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The Mysterious Spanish Festival Of Semana Santa

Mar 24, 2008
Spain is renowned for its elaborate Semana Santa or Holy Week traditions, and if you're planning a Spanish holiday for the week before Easter, you'll find yourself in the midst of these extraordinary festivals. Spanish participants take part in a whole host of bizarre-seeming rituals dating back to medieval times and beyond.

Eerie robes

The Spanish festival of Semana Santa has different traditions in different regions but, all over the country, participants are conspicuous for their dramatic-looking medieval-style penitential robes, or 'nazarenos'.

The robes are very striking because of their hoods, which have a conical tip used to conceal the face, and sometimes a long cloak. Ironically, these robes served as the basis for the traditional uniform for members of the Ku Klux Klan in the US, a very anti-Catholic organization.

These eerie-looking gowns and hoods can make Spanish holiday makers feel as though they have just stepped back in time, and they do have a very long tradition. In the medieval period, penitents wore the hoods so that they could demonstrate their penance, whilst keeping their identity a secret.

Penitents' accessories

Many participants also carry candles or wooden crosses, and some walk barefoot or carry shackles and chains on their feet. Altogether, these accessories give a truly electric atmosphere to this Spanish festival, which can add a spiritual aspect to a Spanish holiday.

If you're organizing a tailor-made holiday in Spain this Easter, make sure to incorporate a visit to an area with some of the most famous processions, so that you can take part in this very remarkable set of Spanish festivals.


Seville arguably holds some of the most elaborate processions for the Semana Santa festival. Spanish holiday makers can witness the procession of antique wooden sculptures, or 'pasos', of individual scenes of the events that happened between Jesus' entry in Jerusalem and his burial, or images of the Virgin Mary showing restrained grief for the torture and killing of her son, are carried through the streets.

They usually weigh over a tonne, and are carried on the neck of members of the religious brotherhoods who organize each procession. These artistic masterpieces are a great way to get a taste of the county's artistic heritage whilst on a Spanish holiday.

A brass band may accompany the group, playing funereal religious hymns or 'marchas' written for the occasion. Some processions are silent with no musical accompaniment.


If your tailor-made holiday in Spain involves a trip to Malaga, you'll be able to see the processions of immense images from the Passion on huge ornate floats, some with more than 5000 kilos carried by more than 250 people. Penitents dress in purple nazarenos with pointed hats and are followed by women in black, carrying candles.

Drums and trumpets play solemn music and occasionally someone spontaneously sings a mournful 'saeta' dedicated to a float as it makes its way slowly round the streets. This is one of the more solemn Semana Santa festivals in Spain.


Semana Santa processions in León are very popular, with more than 15,000 penitents on the streets. During the 'Procesion de los Pasos', which lasts nine hours, about 4,000 penitents carry 13 'pasos' around all the city.

The most solemn moment (although it might not sound it) is El Encuentro, or 'The Meeting', when the pasos representing Saint John and La Dolorosa face one another and penitents move them as though they were dancing together.


The most important procession in Linares is a ten hour night procession, the 'Procesión del Nazareno'. The greatest 'paso' in the Linares Semana Santa represents the Last Supper. This group of sculptures is the masterpiece of a great Spanish sculptor called Victor de los Rios.

If you take a tailor-made holiday in Spain at Easter and incorporate one or more of these areas, you're bound to learn a few things about this festival, Spanish religious artworks and the country's serious devotion to Semana Santa and putting on an amazing show.
About the Author
Kieron Sellens is the marketing manager of the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AiTO). For autumn 2008, AiTO are offering a selection of unique tailor-made holidays in Spain.
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