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EASTER

Seven surprisingly strange traditions celebrated at Easter in Spain

Easter week is celebrated in Spain like nowhere else on earth, and Spaniards take their Holy Week traditions very seriously, even if some of them - to the outsider - seem a little bit bonkers. 

Seven surprisingly strange traditions celebrated at Easter in Spain
Spanish actor Antonio Banderas takes part in the "Lagrimas y Favores" (Tears and Favours) brotherhood Palm Sunday procession in Malaga. Photo: Jorge Guerrero / AFP

From the Catalan town where residents dress up as skeletons to the practice of freeing two dozen inmates from prison every Easter, Spain has its share of surprisingly strange Holy Week activities.

Jew-killers


The Easter lemonade drink known as “Matar Judíos”. Photo: Tamorlan via Wikimedia Commons

One of Spain’s most unusual Easter celebrations is held in the town of Bierzo in León. If you are ever around that way during Holy Week you might be surprised to hear people saying “let’s go kill the Jews” – “salir a matar Judíos” –  as they knock back glasses of special wine-lemonade.

The common story for how this tradition started is that back in the 14th century, a nobleman named Suero de Quiñones owed money to a Jewish lender. But instead of paying it off, he rallied others against the Jews, saying that they had killed Jesus. Between Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, Quiñones and his supporters stormed the Jewish quarter and killed many people, including the money lender.
 
To celebrate the massacre, Quiñones and his group drank wine, beginning the start of the tradition that still exists today in the name of the Holy Week drink.
 
Deadly dancing 
 
Photo: dantzan/Flickr
 
While most of Spain holds traditional Maundy Thursday processions, the Catalan town of Verges (Girona) sees five of its residents, including three children, dress up in skeleton costumes, carry Death’s sickle and dance around the streets to the sound of drums. It resembles other ‘danse macabre’ celebrations across Europe, all of which have been around since medieval times to remind us that no matter one’s station in life, the Dance of Death unites all.
 
Pub crawl procession
 
Photo: Oviraptor / wikipedia
 
In 1929, a well-known character in the northern Spanish city of León was run over by a rubbish truck while he was relieving himself at the city walls. His name was Genaro Blanco, a bon-vivant who loved his prostitutes almost as much as his liquor. His mourning drinking buddies decided to pay tribute to him on Maundy Thursday, the anniversary of his death. Year after year, more followers have joined Genarín’s bar-hopping pagan procession, the record being 15.000 in 2005.
 
 
Hoods and hats
 
Photo: Cristina Quicler/AFP
 
The long conical hats worn by the members of some brotherhoods during Spain’s Easter celebrations have nothing to do with the Ku Klux Klan. Instead, they originate in the hats worn by people found guilty of religious crimes in the Spanish Inquisition. Those criminals would walk the streets in the hats while they were mocked and insulted by the crowds. By donning the hats in Spain’s Easter celebrations, penitents are also re-enacting Christ’s road to Calvary.
 
 
Get out of jail free card
 
Photo: PJcross/Depositphotos
 
If you’re Catholic and in jail in Spain, you might just be in luck. In 1759, a riot broke out in a Malaga prison after inmates found out Easter processions would be cancelled due to a plague outbreak. They forced their way out, carried Jesus’ image through the streets and then miraculously returned to their cells. King Charles III was so impressed that from that day on he decided to free two dozen jailbirds every Easter. The tradition lives on to this day.
 
Enter the turbos
 
Photo: Pedro Armestre/AFP
 
Christian traditions take a turn for the surreal in the city of Cuenca when participants in the ‘Road to Calvary’ procession mock Jesus on his way to the cross. The turbos, as they are known, are meant to represent the Jews present during Christ’s death sentence and ensuing crucifixion. For twelve hours, they jostle the nazarenos, or penitents, and prevent them from carrying Jesus’s image through the streets.
 
Crucifixion trek
 
Photo: Pedro Armestre/AFP
 
Although not quite as bloody as the ones seen in some parts of South America, Taking part in a Valverde de la Veras’ ‘Via Crucis’ is far from being pain-free. Participants, known as empalaos, have their bodies tightly strapped to a wooden cross with rope and then walk barefoot through the town streets for hours, their faces always covered with a veil. Their march represents the 14 stations of the cross, symbolizing Christ carrying the cross to his crucifixion.
 
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SEMANA SANTA

What you need to know about Semana Santa in Seville

Semana Santa is big all over Spain, but in Seville it’s the most important week of the year. Find out what to do, where to go, and what to see if you're in the Andalusian capital this Easter.

What you need to know about Semana Santa in Seville

In 2022, Easter in Spain lasts from April 10th to April 17th, with Good Friday (April 15th) a national holiday and Thursday (April 14th) a regional holiday in many autonomous communities.

Holy Week (Semana Santa) is the biggest religious celebration of the year across Spain.

But for many sevillanos, Semana Santa is more important than Christmas and the entire year is a build up. Although Seville and Semana Santa are synonymous with one another, there are also elaborate Semana Santa processions across Andalusia, with Granada and Malaga holding impressive events.

Elaborate processions take place throughout Holy Week. Associations known as a Hermandad or ‘brotherhood’ (whose members take part in the processions) are a strong tradition in Spain, with many dating back to the Middle Ages. Semana Santa processions are also known as ‘penance processions’ and involve members of the brotherhood (known as nazarenos) parading from their church to the city’s cathedral.

