Semana Santa in Spain: Holy Week glossary

As in many other cities in Spain, Holy Week celebrations in Seville are really impressive. It is definitely my favorite holiday for many reasons. The city transforms itself into a place of repentance, grief and symbolic darkness, despite the aesthetic couldn’t be more colorful.

Entering the world of the Semana Santa is something I truly recommend, even if you are not a religious person or you are not Catholic. If you plan to come to Spain, Holy Week events – especially those of Seville, should be in your agenda.

After travelling around many Spanish regions, Seville’s Easter activities are something I can’t recommend enough. For a perfect experience read my practical tips and suggestions.

Keep reading about Semana Santa in Spain. Holy Week celebrations are just one of these things you shouldn’t miss!

Here is a list with the most frequent words used during the Semana Santa. Each one has a short explanation that will help you understand a bit more this fascinating universe.


Antifaz – Hood worn by almost every member of the procession. The penitents wear it alone whereas the nazarenos wear it with the capirote.

Banda de musica – Band accompanying the procesion.

Balanceo – As they walk carrying their crosses, the penitents do it following a certain rhythm as if they were marching. This movement is reflected by the capes’ swinging.

Capataz – Person directing the costaleros and giving them directions to carry the paso throughout the streets. He indicates when the paso has to be lifted (using the llamador), set it down and moving it to the left or right. His task is particularly important when the streets become narrower and the paso has to go around a corner. He also encourages the costaleros, knowing the huge weight they are carrying.

Capirote – Cone shaped hood worn by the nazarenos. It symbolizes grief and repentance.

Canasto – Wooden structure hold by the costaleros where either the Christ (and eventually other sculptures) or the Virgin Mary stand up.

Carrera Oficial – The last section before arriving to the Cathedral common to all brotherhoods.

Chicota – Long walk the costaleros make with the paso without stopping.

Cirial – Members of the procesion dressed like priests, without antifaz, who carry silver staffs with candles. They are a great indication that the paso is just coming up.

Cirio – Incredibly long candle the nazarenos carries during the procession.

Costalero – Person (mostly men due to the physical strength required) who is hidden below the canasta and carries the paso. They usually wear a faja and a costal (a piece of fabric that looks like a turban).

Cofradia – Synonym of hermandad or brotherhood. Group of people belonging to a church who organize religious events. In Spain, Holy Week events such as the processions are the important ones.

Cristo – Christ, one of the imagenes of the procession.

Cruz de guia – Cross carried at the front of the procesion who leads the nazarenos, the pasos and the music band (if there is one).

Entrada – The entrance of a procession from a church. It marks its end.

Faja – Wide belt worn by the costaleros to protect their back while carrying the paso.

Hermandad – Synonym of cofradia or brotherhood. Group of people belonging to a church who organize religious events such as the processions.

Hermano – Member of the hermandad or the cofradia.

Imagen – Sculpture representing a character of the Bible (e.g. Jesus Christ, Virgin Mary or other figures of the paso).

Incensario – Censer. One of the characteristics of the Semana Santa is the smell of incense all over Seville.

Llamador – Knocker placed on the float (paso), used by the capataz to indicate the costaleros that they have to lift the paso all at once.

Madruga – The night of Holy Thursday, when the most popular processions set out to arrive at the Cathedral on the dawn of Good Friday. It’s the climax of the Holy Week.

Mantilla – Long piece of lace that women wear on Maundy Thursday and sometimes on Good Friday. They also wear a dress, high hill shoes and gloves, all black.

Manto – Intricately and very detailed embroidered gown covering the back of the image of the Virgin Mary.

Marcha procesional – Music dedicated to a cofradia or a specific virgin. Most of the pasos are accompanied by a band that plays marchas throughout the route the procession follows.

Mecida – The paso is slowly moved by the costaleros from one side to the other but without walking.

Monaguillo – Children dressed like ciriales (priests).

Nazareno – Member of the brotherhood dressing in a robe, cone shaped hood -to hide his or her identity, and a cape. Colors of robes and hoods depend on the brotherhoods.

Palio – Ornate canopy or baldachin attached to the canasta of the Virgin Mary paso. It covers the imagen and is supported by varales.

Paso – From the latin passus (meaning scene but also suffering). Float with Christ and other sculptures representing scenes of the Bible, or with the Virgin Mary. It’s the wooden structure carried by costaleros.

Penitente – A member of the procesion who repents of his sins carrying a cross over his shoulder. Penitentes are easily recognizable because they are dressed like nazarenos but without the capirote. Some can carry up to four crosses and lots walk barefoot.

Procesion – Procession or parade organized by brotherhood.

Respiradero – Small grille located on each side of the canasta allowing the costaleros to get some fresh air.

Saeta – A serenade sung by a person (usually on a balcony) to the Virgin Mary. The paso is set down during the singing.

Salida – The exit of a procession from a church. It marks its beginning.

Torrija – Slice of bread prepared with milk, eggs, honey and then fried on a pan. Typical dessert of the Semana Santa in Spain. Holy Week has also other particular dishes (e.g. pestiÒos).

Tunica – Tunic or robe worn by the nazareno.

Varal – Silver or gold pole supporting the palio.

Virgen – Virgin Mary.