What are the Semana Santa brotherhoods (hermandades)

sevilla semana santa

In Sevilla, Semana Santa brotherhoods (hermandades, also known as cofradías) are associations of members of the parish who organize themselves to celebrate Easter with processions.

The Cathedral and Giralda Tower are closed to visitors in the afternoon during Semana Santa.

Secure your visit getting your skip-the-line tickets in advance! You’ll access the Cathedral, the Giralda and the Iglesia del Salvador.

During the rest of the year they work and prepare the processions that will take place during the Holy Week. But they also carry on other religious activities.

What is a Semana Santa brotherhood?

Affiliated with their local Catholic church, an hermandad is an association whose members are Catholic laypersons. It can also be known as cofradía de penitencia (penance confraternity).

Their main purpose is to organize and perform public religious acts. They are also focused on community good works and maintaining traditional values.

Back in the day, a cofradía was a sort of professional guild (e.g. a fisherman’s brotherhood or cofradía de pescadores) while an hermandad had members from all sorts of professions, trades and backgrounds.

Both associations were founded around the 13th century, at the end of the Middle Ages, when guild associations were very common.

These groups arose as a natural response to the insecurity of the time. In those centuries, only a small group of privileged people could gain access and become members. The meetings of the members took place in local parishes, depending on their size. The brotherhoods and confraternities of the time also helped in the funerals and masses of the deceased members, as economic and spiritual help for the family.

Over the years, the cofradías and hermandades have become pretty much the same thing, with the distinct naming kept for traditional reasons. Nowadays there are 100+ brotherhoods in Seville alone.

The main member of the hermandad or cofradía is the hermano mayor (elder), representing it at every official event.

What is the main role of a brotherhood?

In Seville, Semana Santa processions are the heart of brotherhoods as they represent the main event of Christ’s life (His Death and Resurrection). They are also the best occasion to prove their faith as well as achieve public penance. Consequently, every member of the hermandad is actually performing penance during the procession.

Even though the main subject and the feelings processions inspire have to do with grief, sadness, mourning, repentance and devotion, they are absolutely spectacular. You shouldn’t miss these astonishing celebrations.

In Seville alone, their are 60 different brotherhoods who take part in the Semana Santa processions. Brotherhoods are the core of Semana Santa as they are responsible for organizing, financing and delivering the event in full swing.

Apart from the Easter activities, brotherhoods carry on other activities throughout the year such as minor processions as well as charity actions and works for the community.

Are all brotherhoods identical?

The brotherhoods are grouped around the invocation or fervor of a religious figure, Christ, the Virgin or the relic of a Saint. Among the different types of religious brotherhoods are:

  • Sacramental brotherhoods. Their function is to cultivate adoration and devotion to the Blessed Sacrament.
  • Penitential brotherhoods. Those that make a public penitential station.

Each confraternity has its own colors and insignia. Media images of the processions typically feature white or black tunics or capirotes, but confraternities have adopted a range of colors for their costumes, including purple, green, blue, and red.

Generally, the darker the tunic of the nazarenos, the more serious the brotherhood is.

Another sign of solemnity is the use or not of music bands. If the procession is accompanied by the roar of marches with bugle, drums or melodies, in theory it’s more relaxed than those that go in silence or with funeral melodies.

Why Sevillanos join a brotherhood

Membership is open to any baptized person. However, each brotherhood has its own internal rules deciding:

  • Who can participate in a procession.
  • The different organs governing it.

It’s very frequent among Sevillanos to belong to one (or more) brotherhoods. And for certain people, rising through the ranks of his (or her) brotherhood is one of the greatest honors a Sevillano can earn.

If you ask them what drove them to pick this or that hermandad, you’ll get multiple answers. Some follow a family tradition while others identify themselves with the neighborhood one or just choose according to their personal preference.

Brotherhoods coordinate the Semana Santa events

Up to 60 brotherhoods process from their own chapel or the church they are attached to the Cathedral and return back. Besides, 9 more hermandades and cofradías process on the Friday and Saturday before Palm Sunday.

Just to give you an idea of how many people can be involved, the number of nazarenos can go from 100 (Santo Entierro) to over 3,000 (La Macarena)… And this represents only part of the people involved in the procesion!

Add to this lots of Sevillanos showing devotion for their Cristo or Virgen, outsiders coming from far away to enjoy the Holy Week and other curious people – among whose you’ll find me, and the hordes walking in the narrow streets of the city center can be phenomenal!

As you can imagine, such an event needs to be carefully planned and scheduled. Every brotherhood deserves its own place and prominence. For this reason, the Consejo Superior de Hermandades y Cofradías (Supreme Council of Brotherhoods) was founded in 1930.

The Council plays a double role:

  • It establishes and agrees with the local authorities (usually the City Council) the official itinerary and schedule of each hermandad.
  • It acts as the link between the Archbishop and each brotherhood.

Members of the Council are elected every 4 years among the hermanos mayores (elders).

This article is part of a complete tutorial on Semana Santa in Seville where you can read all the information you need to organize your experience during this magical and unique week.

Here is a complete summary of all the guide:

1. Semana Santa dates in Seville
2. What are Seville’s Holy Week processions?
3. Easter activities: daily schedule of Semana Santa processions
4. Holy Week Seville: What to see each day
5. Live Semana Santa in Seville as locals do
6. 9 tips to make the most out of Easter in Seville
7. When to visit the home churches during Easter (Seville)
8. How to survive Holy Week in Seville with children
9. What are the Semana Santa brotherhoods (hermandades)
10. Semana Santa glossary

What are the Semana Santa brotherhoods (hermandades)

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