You can find out all the general information you need about Easter in Spain – from what generally happens during Semana Santa, to what’s behind all the special clothing and pointy hoods (not the Klu Klux Clan), as well as the events that tend to take place – in our essential guide to Easter in Spain in 2022

But the focus of this article is what to look out for if you’re spending Holy Week in the Andalusian capital of Seville, quite possibly the best place to experience Semana Santa in Spain. 

Here is a calendar of the events you shouldn’t miss out on and other interesting information you should know about Holy Week in Seville.

Key dates and processions for Semana Santa in Seville

Palm Sunday/La Borriquita – A favourite with kids as it reenacts Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. La Hermandad del Amor y pueblo organise the float and it is laden with candles and olive branches.

Holy Monday/Santa MartaLa Hermandad de Santa Marta take care of the transfer of Jesus to the Sepulchre, which sets off from plaza de San Andrés on Palm Sunday.

Holy Tuesday: La Hermandad de estudiantes leaves from the Rectorate of the University of Seville.

Holy Wednesday: La Hermandad de San Bernardo lead things on Holy Wednesday and it’s worth a visit.

Holy Thursday/La Madrugá – Maybe the most famous procession in Spain, Sevilla’s early morning La Madrugá procession takes place on Holy Thursday and includes several brotherhoods throughout the early hours. 

Good Friday/El Cachorro – Good Friday procession is led by the la Hermandad del Cachorro.

Holy Saturday: the weekend procession led by la Hermandad del Santo Entierro can’t be missed and has several stops along the way including the Triumph of the Holy Cross over Death, the Lying Jesus and the Passage of the Virgin.

Easter Sunday: The last procession of Seville’s Semana Santa every year, led by procession of the la Hermandad de la Resurrección, focuses on the resurrection story and is very dramatic. A must see – if you can find space!

Young girls wear the traditional black ‘mantillas’ during a children procession at Our Lady of the Rosary school in Sevilla. (Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP)

What you should know about Semana Santa in Seville:

The oldest brotherhoods

Seville has some of Spain’s oldest brotherhoods that are worth checking out, if you can get a spot along the route! La Hermandad del Silencio, founded in 1355, is believed to be the oldest, and la Hermandad de los Negros was founded in 1394,la Cofradía Vera Cruz in 1448, and la Hermandad del Santo Entierro sometime in the fifteenth century.

These brotherhoods have the most tradition, often the most nazarenos, and have some of the most popular procession floats and routes.

Food

Like any holiday in Spain, food and drink plays a big part in the traditions. Semana Santa is no different, and in Seville some Nazarenos even give out food as they pass through the streets. It was originally introduced as a way not to scare children, and in Seville, sweets and chocolates are usually given out to distract from their striking hoods.

La Hermandad de los Panaderosliterally the Brotherhood of Bakers) give away bread on their route, and Semana Santa also has some seasonal delicacies worth trying, such torrijas, hornazo, and bartolillos. These are traditional treats to enjoy and typical of Semana Santa. 

Torrijas are something like the Spanish equivalent of French toast, and definitely a must-try, often soaked in wine before frying.

Betis and Sevilla coats of arms

It just wouldn’t be Seville if there wasn’t some kind of reference to football, would it? Much like the rivalry between the various brotherhoods, Seville’s intense football rivalry – between Sevilla and Real Betis, for those who don’t know – makes an appearance in the city’s Semana Santa procession. 

The club crests are included on the floats of the brotherhood of Santa Genoveva. They aren’t together, of course, but rather kept separate.

Putting in the hours

Due to the distances travelled, and the chaos in the streets, many of the brotherhoods are in procession for hours at a time. The brotherhood El Cautivo del Polígono San Pablo travels over 10km over 14 hours (!) of painstaking, step by step progress through the crowded streets. The brotherhood leaves around 11:30 a.m. and gets to the main Cathedral at around 2:00 a.

An effigy of Christ is carried by “La O” brotherhood over the Guadalquivir river during an Easter procession in Seville. (Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP)

La Madrugá

La Madrugá(literally early morning or dawn) are a series of processions that take place during the night of Maundy Thursday and into the morning of Good Friday. It’s not unusual for the streets to be completely rammed with people – including children and pensioners – and the streets are often quite solemn in the candlelight.

Penitents of the ‘La Macarena’ brotherhood parade during ‘La Madrugá’ procession in Seville. (Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP)

La Saeta

La Saeta is a traditional religious song you will hear throughout Semana Santa processions. The acapella performance is performed in complete silence as a mark of respect, and can be a very striking experience. Top local singers are given the honour, and let loose with all their angst. Of course, as it’s Sevilla there’s a certain Flamenco influence, and it’s not uncommon to hear Flamenco songs being sung during Semana Santa, but never during the silence of La Saeta.

A man sings “La Saeta” at a “La Amargura” procession during Easter celebrations in the street of Seville. (Photo by PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP)

La Borriquita

One curiosity of Semana Santa in Sevilla is the changing of the Plaza del Salvador, the main hotspot on Palm Sunday. Children arrive in white and then men dressed in black leave the Plaza to signify day giving way to night.

A young acolyte of the “El Valle” brotherhood parades during an Easter procession in Seville. (Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP)

La Mortaja in Doña María Coronel

On Good Friday, during the passing of the muñidor, who traditionally is thought to proceed, or announce, that Jesus’s death is coming (or in the case of Semana Santa, that his float is coming up next), the streets are steeped in silence, darkness and the smell of incense to signify Jesus’s pain and suffering. For many brotherhoods, it closes the Good Friday events.

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