Semana Santa in Seville

Semana Santa in SevilleEveryone seems to have a favorite procession for various reasons: they’re members of the church or maybe a family member is part of the procession, the church is in their barrio, the music accompanying a paso or lack of it , the time of night or day can all be reasons to not miss one in particular. Some are certainly favorites of many and arriving an hour or so early may be necessary to see the salida (when the procession first leaves the church) or entrada (entrance into the church). To try and see every procession in one week is a recipe for frustration and will likely drive you crazy. It’s almost impossible to take them all in if only for the crowds. Good knowledge of the winding streets of Sevilla will help you navigate to the best spots to see a paso, but then you’ll have to hope you don’t run into another procession that blocks your way. And rest will be necessary if not obligatory after spending 10-12 hours on your feet. So does every Sevillano love Semana Santa? No! Many can’t stand the crowds and the waiting - they view it as an interruption in their daily life. Many choose to escape the city during this week and head for the beach or a quieter town.

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What is Semana Santa?

Virgen from Beso de Judas

In 2010 Semana Santa will be the week of March 27 - April 4. Semana Santa is Holy Week and Sevilla’s celebration is likely the most famous in the world. Whether you are religious or not there’s something to enjoy and I guarantee you won't see anything like it anywhere else. There are more than 55 church brotherhoods, some dating as far back as the 13th century, which take part in Semana Santa, carrying over 115 different floats, or pasos, through the streets of Sevilla. Nazarenos accompany the pasos in the march and in some cases number more than 2,000 for certain processions - in this case you may have to wait an hour to see the actual float. Marching bands play music - la marcha procesiónal - which influences the pace and action of the pasos. Some processions, such as El Silencio, march in silence and without music. Almost every procession includes an image of Christ - different depending on what scene in the bible it depicts - as well as an image of the Virgin Mary, always in mourning for the death of Christ. The images of the Virgin are often the most anticipated for their subtle differences - from facial expressions and characteristics, to tears or other details in the paso. The paso from the Macarena is perhaps one of the most famous imagenes of the Virgin Mary.

trumpet solo during a procession

Semana Santa for many means more than the processions in the streets. It marks the arrival of spring in Sevilla with a week long celebration that fills the streets, churches, bars and restaurants. It's moving your way around the center of the city and through the crowd in search of the best spot to catch a procession or float, all the while testing your knowledge of the winding streets of Sevilla. Semana Santa is la madrugá, when you "leave for the day" around 10:30pm and spend the entire night and morning following the action. It's a mixture of smells: orange blossoms or azahar, incense, candle wax and cheap cologne of the person standing on your foot because there's no room to spare. Semana Santa is torrijas, wine, beer and the bocadillo in some bar you swore you'd never go to until you were dying of hunger. It's valuing the comfort of a good pair of shoes you put on 10 hours ago. Semana Santa is exercising restraint as you keep from pushing over that mean old woman next to you who just took your space. If you live in the center Semana Santa is hearing the drum beat of a processional march at almost any hour as it makes it's way down your street. And for weeks after who can forget the sound of cars screeching in the streets as their tires run over candle wax left by the nazarenos.


Semana Santa Vocabulary

Polish up those Spanish skills, below is a quick guide to Semana Santa vocabulary.

