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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
Despite the ominous appearance of the Nazarenos, Semana Santa in Sevilla is a family occasion. (Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP)

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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SEMANA SANTA

‘We’re strong enough’: Women bear weight of Easter ritual in changing Spain

While religious orders started allowing women to carry floats in Spain's famous Semana Santa processions 30 years ago, female "costaleros" - as float bearers are known - remain a minority who still face resistance.

'We're strong enough': Women bear weight of Easter ritual in changing Spain

On Holy Monday in the historic city of Granada in southern Spain, a team of 50 women rock rhythmically from foot to foot carrying a 1.5-tonne float topped with a statue of Jesus and Mary.

They support the weight on wooden ribs under the belly of the float as they inch forward through the city for ten hours.

A heavy velvet cloth draped over the float leaves only their white shoes visible to throngs of spectators lining the route.

The parades featuring dozens of people dressed in religious tunics and distinctive pointy hoods have returned this Holy Week after being cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic the past two years.

While religious orders started allowing women to carry floats in Spain’s famous Easter processions 30 years ago, female “costaleros” — as float bearers are known — remain a minority who still face resistance.

Women have traditionally formed the back line of the processions, playing the role of mourners dressed in stylish black dresses, embroidered veils and intricately designed hair combs.

Granada’s “Work and Light” brotherhood was among the first to allow women to carry the floats in the 1980s.

Granada’s “Work and Light” brotherhood was among the first to allow women to carry the floats in the 1980s. (Photo by JORGE GUERRERO / AFP)

At first “it was not accepted, women were talked bad about,” said Pilar del Carpio, a 45-year-old cashier who has been a shrine bearer since she was 13 and is proud to be one of the “pioneers”.

Today only three or four of Granada’s 30 brotherhoods, which stage the processions, include women costaleras.

“Maybe there are people who think it is not normal,” said Maria Auxiliadora Canca, a 40-year driving instructor who directs a team of float bearers in Ronda, another Andalusia city in southern Spain.

“Since our bodies are capable of doing it, and we do it with conviction, I don’t see why there should be a difference.”

‘Scandal’

But in Seville, which holds Spain’s most spectacular Easter parades, there are no women float bearers even though the city’s archbishop in 2011 issued a decree to put an end to gender-based discrimination in the city’s religious orders.

Opponents claim the task is too physically demanding, “not suitable” for women.

“It’s a scandal,” said Maribel Tortosa, 23, who manages an Instagram account called “Costaleras por Sevilla” dedicated to women float bearers.

People say that it is “ugly” to see a woman wearing a “costal”, the traditional padded sack used by bearers as protective headgear, she said.

Two female float bearers “Costaleras” of the “Trabajo y Luz” (Work and Light) brotherhood hug each other after ten arduous hours of heavy lifting. (Photo by JORGE GUERRERO / AFP)

“But under a float, you don’t see anything,” she added.

Still, the emergence of women float bearers reflects the growing push by women in Spain into traditionally male-dominated fields since the return of democracy in the 1970s.

Spain’s oldest police force, the Guardia Civil, has since 2020 been headed by a woman — a first in its 178-year history.

And since Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez came to power in 2018, women have taken up most cabinet posts for the first time in history.

‘Strong enough’

In Granada, locals are no longer surprised to see women training on the streets in the lead up to Holy Week by lifting and carrying a float loaded with bricks.

The load “weighs more every hour”, even though the shrine bearers are replaced every half hour during the “Work and Light” brotherhood’s procession, which began Monday at four pm and ended at around one am, said Rafael Perez, who heads the team of women shrine bearers.

Working with women “changes absolutely nothing. I just have to treat them with more tenderness,” said Perez.

Among the women of this religious order was Montse Ríos, 47, who has been a bearer since she was 19 and who still feels “strong enough to go under”.

Her eldest daughter joined her this week under the float, while her youngest is a “pipera”, giving water to the procession participants.

“And we don’t lack that,” she added.

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