In Seville Holy Week processions happen during the most important week of the year. These traditional parades are part of a much larger event that contributes to form the cultural legacy of the city.
It’s definitely one of the most important popular events of Spain, and certainly one of the world’s most impressive spectacles. And it’s free!
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.
What are the Seville Holy Week processions?
In Seville, Holy Week celebrations are based on the passion and death of Jesus Christ. In order to do so, different brotherhoods organize procesiones throughout the city exhibiting pasos. The pasos represent individual scenes of Christ’s Passion as well as images of the Virgin Mary grieving for the suffering and killing of her son.
The processions are also known as an estación de penitencia (station of penance) and they work along a designated route from their home church or chapel to the Seville Cathedral and back. This route must be the shortest possible one.
The last section before arriving to the Cathedral is common to all brotherhoods and is called the Carrera Oficial (Official Path). This course begins at a square popularly known as the Campana (Bell) and then continues along Sierpes street, Plaza San Francisco, and finally Avenida de la Constitución, before reaching the Cathedral.
Once there, the procession marches through one door, receives a blessing from the archbishop, and marches out a door on the other side to return home to its parish.
When do the processions take place?
The processions are usually held in the afternoon and evening, with the peak time being from 18:00 to 1:00.
The only exception is the night of La Madrugá, whose action begins around 1:00 and ends around noon the following day.
When is the best time to see the processions?
The experience of watching a procession can vary considerably, depending on the time of day.
- Between 16:00 and 21:00 in the evening is the best time to watch them with children, and to enjoy seeing the images in daylight. It’s also when the crowds are in the street.
- At night between 21:00 and midnight: As the night goes on, families and children start to leave the streets little by little giving way to teenagers, young adults and Semana Santa true fans.
- After midnight: Most processions are now returning to their neighborhoods, and there are less crowds. This is a particularly interesting time, because you can easily see the processions in front row and you can also experience the floats’ entrance in their home church. However, you’ll have to pick 1 or 2, as you can’t be everywhere at the same time!
How is the marching order of a procession?
Therefore, every procession has the same structure.
It’s generally formed by the following elements/people:
- A great cross (called Cruz de Guía or Guiding Cross) is carried at the beginning of each procession to open the way.
- Then come the nazarenos who are members of the brotherhood dressing in a robe, a capirote to hide his or her identity, and sometimes a cape. Colors of robes and capirotes depend on the brotherhoods.
- The diputados de tramo move between the lines to keep the formations organized.
- A group of altar boys, dressed like priests and carrying either chandeliers or incense, and other servants.
- The paso.
- A musical band follows or precedes the paso. However, some brotherhoods go in procession in silence.
- A number of penitents, carrying wooden crosses to make public penance. They wear the habit and the hood of the brotherhood, although their hood is not pointed.
So depending on the elements you have in front of you, you can roughly determine how far the pasos are from your current position.
Are all the processions identical?
The structure described above repeats itself depending of the number of pasos, which can be two or three. Note that the last paso is not followed by penitents. Finally, the procession should be closed (ie. presided) by the titular chaplain in full processional vestments known as the preste.
Although this is the standard structure, depending on the traditions of each brotherhood and other circumstances, details may vary.
There are brotherhoods that make very long routes and with thousands of nazarenos and others that don’t leave the old city center and manage much less people. There are also more popular processions with a more relaxed atmosphere and other very serious ones in which silence and recollection is predominant.
So a procession can be made up from a few hundred to near 3,000 nazarenos and last anywhere from 4 to 14 hours! And the route’s length depends on how far the home church is from the Cathedral. Therefore, the largest processions can take 1h30+ to cross one particular spot!
The pasos in the Seville Holy Week processions
A paso resembles a huge, ornate table about 2 m (7 ft) high, with a velvet hem hiding both its legs and the costaleros from view. The pasos are made of wood, usually covered in precious metals, and are intricately worked and decorated.
This combination of Baroque style and decorations made with lots of flowers (sometimes the same, sometimes different species) and candles are spectacular. On top of it, the candles are only lit by night, transforming the paso into an illuminated scene absolutely impressive.
I would say that one of my favorite things of Semana Santa in Seville is looking at these animated masterpieces and admire their details.
As I said before, there are two kinds of pasos: El Cristo (Christ) and La Virgen (The Virgin).
The pasos dedicated to El Cristo, which depict scenes from the Passion, are usually floats covered in gold. You will notice different kinds and sizes depending on the number of figures on top of it (up to 13 in the case of La Cena, the last supper!).
Some brotherhoods have chosen to represent scenes before Christ’s death. These pasos are called misterios (misteries). And they represent for example the entrance of Jesus to Jerusalem, the trial, the cross given to Jesus, the Judas’ kiss, Jesus carrying the cross himself, and many more). Others have preferred a paso with Christ on the cross (called a crucificado).
The pasos dedicated to La Virgen are usually covered in silver, and they represent a very dramatic image of the Virgin Mary, generally in tears. This image is called a dolorosa (literally, in pain). In most of the pasos the Virgin Mary is alone although she can be accompanied by an apostle or holding her Son in her arms.
All the dolorosas are covered by an ornate canopy or baldachin (palio) attached to the structure. The palio is supported by six poles (varales) on each side.
The costaleros play an essential role
The costaleros are the most important members of the processions, and without them Semana Santa in Seville would never take place. They voluntarily carry the paso supporting the beams upon their shoulders and necks. And they also lift, move and lower it. The costaleros consider a once in a lifetime honor carrying the paso as it’s a sign of devotion and penance.
This is usually a task performed by men as the pasos often weigh over 2,000 kg (4,400 lbs) and it takes many months of practice before the big day. Just think how much practice that would take to walk smoothly together as one unit, to lift and turn those giant pasos through the narrow cobblestone streets of Seville.
On average there are 40 costaleros per paso with each one supporting a weight of around 50 kg (110 lbs) for approximately 8 hours in total (not in a row!). So depending upon the size of float, there can be anywhere from 28-60 men carrying it. Because of the length of time of each procession, the costaleros switch out every hour to give each other a break.
Because the costaleros are totally hidden and packed, the capataz (overseer), located on the outside, guides the team by voice, and/or through a ceremonial hammer – el llamador (caller) attached to the paso.
As a result, the costaleros try to move the paso according to the rhythm of the music, giving the observer the impression that the figures are literally walking. Each brotherhood has a distinctive way to raise and move a paso, depending on its traditions, style and philosophy.
The nazarenos in the Seville Holy Week processions
The nazarenos are probably the most famous characters of Semana Santa in Seville. They precede the pasos and generally march in silence, sometimes barefoot. They are dressed in a habit, wear a cape and hide their face behind a pointed hood (capirote).
Colors, forms and details of the habit are distinctive for each brotherhood, and sometimes for different locations within the procession. For instance, the nazarenos accompanying the mister can wear a capirote of a different color than the one of the nazarenos accompanying the Virgin Mary.
Apart from that, they hold either long wax candles (cirios), a pole (vara), a standard or a lantern. Usually the nazarenos march in pairs, and are grouped behind an insignia.
Unfortunately, Ku Klux Klan members clothing bear an unfortunate similarity to those used by the nazarenos. Remember that nazarenos exist since the 16th century!
So don’t shout, as I heard a couple of tourists once, that nazarenos are scary and freaky because they’ve copied their habits from the KKK! Even though you are in Spain, more people than you imagine understand English.
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. Semana Santa hermandades (brotherhoods)
10. Semana Santa glossary