term English Photo
antifaz hood worn by some members of the procession - penitentes wear just the antifaz, while nazarenos wear the antifaz and the capirote
banda de música the band that accompanies all of the processions except for the silent ones.
la bulla the crowd - amassing quickly and moving onto the next paso or procession.
capataz the person who directs the costaleros carrying the float, or paso. You will often hear him giving directions or encouragement as he directs the costaleros around corners, or just before they lift the float.
capirote the pointed or cone shaped hood worn by the nazarenos, symbolizing repentance and grief.
costalero generally a larger fellow wearing a thick belt and what almost looks like a turban on his head, who is hidden below with others to help carry the paso. There are more costaleros than will fit beneath the float, and at certain times they will change to give others a rest.
ciriales members of the processions carrying silver staffs with candles, dressed like priests. While waiting for a float, many will keep their eye out for the ciriales to indicate the float is coming up.
cirios very long candles carried by nazarenos during the procession
cofradia same as hermandad - best described as a brotherhood, or members of a church who are part of the procession.
cristo Christ, as in one of the imagenes in a procession.
cruz de guía the cross carried at the front, leading the entire procession of Nazarenos. While waiting for a procession to begin, many will keep their eye out for the cruz de guia, indicating the beginning of the procession.
entrada the entrance of a procession in a church (the end of the procession)
hermandad best described as a brotherhood, or members of a church who are part of the procession.
hermanos members of the hermandad
imagen sculpture, most typically of Christ or the Virgin Mary but also including other figures in the paso which represent scenes from the bible.
incienso/incensario incense, most often burned in metal containers (incensarios) which hang by a rope or chain and swung about to move the scent.
La Madrugá beginning on late Thursday night/Friday morning, the series of processions which run all through the night until the next morning. This is one of the most popular nights of Semana Santa
manto flowing, intricately embroidered gown covering the back of the image of the Virgin Mary
marcha procesiónal music played/dedicated to a special cofradia or specific virgin – La Amargura, Virgen del Valle, Pasa la Macarena, El Rocio, La Saeta, la madruga’ are some – certain processions will use the marcha of another.
monaguillos children dresses like ciriales (priests) who hand out candy
member of the hermandad, who dresses in a robe and cone shaped hood to hide his or her identity. Some nazarenos from particular processions are prohibited from speaking with anyone once dressed in their gown and cap. Colors of robes and hoods depend on the procession.
palio the canopy on a paso covering the image of the Virgin Mary, supported by poles, or varales.
paso float with the Virgin Mary or Christ, the main attraction of a procesión decorated with candles and flowers and at times depicting scenes from the bible.
penitente a member of the procession - nazareno without the capirote - repenting of their sins carrying one or more crosses over shoulder. Some have up to 4 crosses depending on the amount of repenting, and many walk barefoot through the streets.
procession - the people associated with the paso and hermandad taking part in the parade.
saeta A serenade sung by one person to the imagen of the Virgin Mary. The paso will stop during the singing. The polite thing to do is be quiet during the singing.
salida the exit of a procession from a church (the start of the procession)
túnica a tunic, or robe worn by the nazarenos (white in the photo to the right).
torrijas like french toast, prepared with honey, eggs and white wine. A typical food prepared during Semana Santa. I'll fight anyone who thinks they have a better recipe than my mother-in-law ;)
varales silver and/or gold poles supporting the canopy, or palio, which covers the image of the Virgin Mary in a paso.
virgen The Virgin Mary, as in one of the imagenes in a procession.


So how would we practice this vocabulary and put it into context? It takes some work to learn it all, but here is my attempt to gather it in one story:

It was La Madrugá and the hermanos who made up the hermandad gathered in the church around 11pm before the salida of the procesión. Nazarenos were already dressed, each with a túnica, capirote and antifaz, while the penitentes made sure they had their crosses to carry. The costaleros hiding beneath the paso, awaited the orders from the capataz to lift and move towards the doors of the church. Great care was taken to make sure the imagenes in each pasowere perfect in every respect, with last second adjustments to the manto of the image of the virgen being made. The nazarenos gathered their long cirios in preparation to leave. First out of the door was of course the cruz de guia, followed by the ciriales with their silver staffs and candles lit. Outside awaiting them all was la bulla, as people had been gathering for hours to see the procesión. The first pasoto leave the church was the image of cristo, and upon successfully exiting the banda de música struck the first chord of the marcha procesiónal, greeted by cheers and clapping from the crowd. The second pasoto leave was the imagen of the virgen, and the costaleros took great care that the palio, held up by several varales, fit beneath the doorway. After the success of the salida the procesión made it's way down the streets of Barrio Santa Cruz, where some 10 minutes later the costaleros carrying the virgen rested under the orders of the capataz. A man in the crowd began a saeta, singing with much passion. A little monaguillo who had been passing out candy stopped and began to cry as the smell of incienso burning was too much for his taste. He longed for the entrada, marking the end of the procesión, so he could go home and eat the torrijas his mother had prepared the day before.

Semana Santa Tips, Rules and Customs

Some rules, customs and things to watch for – while it’s Holy Week some people are quite serious about Semana Santa:


If people are on the edge of the curb waiting to see procession you should not arrive after them and then try to stand in front of them. They got there first and it’s custom to get behind them on the sidewalk if there is room. If you try to stay in front you will be told – rudely or otherwise – to move. If you try to get behind them and there is no room don’t be surprised if the people refuse to let you through. (To those awful American girls I saw last year who arrived late, placed themselves in front of others who had been there for hours, then refused to move, cursed at these people and then laughed about it – I say thanks for being such fine representatives of our country. As a reward I include your picture here) As well, the curb marks the boundary of where you should be and if you’re in the street you may be moved out of the way as the procession goes by. Spots higher up – some stairs, a trash
container, whatever it may be – are often prized so you can get a view over others.


