Over 5000 Spanish towns celebrate the Holy Week leading up to Easter with special cultural activities and street parades. The “biggest” celebrations are in Andalucia, the southern most region of Spain, but you can find special events everywhere. Just be prepared for something a little different.
You will find very few Easter decorations here. No stuffed rabbits, no cute decorations, no plastic eggs, and very few chocolates. Some groceries will have a small supply of Lindt rabbits and bakeries sell a bread with a Kinder egg resting in the middle. That’s about it. Bacalao is more common now in the markets – a salt crusted dried fish that needs to be rinsed and heated before eating.PROCESSIONS:
The first time I saw an Easter procession, it was in a painting by Joaquim Sorolla
. Even in oils, it startled me, so it’s good to know before you go. Spanish (and Portuguese) Easter processions are dominated by “Penitents,” men and women dressed in long robes with pointed hoods, in all colors, but often black. It is very reminiscent of photos I’ve seen of KKK members, hence the initial shock. But here, it carries no negative connotations, but only shows a penitent spirit, with people often barefoot through these 4 hour long processions, some carrying crosses, others candles, and some together carrying large, heavy religious statues throughout the parade.
It is pretty safe to say that if you are in Spain from the Thursday before through Easter, that you will have an opportunity to see one of these processions, but here is a list of some that a Spanish newspaper called some of the most special plus Salamanca, the one that I had the privilege to see. To plan ahead, check the local city websites to find general information on what might be going on and when. For more details when you arrive, find the local newspaper. These will show times, descriptions, and parade routes for all the events going on. Some cities will have 6 parades in one day, all running together. Some towns will have processions that last 24 hours. (Coffee and comfortable shoes are recommended.)
SALAMANCA: Walking near the Plaza Mayor near 6, we saw a procession of purple hooded “penitents” through thick crowds. Four hours later near the Cathedral, we saw the end of that same parade go by on one side and the beginning looped by on the other. It is difficult to miss these processions. Crowds near the Plaza Mayor during the early evening were impossible to penetrate, but by evening, it was easy to get a close up view as the cloaked men and women walked by, some with shoes, some without. I was there to see the procession of the “Virgen de la Soledad,” the one that begun at midnight and would last 4 hours.
This parade is really only 45 minutes from beginning to end as you see the black covered pentitents walk by. They walk slow. If you come a little early, it is easy to get a “front-row” view on the street. I found my spot of street at 1130 near the church.
It begins inside the big Cathedral at midnight. By 1am, it arrives near the entrance of San Esteban where a “virgen” comes out, is met by the procession, and accompanied to the Plaza Mayor. When “la virgen” arrives at the Plaza Mayor at 2am, all the lights are turned off for a few minutes and everyone begins to sing. The procession returns to the Cathedral and is over close to 4am.
It is no mistake that Seville processions are ranked both first and second in this list. Of all Spanish towns, this one does the Holy Week with the most seriousness and intensity. Passion parades begin daily at noon from the cathedral plus other churches and brotherhoods all over the city stage their own somber parades carrying large floats with scenes of a blood-stained Christ or a weeping Mary. These floats can weigh several tons, so float bearers work together taking very small steps, sometimes visible and sometimes hidden under thick curtains.
And of all the processions, the highlight is the “Salida de la Hermandad de La Macarena” where thousands of people crowd around the Basilica de la Macarena on Friday night to see the 2500 cloaked participants march past. Bugles and drums play and the marching goes on for 14 hours. “La Esperanza Macarena” is one of the last to go by. It is said that any place is good for views, but the exit at daybreak is one of the most emotional moments.
The “Hermandad del Gran Poder de Sevilla” at the Plaza de San Lorenzo is also on Friday. This parade is silent with just the sound of the canvas shoes on the ground as the participants march in a special cadence. Although not on this list, the Passion parade beginning on Thursday night and continuing until Friday morning is also a very special one. (Click on the link here
to see the wiki article and complete list of parades.)
Monday Santo, the Monday before Easter, is great day in Cordoba with several very special processions including one by the Parish of San Lorenzo in that same neighborhood where 17th century statues are carried through the neighborhood.
4. JEREZ DE LA FRONTERA*
The largest, most special procession in this Andalucian town in held on Good Friday and called the “del Santísimo Cristo de la Expiración.” The parade begins late at night when the statue of Christ arrives at the Old Cross in front of the district of San Miguel, then proceeds towards the Hermitage of San Telmo.
Every Thursday Santo, the Port of Malaga along the southern Spanish coast is transformed into an unexpected altar to receive, among the throngs of thousands of locals and tourists alike, the Christ de Mena from the ships of the Spanish Navy. In one of the more unique Spanish Easter procession, this Christ statue will proceed from the harbor to the church of Santo Doming.
In the southern most part of the Comunidad Valenciana on the coast of the Mediterranean, Murcia has the most unique Holy Week of this region. The oldest and most traditional of the Murcian processions is the “Real, muy ilustre, venerable y Antiquísima Archicofradía de la Preciosísima Sangre de Nuestro Señor Jesucristo” also known as the “Coloraos.” In a two and a half hour procession from the Church of Carmen to the other side of the Segura river, the Nazarenes carry religious images and play on special trumpets. The end of the bridge is the best place to see this and to get photos. In this parade, the members hand out candies, beans, and small figures.
Best procession: The Madrugá of the Good Friday
One of the larger and more joyous processions, over 4000 Nazarenes march and sing during this 11 hour parade.
The week’s highlight begins at midnight on Thursday and ends on the morning of Good Friday in a beautiful procession that is considered of “cultural interest.” Thirty-one large “floats” are carried in this procession. There is also a procession by the calvary which goes only to the sound of a drum.
The capital of Spain is going to have a nice procession and of the many here, the one on Palm Sunday is one of the best. You can see this one beginning around 4 in the afternoon at the Basilica of San Miguel. Many will purchase palm leaves and laural branches as a remembrance of Christs entry.
*Many of the cities above are located fairly close together in the southern Spanish region of Andalucia. For more information on these and more, look for this
and other websites that cover the many cultural and religious events in that area. The highways between these towns are fairly easy to navigate.Travel Research: DK Travel Spain Guide
, DK Madrid
, DK Seville and Andalucia