If you had to choose the most notable out of the Holy Week in Seville it would be the carvings of the Virgin given a royal welcome. They are beautiful baroque images with silver or gold crowns, embroidered robes and velvet tunics that only show the face and hands.
Almost sixty processions parade through the city of Seville, the largest number in the whole of Andalusia, organised by fraternities related to a church, district or simply a social category. About fifty people dress up as Nazarenes during the so-called Major Week. Some do it as a penitence and others, the bearers, carry on the processional floats on their shoulders.
One of the most important moments of the Holy Week, is the Virgen de la Macarena leaving the church at midnight on Holy Thursday.
Holy Week in Seville allows the visitor a precious glimpse into the soul of Spain. Thousands of people, young and old, male and female, religious and secular, pour onto the winding streets of this ancient city to remember the events of The Passion. Seville is renowned for staging perhaps the most overwhelming pageant of The Passion to be found anywhere in the world. Religious and community groups from all over the city spend weeks in preparation to ensure that the celebrations do justice to what can be considered the commanding highlight of the Christian calendar.
The commemoration dates back to the 16th century, when the Catholic Church started the pageant to enlighten its flock over the ideas and events leading up to Christ's death. Today, the celebrations are as popular as they have ever been. Semana Santa is a time to bear the burden of the Virgin's sorrow and Christ's suffering. Emotions run high. The spectacle of the solemn processions, marked by mesmerising drumbeats and punctuated by flamenco saetas (songs), provides a constant reminder of the Christian and Pagan heritage that makes up this unique land.
Processions leave from the cathedral at noon every day. Tensions heighten on the eve of Good Friday, with a breathtaking midnight cavalcade that continues into the early hours of the morning. A wealth of images of the Martyr and the Virgin Mary are paraded through the streets of the city to an almighty turn out. It is difficult for the onlooker to remain impassive as they witness the passing of this elaborate train of litters, bearing effigies ranging from La Virgen Macarena, patron saint of bullfighters, to Nuestro Padre Jesús del Gran Poder (Jesus). The images are adorned in the finest of robes and semi-precious stones, and their passing is met with awe-struck expressions and cries of "Ay! Qué linda!" ("how beautiful") from the crowds.
This is a huge event. The procession can take up to eight hours, as there are over 100 pasos, or litters, representing different districts of the town. The privilege of carrying one of the litters is exclusive. The act itself is seen as symbolic of Jesus' suffering, and anyone who has ever attempted carrying a litter will understand why. One of the greatest honours of Semana Santa is assigned to the costaleros, who bear some of the larger floats, which can weigh up to several tonnes. Each man must take the weight of up to 40 kilograms for hours on end. The brothers' attire of hood, cloak and sandals (known as the nazareno), has been described, incongruously, as similar to that of the Klu Klux Klan, but the sentiment is obviously entirely different.
From time to time the procession draws to a halt to re-enact one of the stations of the cross. It will stop outside a balcony on the route where a flamenco singer will grace the multitude with a saeta, drawn from the tradition of the cante jondo, meaning deep song, reflecting a deep yearning for suffering and immortality. Such songs bring tears to many eyes.
Semana Santa is no ordinary event. The combination of the heady clouds of incense and flamenco song, along with the sheer spectacle of the costaleros, nazarenos and life-size images, serves to create a powerful atmosphere of mixed emotion. Regardless of creed no visitor can fail to be moved by the pain, sorrow, elation and even jubilation of these mysterious celebrations. An absolute must-see.