While it is now becoming less common there are still many nazarenos and penitentes that walk the entire procession wearing no shoes. If you’re drinking from a glass bottle be careful where you leave it (try and throw it away properly!) and of course try never to break a glass or bottle in the street where a paso will go by. Smokers don't throw out your butts in the street while they're walking by!

Crowds and pushing

Do be ready for some of the biggest crowds you've ever seen as well as some pushing. It's often an exercise in patience to get through a narrow street and people with baby strollers are often seen lifting them over their heads to get through in the tightest spots. You'll also see people who insist on moving through an already packed crowd to get closer to the action. I’ve left a few places because it became intolerable. Also be prepared for people who will not let you pass. It drives me crazy sometimes if I really need to get by, but I may be the 100th person who has pushed by them and they just can’t take it anymore. I have to sympathize with them there.

Dressing up

I don’t, at least not that much, but you will see some people extremely well dressed during Semana Santa. Palm Sunday (Domingo de Ramos) and Thursday, Friday (Jueves/Viernes Santo – during the day you'll see them dressed their best. For La madrugá people wear comfortable clothing, shoes, and a coat in case it gets cold. This is dressing down for Semana Santa. And while I can’t for the life of me understand why they wear them, I must say I admire the women in high heels if only because they stand for 12 hours in the cobble-stone streets of the center. Thursday and Friday during the day you’ll see some women dressed in black and with mantillas in mourning of the death of Jesus. In the morning you'll see these women go to church to visit the pasos that will go out that day.

Silence and light

The crowds will often hush others (try to follow them) with the arrival of a paso. Certain processions such as El Silencio, might clue you in. Do try and respect the silence. Street, store front and apartment lights are also turned off for several processions. One of my favorite’s is the salida for El Silencio where both the silence and the lights out rule apply. It is very spooky and seems to turn back he clock to older days. The nazarenos in these processions are also forbidden to talk with anyone once dressed.


It is strictly prohibited to take any pictures of any of the processions – JUST KIDDING! Snap away like everyone else!

Petty theft

Tourists, crowds with people squeezing by, lots of cameras and of course money for the day in the street, all make Semana Santa an ideal place for pickpockets and the like. While I’ve never had a problem, many do – keep your belongings close to yourself and never take your eye off them.

La madrugá

Pasos like La Macarena, Gran Poder, Los Gitanos, La Trianera, have a lot of nazarenos – sometimes thousands - be prepared to wait to see the paso.


Getting across on Sierpes is controlled at certain points where they will let you through every 5 minutes in groups. There are maybe three streets – Calle Cerrajeria/Rioja and Calle Granada are two - where you can pass.

Don’t touch

Seems obvious, but don’t touch the pasos as they pass by – it’s not El Rocio! I still see many do it and there is little said to them.


Weather is monitored by radio if it looks like rain, with everyone listening in to see if a procession will leave that day or not. Rain = no Semana Santa! Some processions may risk it, then look for refuge in other parts if it starts to rain a little. The imagenes and other items carried during the processions are quite old and can quickly damage with even a little water. If a procession does not leave it is quite common to see people involved with it crying. This something very important to them – they practiced or planned all year and then not to leave is a true disappointment.

Navigating the streets

Areas where you certainly don’t want to be if you’re trying to see a procession – unless you’re a lucky person who has purchased seats – include Calle Sierpes, La Campana, Plaza San Francisco, Avda Constitución near the Cathedral, and Plaza Virgen de los Reyes. These are areas with reserved seating and getting a good view is difficult. The most expensive seats are in Plaza San Francisco, while “cheaper” seats are typically in some seats in La Campana and the Plaza Virgen de los Reyes. These areas either have bleachers erected or seats lined up along the street. This said I did have some good luck in 2004 behind the reserved seating in Plaza del Duque. We were able to get to the front to see several processions as they made their way to La Campana.

choosing the best path before the crowd takes over

Planning your route may be one of the most important parts of the day. What seems like a 10 minute walk can become 45 minutes so give yourself plenty of time to get from place to place. The salidas and entradas can be some of the most crowded parts of a procession’s route through the city, and as mentioned above you may need to get to some places an hour ahead of time to get a good spot. You’ll need a map as well as a daily schedule of the processions, which list approximate times when you can see them at a particular point.

Some of the busiest days include Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday) where you'll likely see the most people in the streets. La madrugá is also another favorite - an all night event beginning around 12:30 am. Thus on Jueves and Viernes Santo you may see less people as most are preparing or recovering from the madrugá.


