Holy Week: incense and candles, dirges and drumbeats"
Picture by Eduardo Nieto, Sur in English
Coming from the United United States, where religious celebrations never take on such intensity, I realised the depth of Seville's Semana Santa only when the real preparations began. Having heard it was time for Holy Week, when the bakeries changed their window decorations, I kept watch until the Olympic rings bread displays were replaced by various religious baked goods sculptures. Almost overnight the city was covered in posters announcing the upcoming holiday which, I have since learned, is much more than a week of vacation getaway bargains.
The holiday is touted by "Sevillanos" as Spain's only real Semana Santa and tourists seem to agree, as hotel rooms are booked solid. This year's ceremonies began on Sunday March 23rd and run through to Sunday, March 30th, but even before the first day the pre-holiday sights always promise an astounding spectacle as the religious brotherhoods, the "cofradías" prepare for the real thing.
"Costaleros", bearers of the hundred or so "pasos" which support the images of Jesus or the Virgin, some of these dating back to the 17th century, practice manoeuvring the awkward wooden platforms through the serpentine streets of the Barrio Santa Cruz into the wee hours of the night. Their heads swathed in white turbans to ease the pressure of the "pasos", these man make for an amusing sight when taking numerous beer breaks in bars.
Anyone walking over Seville's bridges can hear the eerie sounds of traditional dirges and drumbeats that float up from the banks of the Río Guadalquivir, where the bands who accompany the "costaleros" attempt to unify their sluggish marching patterns. Material stores outfit "Sevillanos" for the cone-topped "túnica de Nazarenos"; their lollipop counterparts are displayed in candy store windows. Spanish women take their "mantillas" to be cleaned in time for the first procession and prepare their best black dresses. The scent of incense wafting from churches is overwhelming as each brotherhood cautiously adorns its "cofradías" m millions of pesetas of flowers, candles and precious stones.
Only those with either prestige or full wallets can obtain seats in Plaza San Francisco, through which every procession must pass on its way to the cathedral. Others wait in line to buy street seats from one of the numerous sidewalk ticket vendors. The best tickets are for Good Friday; during the 400-year-old procession of "El Silencio" and the arrival at the cathedral of "La Esperanza Macarena", who, in this case, is the patron Virgin of bullfighters and not the protagonists of the famous Sevillana rumba.
While Semana Santa is one of the year's most solemn holidays, the preparations are not only religious ones. True to the Spanish way of life, bar proprietors busily order enough supplies to last the week of celebrations that continue after the "cofradías" pass by. After all, what would a Spanish holiday be without a little frivolity?
SUR IN ENGLISH (March 28th to April 3rd, 1997)
An activity by Isabel Pérez Torres