The Light No Darkness Can Overcome

If you asked me when I first announced what study abroad program I was applying to why I chose Sevilla and why the spring semester I would have told you

1. Sevilla seemed like the perfect size city with obviously great weather

2. Semana Santa

So needless to say (but I’m going to go ahead and say it anyway), I’ve been anxiously waiting for Holy Week since January 12 when I arrived.

It did not disappoint.

Semana Santa in Sevilla consists of an incredibly unbelievable influx of tourists.

But really while that’s true, it is a spectacle unlike anything I’ve seen before.

{Quick shout-out to Alejandro for being my personal Semana Santa guide/source of information and explaining all of the following to me}.

Sevilla has hermandades/confradías (religious brotherhoods) that each send out a paso during the week. The literal translation of “paso” is “float,” however, while each paso does have an elaborate float, it encompasses an entire procession. These processions go from their church of origin (where the paso is kept when not being used during Semana Santa) to the cathedral and then back to the church of origin. Depending on the starting location, each paso can take anywhere from 6-14 hours round-trip.

Pasos consist of nazarenos and casteleros along with the float. Sometimes, but not always, there are also kids accompanying the paso and passing out candy (about as close to the American Easter tradition as Spain gets) and sometimes a band.

“Los Nazarenos” (Nazarenes) wear the full-coverage pointy hats (that yes, look like the KKK and yes, I am a million times over tired of having to explain to ignorant people that no, they are not affiliated with the KKK and have been around quite a few centuries longer). Los nazarenos carry candles and are completely silent, as they are not allowed to interact with any crowd members. Depending on the hermandad, they sometimes can be seen carrying crosses as well. (sometimes these crosses would be carried

The casteleros are the ones who hold up the paso itself. They walk under the paso and hold it up by beams. They wear adapted turban-like headdresses to protect their heads. The pasos stop every so often for turns, which are tricky to navigate as the casteleros cannot see anything under the paso, and also to give them a rest as 14 hours of walking and carrying a paso takes its toll. They are allowed to be seen and thus I saw many men over those few days walking around or drinking a beer in a group while wearing their adapted turbans still.

Being a a part of a paso during Semana Santa is considered performing a penance, along the lines of confession. Thus, it is highly uncouth to clap at any point during a procession. We witnessed groups of tourists doing so when a paso would stop then begin again (for example) and as Alejandro told me, it’s one of the surest ways for people to know that you have not bothered to do your research on Semana Santa customs.

The Pasos themselves are either of a virgin and elaborately decorated or of a Holy Week “scene.” For example, La Hemandad de Santa Marta depicts Jesus being taken down from the cross. (no pictures as sadly that paso was before I arrived back in Sevilla).

As you’ll see in these pictures, these floats are gorgeous. We were blessed with amazing weather (mid-80s absolute no rain) all week. Margarita told me that when it has rained in past years, she’s seen people crying because the pasos do not go out if it’s raining (after a year of planning both practically and spiritually, it’s easy to see why it would be so upsetting if your paso did not depart because of weather).

My Holy Week experience started on Maundy Thursday (called Holy Thursday in Spanish). This is actually the biggest day of the week for Sevillanos because of the large number of pasos that go out and la Madrugada, which is the most famous paso of Semana Santa and occurs just after midnight on Holy Thursday/Good Friday. I saw part of that paso in addition to a few others that afternoon/night. While out and about with friends on Good Friday, we ran into a few more.

I do not remember which of these pasos is which to be completely honest.

Los nazarenos
Pasos can be made of more than just nazarenos etc. Kids often take part as well.
This Good Friday paso was easily the prettiest of the many I saw (or at least was able to get good pictures of)
As you can see, the nazarenos look differently for each hermandad

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It was a completely surreal experience to see the pasos and be a part of the Semana Santa atmosphere. It’s so completely different from the often ambivalent attitude towards Easter at home. Even the non-religious or barely-religious in Sevilla get dressed to the nines and see the pasos most years.

I also was completely blessed to be able to attend Easter Vigil at the Catedral on Saturday night. I LOVE Easter Vigil services and rarely get to go to them at home. So I had decided while in Austria that I wanted to find one in Sevilla for my Easter worship rather than a Sunday morning service. The Catedral happened to have one and I’m beyond glad I went.

Before and after midnight. He is risen.
Before and after midnight. He is risen.

Sorry for the huge text post. But I find this fascinating and obviously this week was a major part of my decision to study in Sevilla, so I felt it deserved the time 🙂


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