Semana Santa Procession Schedule

A basic breakdown of the processions by day. There is a much more structured schedule which includes the entrada and salida for each procession as well as when you can expect them at certain locations. You will definitely need one of the detailed schedules to be able to see the processions and plan your way around the city. For a complete and detailed schedule Canal Sur's El Llamador proves to be one of the best. You can download the pdf version here. Again, you need to find a print version and take it with you when during the day - this helps you see the most as well as avoid congestion points on your way home when retiring for the day. There is an online version in pdf, and new for 2010 is a downloadable version for your mobile phone! This same version will be available via bluetooth in 3 locations during the week: Plaza del Duque (near La Campana), Plaza Nueva (near the giant TV screen), and Calle Imagen (corner with Santa Adela).


Palm Sunday
Domingo de Ramos
Lunes Santo
Martes Santo
Miercoles Santo
Borriquita/Amor Redencion Cerro Sed
Jesus Despojado Santa Genoveva Los Javieres San Bernardo
La Paz Santa Marta San Esteban El Buen Fin
La Cena San Gonzalo Estudiantes La Lanzada
Hiniesta Vera-Cruz San Benito Baratillo
Estrella Penas San Vicente Candelaria Cristo de Burgos
Amargura Aguas Bofeta Siete Palabras
  Museo Santa Cruz Los Panaderos
Jueves Santo
La Madrugá Friday
Viernes Santo
Sabado Santo
Los Negritos El Silencio Carreteria Las Servitas
Exaltacion Gran Poder Soledad (San Buen.) Trinidad
Cigarreras Macarena Cachorro Santo Entierro
Monte Sion Calvario La O Soledad (San Lorenzo)
Quinta Angustia Esperanza de Triana San Isidoro Easter Sunday
Domingo de Resureccion
Valle Los Gitanos Montserrat Resurreccion
Pasion   La Mortaja  

Stories: Humorous and Dangerous

I'll keep it short, but everyone has a story or two from Semana Santa. Friends who have taken part in a procession are the best source. Ciriales at the end of a procession who were not seen by the crowd were cut off from their procession and had to make their way around the streets to catch up with everyone. A playful individual who chose to swing the silver container of incense around until ashes flew out and caught another's robe on fire. Another incident with incense in which too much was heaped on the pile until the costaleros and other members of the paso either couldn't see or were inhaling too much smoke to continue. An older priest on Good Friday who couldn't make the entire procession and had to "go home" was later spotted drinking a beer and eating meat in a local bar. The the list goes on and on.

Just a few years ago there was a series of incidents during Semana Santa where people began to panic and push to get out of the way. Processions, nazarenos and everyone scrambled for safety, but it seems nobody is still sure what actually happened. Some claim a role playing game during the week which included fake pistols put a scare into the crowds. Either way it was dangerous as people in a packed crowd running for cover creates a situation where someone could be hurt. Don't count on this or think or it as a normal occurrence, it's just another story you might hear.

Interview with a Nazareno

I had less of an interview with a nazareno than I would have liked to. I did get some details on what one needs to do to become a nazareno and although not common there have been a few guiris from time to time who have participated. Basically you will need to register and pay a fee at the offices of the hermandad to participate. After doing so it is fairly up to the you on how much you want to attend meetings and/or mass at the church. One can easily pay the fee and maybe show up at one obligatory meeting during the year. There is much less organization to the participation of a nazareno than there is to be a costalero or a member of the marching band, both which require much more practice. As a nazareno you will be responsible for purchasing your own clothing and cirio for your march. Then simply show up dressed about 30 minutes to an hour before the salida and you will receive instructions. Members of processions like El Silencio where the nazarenos cannot speak means instructions and communication will be done with hand signals and gestures.

Finally choosing which hermandad also means choosing the length you want to be in the street. A few will last only six to seven hours, while one or two of the processions involve a twelve to thirteen hour march! The number of nazarenos will depend on how many have joined each year, but as mentioned above some like the Macarena include over 3,000 nazarenos, meaning it will be hard for their family members to pick them out of the crowd. I am still amazed at my girlfriend's ability to identify her brother in the processions, but he seems to have the family "walk".

Links to more information on Semana Santa

Most of these are links to pages in Spanish:

el cofrade.com

Photos of Semana Santa in Seville

You can check out some Semana Santa photos below for 2003, 2004 and 2005. You may think Semana Santa begins on Domingo de Ramos, but weeks before you can get a taste of what's to come as you will see in the Semana Santa preparations photo album.




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Editor: Jeff Spielvogel
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