Forget Bunnies and Hot Cross buns. Easter is one of the highlights of the year in Spain, and Holy Week in Seville is the big one.
Although with Antonio Banderas making his annual pilgrimage to take part in the processions, Malaga runs it a close second. In Marbella Semana Santa is basically a week of elaborate processions of intricate floats. The term floats is a little misleading as each way a tonne and are carried throughout town by about 40 men, the costaleros, who are hidden underneath the thing. It’s not a job for the faint hearted and the costaleros wear a headpiece like a large inside out sock, thickly padded around the head and the neck, white T-shirt and dark cotton trousers, a little like a gang of devout and muscular smurfs.
Each float depicts a biblical scene, usually in Christ being whipped, the cat o nine tails beads slapping against each other as they move along. The figures on the floats themselves are normally rendered in what an art critic could describe as “Late Catholic Renaissance Suffering Style”, plenty of detail in the crown of thorns, beads of blood, open wounds and the agonised expression of Christ himself. Happy Clappy Christianity this is not.
And then, of course, there are the Virgins. You can’t have a good procession in Andalucia without a Virgin floating by every so often. While the more cynical amongst you may debate the improbability in locating a Virgin anywhere near the Costa del Sol, the devout take their Virgins very seriously.
The rain plays a big factor during Semana Santa. If it throws it down then, rain will stop play and the news will be full of images of the devoted in tears because they can’t take their Virgin out.
It’s a moving experience and with some of the processions in silence while at others people cry out “guapa! guapa!” or sing to the Virgin Mary. This is not, I repeat NOT the time to try out your bar room Spanish or an impromptu version of Una Paloma Blanca. The locals would set upon you, the streets are crowded and the police and ambulance services would never make it to you on time.
Perhaps the best known image of Semana Santa, however, are thenazarenos, people cloaked in the traditional costume of repentance, which bears more than a passing resemblance to the KKK. As well as this there are also priests swinging incense everywhere, and a band in front of each float that plays music.
All processions leave from their church, make their way through the city and towards the cathedral, then go back to their church, when the procession ends with the costeleros placing the float down in its place at their church where it won’t be touched until the next year.
Of course, if the thought of standing in a crowd is all too much for you, then you can also follow the example of many and watch the whole thing on television with a bowl of olives and fino to hand. Giralda TV broadcasts live coverage and all the national channels have reports from Seville and Malaga. The sacred week over, Seville slowly gets back to normal and looks forward to the more profane celebrations of the April Feria…