The Sights and Sounds of Semana Santa in Salamanca

This past week, Easter was celebrated all over the world. Well, fortunately enough for me, I was able to experience one of the most unique ways of celebrating this religious holiday. Spain has always taken its religious holidays very seriously, but I never knew to what extent until I saw a procession. I was speechless as I watched these massive structures pass by me…on the shoulders of about 16-20 people.

Semana Santa, or Holy Week, is pretty much the equivalent of Spring Break in the United States. Many schools and colleges have these days off to celebrate the entire week. The unique thing about Semana Santa is that starting exactly a week before Easter, April 1st, the first of FIFTEEN processions took place. During the week leading up to Easter, April 1st – April 8th, there were multiple processions at different times during the day. My friends would be out during the night and would randomly run into a procession taking place at midnight or 3AM. But they also occurred at normal times of course, around noon or 5PM. Unfortunately many of the processions in Salamanca were canceled due to raining, which means that the multiple floats were never able to leave the churches.

The typical tradition of the Semana Santa processions are the two intensely adorned floats, one of the Virgin and the other of a scene from Christ’s Passion. The floats that I saw in Salamanca, I was told, were medium sized. There were even larger ones carried in Sevilla, which is famous for its processions. I can ONLY imagine how HUGE the floats were in Sevilla if the ones in Salamanca were medium! Wow! The lavish decoration of these incredible floats slowly passes before you…SLOWLY is an understatement…no wonder the processions take up to 5 hours each! They are accompanied by the music of local marching bands that have a variety of all ages present.

Jesus Float semana santa
To think this float is considered medium!
Virgin Float Semana Santa
The Virgin.
Semana Santa band
I thought it was the coolest thing that the marching bands incorporated all ages! They normally followed each float.

Underneath each float, you’ll just barely be able to make out rows and rows of feet. There are up to 16-20 men or women, called costaleros, who haul the float on shoulders and control its swaying motion. They practice so much and are so in sync with each other that the realistic figures on top look as if they were walking along to the music. Some of the costaleros even walk the entire procession bare foot, which is impressive considering some of the processions last more than 5 hours. I still cannot fathom the idea of carrying this massive structure on my shoulder, in complete unison with so many other people, for over 5 hours.

Feet under Semena Santa float
See! You can barely see the feet underneath the float!
Semana Santa float
Closer look at the feet under the float! You can see that some are barefoot!

The other participants in the procession are called nazarenos, or penitents, who walk along with the float. Many Americans are taken aback by their costumes because they resemble so closely to those of the Klu Klux Klan. Well, the truth is that they pointy hoods and long robes of nazarenos and those of the Ku Klux Klan is simply coincidental and completely unrelated. It still provoked an eery feeling considering you can only see the eyes of each of the nazarenos.

Carrying Cross
Wow, carrying that cross for 5 hours with chains on your feet. I couldn’t even imagine!
The beginning of many nazarenos to come!
Semana Santa Procession
Many children, of all ages, participated in the processions also.
Semana Santa red hood
Closer look at the pointy hoods that the nazarenos wore.

One of the memories that I will never forget during my time in Salamanca will be celebrating Easter in the Plaza Mayor with almost the entire city of Salamanca. It was such a beautiful setting. Each person that participated in a procession, dressed in their specific colored gowns, were in the Plaza Mayor also. Hundreds of people, all ages, gathered to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, whether you are Christian or not, and whether you are religious or not, it truly was a magnificent experience, and I am so glad that I was there.

Semana Santa float
Smaller float topped by a cross, carried by 16 men.
Semana Santa in Salamanca Spain
One of the groups entering the Plaza Mayor for the Easter service.
Red cross carried during Semana Santa
A cross made of red carnations was carried into the Plaza by a group of young adults.
Facade of the Plaza Mayor in Salamanca, Spain
A view of the main facade in the Plaza Mayor. You can’t really tell how many people are around, but it was PACKED.
Virgin float in Salamanca
The Virgin float being carried into the Plaza. She wore a black cloak, but once she “encounters” Jesus it was removed to her all white outfit.
The Resurrection of Jesus float
The Resurrection of Jesus float.

I was originally doubtful about staying in Salamanca for a long duration of my break, but many people told me that the processions were wonderful in the city. Now after witnessing Easter Sunday in the Plaza Mayor and the carrying of the floats during the processions, I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else for the celebration.

Facade of Plaza Mayor in Salamanca, Spain
View of the Plaza Mayor facade with the Virgin dressed in white! This was as all the processions were leaving.

Gianna Weller
Salamanca, Spain
Spring 2012

One thought

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