Semana Santa 2016

ss 16 (2)people waiting for processions, contemplating that other Great Power… 4G

After last year’s “warning” 😉 about coming to Sevilla during Semana Santa, followed by the Twitter shit storm inadvertently caused by me posting this photo on Instagram, I am going to stick with a simple photo essay this year. It was a lovely and gentle Semana Santa for me, running into some processions by happenstance, seeking out others on purpose, and generally enjoying the ambiance since most of my time wasn’t spent in La Bulla (the very Sevillano name for the crush of humanity that congregates on the procession routes). And while I’d never actually choose to get caught up in a serious bulla, I have learned over the years that when this happens, just relax and ride it out. Though it does help to know which little side streets will get you off the main route, and after more than 23 years in Sevilla I am quite experienced in “procession dodging” when I actually need to get somewhere. So for Semana Santa 2016 here are 16 pics I took while out and about this week…

ss 16 (1)mini-nazareno

ss 16 (10)the San Bernardo procession in Cuesta del Rosario

ss 16 (14)chairs galore! Plaza San Franciso

ss 16 (13)Cristo de la Fundación, San Bernardo

ss 16 (12)Los Negritos

ss 16little boy waiting for the next procession

ss 16 (11)group of people from nursing home with “preferred seating” supplied by local bars

ss 16 (9)Virgen de los Ángeles, Los Negritos

ss 16 (8)elegant ladies dressed “de luto” (in mourning)

ss 16 (7)Cristo de la Salud, Los Gitanos

ss 16 (5)costaleros taking a break

ss 16 (6)off-duty Centurian posing for pics

ss 16 (15)María Santísima de la Esperanza Macarena

ss 16 (4)Cristo de la Expiración (El Cachorro)

ss 16 (3)
El Cachorro was created in 1682 by Francisco Antonio Ruiz Gijón. It depicts Jesús at the moment of dying on the cross (Cristo de la Expiración) and is a splendid and very moving work of art. Legend has it that the artist found a gypsy dying in the street in Triana and his face was the inspiration for his Christ. This is one of my favourite processions though I don’t get to see it every year. Glad I made time for it yesterday.

The longer I live in Sevilla the more I see and read accounts of my beloved adopted city by various expat bloggers living here, or by travel writers passing through, and while some are good and honest accounts (I don’t have to agree with them all) there are also many that are frankly just crap. My feeling is… DON’T write about something you haven’t actually experienced first hand. Also, try to approach your topic with an open mind, not with an already fixed agenda. Sometimes I wonder if some of these travel writers have actually been here. And as for the massive expat community here… as long as you are still calling somewhere else “home”, I wonder if you’ll ever really experience Sevilla – or Spain – other than through foreign eyes looking at a foreign culture. I’ve never thought of anywhere else as “home” since arriving in Spain back in 1992. And while I love showing visitors the joys of Sevilla, I guess also feel very protective. Because it is my only home.

Nazareno Nonsense

nazarenos de verdadHere are some nazarenos doing what nazarenos are supposed to do. Which is basically to don the robes of a penitent and, well, do penance. The number of nazarenos varies from brotherhood to brotherhood, sometimes they can be as many as 2000 or more, and a procession of that size, depending on where it starts from, can last up to 14 hours. That’s a lot of penance.

el silencioLast night I went out for the Madrugá to see my absolute favourite procession here, El Silencio. I’ve only seen it a few times in my 23 years in Sevilla, mostly because it runs from 1 to 6 am. A relatively short five hours, but also during the hours I am usually attempting to sleep. What I love about this procession is that, instead of a big marching band, the musical accompaniment for each paso is an oboe, clarinet and bassoon, which creates an eerily beautiful ambiance. The other thing I love is that the paso of the Virgin (Santa María de la Concepción) is all silver and white, and that her flowers are simple bouquets of orange blossom.

Anyhoodle, last night I actually got to watch her pass by twice, by deftly winding through back streets in the wee hours, and I felt that had been reason enough to haul myself out of bed at 4 am. But on the way home we literally ran into Los Gitanos – I turned a corner thinking the coast was clear and THERE THEY WERE…

los gitanosSeriously, I almost got run over by those guys leading the way, though I still managed a quick blurry pic before scrambling onto the pavement. So we decided to stick around and at least watch the Jesús de la Salud pass by, especially as we were standing on the edge of the pavement and got a really good close-up view.

el senor los gitanosWhile waiting for the Christ paso to arrive the temperature took a sudden nose-dive and so once it had passed we decided to make our way home, and as luck would have it, this meant we walked straight into the Los Gitano virgin, Santa María de las Angustias Coronada, passing below the Setas.

virgen los gitanos

But on our way there we had passed behind the Encarnación Market and I was surprised to see it all lit up inside (this was 6.30 am) and also that a length of paper had been put up along the windows, almost but not quite blocking a view inside. What I could see were lots of feet and long robes, so of course my interest was piqued. And then I saw a spot where the paper had been torn away, so I had a look and there were a lot – and I mean a LOT – of very tired looking nazarenos and “centurians” taking a rest, eating and drinking (whether breakfast or something else I don’t know) and so I snapped a pic of a group of rather interesting looking guys standing at the market bar. And I put it up on my Instagram with the rest of my photos taken that night.

