldachin (palio) attached to the structure.

The sculptures themselves are carved and painted, and often lifesize or larger. The oldest surviving were carved in the 16th century, though new images continue to be added. Those highly regarded artistically include the Jesus del Gran Poder and Cristo de la Buena Muerte by Juan de Mesa , Francisco Antonio Ruíz Gijón's Cristo de la Expiración (known as El Cachorro) and the two virgins named Nuestra Señora de la Esperanza from Macarena and Triana. All of the principal images of the Semana Santa are on display for veneration in their home churches all year round.

Overseer giving orders to the costaleros.

A distinctive feature of Semana Santa in Seville is the style of marching of the pasos. A team of men, the costaleros (literally "sack men", for their distinctive - and functional - headdress), supporting the beams upon their shoulders and necks, lift, move and lower the paso. As they are all inside the structure and hidden from the external view by a curtain, the paso seems to move by itself. On the outside an overseer (capataz), guides the team by voice, and/or through a ceremonial hammer el llamador (caller) attached to the paso.

Depending on weight (most weigh over a metric tonne), a paso requires between twenty-four and fifty-four costaleros to move. Each brotherhood has a distinctive way to raise and move a paso, and even each paso within the procession.

Golden 'caller'.

The Music

Singing a saeta.

Some processions are silent, with no musical accompaniment, some have a cappella choirs or wind quartets, but many (and especially those historically associated with poorer neighbourhoods) feature a drum and trumpet band behind the image of Christ and a brass band behind the Virgin playing hymns or marchas from a standard repertoire [4] Those associated with the images of Christ are often funeral in nature, while those associated with the Virgin are more celebratory.

As each procession leaves its home church, (an event known as the salida), at its return (the entrada), and along the march route, improvised flamenco-style songs may be offered by individuals in the crowd or from a balcony. These songs are generically called saetas (arrows).

Whenever the images depart or arrive at their home churches or chapels, Marcha Real, the National Anthem, is played.

La Carrera Oficial (The Official Path)

Many of the processions pass through an official viewing area which occupies some of the city's main streets, beginning in Campana, followed by Calle Sierpes, Plaza San Francisco, and Avenida de la Constitución, before reaching the Cathedral. Due to the increasingly crowded schedule over the week, and also the urban growth of the city, a number of recently formed brotherhoods have to procession on Passion Week before Palm Sunday and do not march into the Cathedral at all.

Traditional Dress

The traditional suit worn by women on Thursday (and sometimes on Good Friday) is known as La Mantilla (the mantle). This custom has become revitalised since the 1980s. The outfit consists of the lace mantle, stiffened by shell or another material, and a black dress, usually mid-leg, with black shoes. It is expected for the woman to hold and show a rosary. Jewellery may include, at most, bracelets and earrings.

The Days of Holy Week

Below is a list of the brotherhoods which make penance each day, as of 2010, with the traditional year of establishment (or first procession to the Cathedral for those founded in the last century), and a few notes. The names in the list are those in common usage.

They are ordered in the same sequence as they enter the Cathedral. Unlike other locations, this sequence is not related to the scenes of the Passion their images depict, but on a historically grown set of rules of precedence, tradition, canonical needs, agreements between brotherhoods and logistical considerations.

Rain (or serious menace of) may affect the Processions, some may seek refuge to a nearby church or landmarks and wait for a perfect time to go back to their Church, or the Hermano Mayor may fully suspend the Procession

Palm Sunday

Monday of Holy Week

Tuesday of Holy Week

The Pilatos's Paso from San Benito

Wednesday of Holy Week

Holy Thursday

Good Friday (Early Hours) La Madrugá

Starting a little while after midnight into Good Friday, and lasting sometimes until midday, the Madruga (dawn) is the high point of the processions in Seville.

Good Friday

Holy Saturday

Easter Sunday


The origins of the penitential Holy Week in Seville are to be found in the late Middle Ages (from 1350 onwards), but details are scarce.

By 1578 already over 30 brotherhoods performed penitential processions during the Holy Week.

By 1604 Cardinal Fernando Niño de Guevara, gave the first ordinances mandating all Sevillan confraries to make a stop in the Cathedral (and at St. Anna those of Triana) and assigning certain time frames for this (from Wednesday to Good Friday).

The 20th century has seen a progressive revival and fixing of the forms of Holy Week, despite two serious blows in between: the anticlerical period of the Second Spanish Republic, which culminated in the destruction of churches, images and goods around July 18, 1936, and the period immediately following the II Vatican Council, which coincided with the social changes in Spain around the death of Francisco Franco.

See also


  1. 1 2 3 Dykes, Daniel. "Holy Week in Seville", Catholic Digest
  2. Hafiz, Yasmine. "Penitents Observe Holy Week In Seville, Spain With Processions And Robes", Huffington Post, April 4, 2014
  3. 1 2 3 Watson, Fiona Flores. "What is Semana Santa?", The Telegraph, October 8, 2014
  4. Sevillian terminology for musical groupings is -Banda de Cornetas y Tambores (drum and trumpet/cornet band). -Banda de Musica (full brass band or Marching band) - It is only for the Virgin. The repertoire tends to be more triumphal and celebratory. -Agrupación Musical (Musical group/fanfare orchestra) - an intermediate form between the other two- used only for our Lord images. -Musica de Capilla (Chapel music): Normally a wind quartet. Unlike the other music groups they precede the image they escort
  5. Hermandad de la Hiniesta. "Historia". Retrieved 7 January 2016.
  6. "Holy Week in Seville - a 450-year-old tradition still strong today". Deustche Welle. Retrieved 7 January 2016.


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