Semana Santa

A week during which joviality and religious solemnity run hand in hand

The origins of Semana Santa can be traced back as far as the 15th century, when following their defeat of the Muslim dynasty at Granada, the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand and Isobel, used the celebrations as a way to educate and galvanize the Catholic unity of the masses. Today the Catholic faith still forms an important backbone to modern Spanish culture and so the vast majority of the population observe and participate in the Semana Santa (Holy Week) celebrations.

The events that are held during Semana Santa are organized by both the Catholic church and the association of local brotherhoods or hermandades and take the form of parades and processions. Although there is a feeling of a carnival atmosphere to the proceedings, what strikes you most is the distinct lack of overboard celebrating common to most other fiestas. For whilst you will not see many fireworks during Semana Santa you will see a colourful display of pageantry respectful of the holy significance of the occasion.

The best places to experience Semana Santa is either in the city of Malaga where the largest celebrations take place or locally in the town of Velez-Malaga.

Here in Velez-Malaga the brotherhoods are made up of local groups such as the guild of tradesmen and each one is devoted to a patron being either an incarnation of the Virgin Mary or Jesus Christ. Each of the brotherhood's headquarters or Cofradias is home to a larger than life statue honoring their patron. On the patron's feast days and during Semana Santa the statues are then paraded through the local town’s streets carried high on tronos or huge thrones.

Only during Semana Santa are all the statues paraded together on a traditional route through town dating back hundreds of years. The week begins with each statue being paraded individually from the cofradia to a temporary home, a large tented temple erected near to a church or a traditional point on the route. During the early part of the week members of the particular brotherhood will set about dressing and decorating their statue. There is definitely a sense of competition between the various associations as to who can make their statue appear the most splendid.

The parading starts in earnest on the Wednesday Miercoles Santo before Maundy Thursday Jueves Santo building up to a crescendo on Good Friday Viernes Santo. Early each evening the statues are taken from their temporary homes and placed in position at strategic points along the route. As the streets become lined with crowds of onlookers those taking part in the parade get themselves into position. The procession begins at around 8 p.m. with as many as five processions, most containing two separate thrones, departing at 40 minute intervals.

There is something military in the way the statue carriers are called to attention by the striking of a bell at the head of the throne, now adorned with flowers and candles. All this decoration adds to the considerable weight that its carriers bear as like a tug-of-war team, they take the strain and raise the throne from the ground. At the second strike of the bell the bearers in some cases up to 200 men, begin to sway and move as the statue starts on its slow journey.

As they depart the rhythmic beat of drums helps to keep the bearers in time. The drums form part of the uniformed marching band which accompanies each statue along the route adding to the military feel to the proceedings. Along with the band are fellow members of the brotherhood, the more senior members carrying staffs, wafting incense-burning censers and other religious artifacts. Also present are the Penitents, traditionally dressed in long robes and pointed hoods to conceal their identity as they seek absolution for their sins.

The distance travelled along the processional route around town is of about 3 kms. Each statue and its followers makes its slow way round until it reaches the next station where a strike of the bell signals it to stop and those responsible for its passage take a well-earned rest. At each stop the crowd gathered will display their appreciation and respect for statue and bearers with applause and impromptu singing.

It will take an average of 5 hours for each statue to complete its journey along the processional route and most of the crowd will patiently wait to see each one pass. As you may have worked out this means that the streets will remain alive with the sights, sounds and smells of the procession until well after 3 a.m.

Click for more information on Semana Santa Velez Malaga 2007. If you would like to stay in Velez-Malaga and experience the spectacle for yourself, click onto our accommodation page for more information on holiday rentals in the area.

Coming to Velez-Malaga? Then why not visit the Semana Santa Museum.

For more information on fiestas in the region please see our fiestas page.