Well, suddenly my @azaharSevilla Twitter account started pinging like mad, with people either RTing or otherwise mentioning me. And it turned out it was all about this photo of some nazarenos having a break. Some people thought it was a disturbing sight, others called it Dantesque (huh?) and other criticized me for having uploaded the photo, saying I was being imprudent and could be reported and even sued. Hell, for a brief while I was actually TRENDING on Twitter (a first, and no doubt a last). All over one photo of some guys relaxing at a bar. Which I am not going to post here again, but here is a different one of another group of nazarenos I spotted on my way home, clearly all tuckered out. I’m assuming this one is okay because nobody is taking any refreshment.

nazarenso tuckered outNow, I do understand the concept that while the penitent is still wearing the garb they should respect what it stands for and should probably not be seen in public swigging a cold one. As many pointed out on Twitter, what sort of penance is that? And well, okay. But, as I mentioned earlier, I wonder why some penitents get off easier than others, simply because of the numbers. While watching Los Gitanos (one of the biggies) I saw several nazarenos stagger over to a nearby bar, clearly exhausted, for a cold drink. Is it really such a big deal that they maintain their piety and anonymity to the point of possible dehydration? And what about bathroom breaks, especially for those processions that last for up to 14 hours? How much penance is enough for one night?

I took the photo of the guys inside the market as a curiosity, because it showed nazarenos as people, and out of their usual situation. I wasn’t trying to show them as doing something wrong – that hadn’t even occurred to me. In fact, some of my favourite photos of nazarenos are shots of random pointy-hooded penitents casually wandering up a street, walking with friends, having a ciggie break, whatever. So I really hadn’t expected the Twitter shitstorm that happened over my Instagram pic. All I can say is, it’s a good thing I didn’t post the one of the nazareno wearing earphones plugged into their mobile device…

Don’t Come to Sevilla for Semana Santa

Okay, that was a bit of a dramatic title… especially I have nothing at all against Semana Santa. In fact, I’ve now lived through 21 Semana Santas (Easter Holy Weeks) in Sevilla and have always enjoyed them.

jesus among the shoesWhen I first arrived here in 1993 it was a total novelty to me, as you can imagine, and I tried to get out to see as many processions as possible during the week-long festivities. But I also lived a stone’s throw from the Cathedral, so in effect, Semana Santa came to me every year. I soon learned that all my English classes would be cancelled (without pay! – I was a private tutor in those days), and that I had to get any errands and shopping done well before 2 pm. After about 5 pm I could either dodge the processions and crowds in order to get somewhere, or just stay at home – and as the years passed I more often chose the latter. Well, except when I went out to purposely see processions, usually one or two each year.

paso practice

You may think you know something about religious festivals and festivities, but trust me, unless you’ve been to Sevilla for Semana Santa there’s a definite gap in your education. Although Holy Week is an important festival throughout the Catholic world, the celebrations in Sevilla are thought to be the largest and most elaborate. And they are elaborate.

ss 15 (3)

The basic format doesn’t sound too complicated. The celebrations are organised by an association of religious brotherhoods (with the co-operation of the City Council), each of which is directly responsible for one of the processions that carry the statues of the Christ and the Virgin from where they normally “live” to the Cathedral to be blessed, and then return them. The actual mechanics can get complicated, of course, and between the processions and the onlookers a large part of the city, especially along the processional way and around the Cathedral, is pretty much closed for normal business.

ss 15 (4)

I love all of this, even though I’m not religious, but be warned! If you come to Sevilla during this time and expect to see “the real Sevilla”, you’re kind of out of luck. Most tapas bars in the centre stop selling tapas and you are left with ordering “raciones” or large plates. Which is fine if there are a few of you so you can share them, but it’s not a tapas-friendly environment and bars tend to be heaving (just like everywhere else). And you will already have noticed that flights and hotels are much more expensive during this time. Plus the streets and monuments will be so crowded that you will have a very hard time seeing them.

ss 15 (5)

I would only recommend a visit to Sevilla during Semana Santa if you have a particular interest in seeing this unusual and spectacular event. But if you have a desire to see and experience Sevilla itself, try to avoid this week and come at a time when the city is at its natural best. Either post-Easter to mid-June or September to November.

ss 15 (7)Slippery when waxy (from the procession candles)

Signs of Spring


slippery wax (1)

Or more specifically, signs of Easter Week in Sevilla. For the first time this year I noticed these new signs up and thought – Aha! City Hall must’ve been sued over falling down accidents (this was just before my own non-wax related falling down incident). But in fact the accumulation of wax on the streets from thousands of penitent’s candles is no laughing matter. Just today (on the way home from getting my ankles x-rayed at the hospital) I saw TWO ambulances next to wiped-out motorbikes and as we got close to one intersection a policeman slowed down a guy on a motorcycle and told him to be very careful as that bit of road was very very slippery. Curious that there are no signs with motos on them.

slippery wax (2)

Rained out…

[click on image to enlarge]

Things have been very quiet around here Semana Santa-wise. After months of scarcely any rainfall it’s pretty much been coming down non-stop since Palm Sunday. Tomorrow it looks like it may lift for about 24 hours before starting up again on Friday.

Above are some pics I took on Monday evening. It was quite sad to see everything deserted and the odd nazareno – like that young boy – making his disconsolate way home after his procession was cancelled.

On the right are a couple of rogue nazarenos I saw yesterday, making their way over to their church. But about an hour later the skies really opened up. Me? I was all cosy at home in PJs watching a film on DVD with my flatmate and the cats, as I will be again this evening. But tomorrow I have a tapas tour – I don’t know what I was thinking! Oh right, about paying the rent 😉 … but in fact I do love a challenge and so it should be an interesting night.

It’s actually been a few years since I’ve gone out following the processions and looking for the best vantage points. But I do love Semana Santa and the general upheaval and chaos. I don’t even mind the inconvenience of shops being closed or not being able to get out and about because of the crowds. I guess a part of me enjoys how this crazy week really shakes things up. And in spite of loving my “new” home I still miss hearing La Madrugá played below my bedroom balcony on Martes Santo… so glad now I got up to film that video as it was my last time.

Oh, and this is also the first time in my 19 years here that the orange blossom (azahar) has coincided with Semana Santa. It also seems to be lasting a bit longer this year. Heaven.

100 Semana Santa Photos…

…that you should see. That’s what the poster says.

And I’ve been walking by it almost daily, telling myself that I really ought to go in and have a look, because I love both old photos and Semana Santa. As usual I left it until almost too late (the exhibit closes on April 8th, Easter Sunday) and so popped in this morning after doing a few errands.

[note: exhibit has been extended to 29th April]

And the poster is right – you really should see these photos.

The oldest, taken on calle Feria, was c.1885 and they go up to almost present day. For me it’s entrancing to look at the people and familiar streets – some places haven’t changed that much – and imagine myself walking there now.

I also liked the “photo boxes” lit from within that were placed around the room on the floor. You can see them in the collage here along with a list of the photographers. The reflection of the blue lights played havoc with my photos, but they are really just to entice you over and see them for yourself.

The exhibit is being held inside the Antequarium, beneath the Metropol Parasols (aka The Mushrooms) in Plaza Encarnación, so it was also a good opportunity to visit the Antequarium again, which I hadn’t seen since it first opened a year ago. At that time it was still unfinished and now it’s looking much more impressive.

Semana Santa en Sevilla
100 Fotografías Que Deberías Conocer
23rd February – 8th April 29th April 2012
10.00 – 19.30 Tuesday – Saturday /10.00 – 13.30 Sundays and holidays

[click on images to enlarge]

Semana Santa Practice

Bet you don’t see this where you live! And as many times as I’ve seen it, including the guys above a couple of nights ago, I am always stopped in my tracks and, well, a little bit in awe. They are costaleros practicing for Semana Santa, when they will carry the statues of Jesus and the Virgin Mary on the backs of their necks throughout the processions. Here they are practicing with weights instead of statues while they perfect their moves because, as you can imagine, it’s quite difficult to manouevre these things, and taking corners is especially tricky. During the processions you never see the costaleros (other than those taking breaks and having beers at nearby bars) and I find it fascinating to see them at work like this.

Semana Santa 2012
1 – 8 April

Semana Santa 2011

only in Sevilla…

Next week is Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Sevilla, starting on Palm Sunday, April 17th. For those who haven’t experienced, or don’t know about it, it’s all about the processions – more than sixty of them during the course of the week, including those of the Madrugá on the Thursday night through to Friday morning. Each procession carries statues of the Christ and the Virgin from its home church to the Cathedral and back again, accompanied by nazarenos and penitentes carrying candles and crosses, and the distinctive music of the Semana Santa marching bands.

Because this is the largest and most elaborate celebration of its kind in the world, people come from all over Spain and even further afield to see it. With such large crowds, especially in the centre and around the cathedral, it is almost impossible for the residents to live normal lives, and for the last 18 years I’ve spent most of Semana Santa pretty much trapped in my flat just up the street from the cathedral. But this year I will be spending it in my new home near the Alfalfa for the first time, and I really don’t know what to expect in the way of crowds and inconvenience.

In retrospect it seems almost prescient that I took this video last year of the Santa Cruz procession, which plays my favourite marcha, the haunting La Madrugá by Abel Moreno. Little did I know that it was going to be the last time I would watch it go past below my bedroom balconies…