Scribbler in Seville

Oh brother!

This year’s Semana Santa here in Seville has, sadly, been almost as much of a washout as last year’s so far. Only a tiny proportion of the processions – consisting of nazarenos (hooded and robed members of local hermandades, brotherhoods), two pasos (floats bearing statues of the Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ, and various supporting characters, carried by men called costaleros), and a brass band – have been able to make their round trips to the cathedral, called the estacion de penitencia. Yesterday, no pasos at all went out.

It’s hard to overstate what a huge disappointment this is for everyone: for the participants, who have spent the whole year preparing for their moment; for the locals, who adore their local Virgin and for whom Semana Santa is more than spiritual – it’s elemental, and unmissable; and for the tourists, who have come from all over Spain and abroad to experience this extraordinary week in Seville.

People waiting couldn't understand why the processions had been cancelled. The decision was fully justified a few hours later, when a torrential downpour cleared the streets. (I was long gone by then, hence no photos of empty seats or brollies!)

Interestingly, for those who are interested in these things (which presumably you are, since you’re reading this), the nazarenos of the Vera-Cruz cofradia, in Barrio Santa Cruz, went out without their pasos.

A man sings a saeta to the Virgen de los Dolores, part of the Santa Cruz hermandad's procession, on a previous Semana Santa. This is one of the many pasos which stayed at home yesterday due to the inclement weather. Controversially, her penitentes (the hoodies) went out without her.

In a few cases, only the hermandades’ nazarenos (the ones in the pointy hoods, or capirotes) went out to risk the rain, leaving behind their pasos.

I don’t blame them – they were determined not to miss the opportunity to make this significant journey, the highlight of the year for many. So rather than risking their pasos getting drenched, they went out on their own. Predictably, it provoked some serious disapproval from the more conservative elements, who huffed that the estacion should be carried out with all elements present – in other words, the statues.

A penitente of Las Estudiantes and his children, who carry baskets of sweets to give to the crowds, make their way to the Fabrica de Tabacos, of Carmen fame, now part of Seville University.

One of those which chose not to make its (very short) journey to the cathedral yesterday – thereby avoiding a torrential downpour – was Los Estudiantes. Based at the Capilla de la Universidad, the red chapel next to the old tobacco factory of Carmen fame, this hermandad met in the university building, the chapel itself being their final destination after visiting the cathedral.

Watching the dark hooded figures, some barefoot, make their way around the outside of this beautiful, honey-coloured stone building, was a photographic dream. While the professionals had to find the unusual angle for their newspapers, I snapped away happily,  loving the contrast between the dark, shiny fabric of their tunics, and the pale, rough texture of the walls.

This hermandad is one of those who wear belts made of esparto with leather straps, a kind of grass which grows locally (there’s a town near where I live called Espartinas).

When the groups of penitentes arrived at the entrance to the chapel where they were meeting, many took off their hoods, to get some air. It was pleasing to see how many of them were women.

Lots of children arrived hoping to take part in this procession, dressed like little choirboys and girls in dark robes, embroidered white tunics, and little purple velvet capes with the hermandad‘s insignia, and outfit called the moneguilla.

This rhyme, which my daughter came home from nursery singing this week, says plenty about a) dental considerations and diet for Spanish children (chuches are considered acceptible, and many kids eat them on a daily basis), and b) their manners. But it is quite sweet, I suppose.

“Nazareno, da me un caramelo
Que si no me lo das
Me voy a enfadar!”

Nazareno, give me a sweet
If you don’t give me one
I’ll get angry!

One of these little children was brought along by his father, who is well-known locally: Seville’s mayor, Juan Ignacio Zoido.

Then I walked around the end of the building, past the Alfonso XIII hotel, to get to the other side, where the announcement was due to be made as to whether the procession would take place. The band members were negative, and another official from the hermandad had told me either they go out, or they don’t – they won’t retreat or take refuge from the rain in other churches, as many pasos were forced to do on Sunday.

Crowds waiting for the procession - though not a bad spot, with the lovely building, and the orange trees in flower, their scented blossom scattered on the ground.

Everyone was wearing earphones to listen to their radios, as Canal Sur and other local stations had the most up-to-date news on what was happening, including live announcements from the top bods of the hermandades, called hermano mayor (elder brother – I even heard an hermana mayor (elder sister). Times they are a’changing.

In the end, the pasos made the 100-metre mini-procession from the cathedral back to their chapel. Better than nothing, but a far cry from what everyone had hoped for. I missed it, as I’d already been waiting around for quite a while.

If you’re going to venture out today – and the forecast is the best it’s been this week – then it might be worth checking out a couple of apps: iSemana Santa Giralda TV, from the Seville TV station, and the Canal Sur Radio one, called iLlamador.

Both have day-by-day listings of hermandades with plenty of detail, such as the names of the statues, how many nazarenos, and how long it takes for the whole procession to go past. Then you have timelined itineraries – where they’ll be at what time; routes marked out on maps, again with time points; live maps, showing where processions are at this moment; and live commentary and updates (Canal Sur) or twitter feed (Giralda TV – it also has live TV streaming, but this is not reliable on my iPhone). Giralda TV also has an excellent glossary in English.

So here’s hoping that this afternoon the sun shines on Seville – if I was a penitente, I wouldn’t much fancy walking barefoot on cobbles damp from yesterday’s rain showers all afternoon.

16 thoughts on “Oh brother!

  1. Mad Dog

    Great pictures Fiona – what a shame about the weather! I can’t say I envy them wearing those outfits – it must be really hot.

  2. Asturian Diary

    Such a shame about the weather. It seems to be pretty much the same all over the country. (I’ve been checking to see if there’s anywhere worth visiting for the weekend – there isn’t!)
    You still managed to get some great pictures and provide a fascinating insight into Semana Santa in Seville. So completely different to how it is celebrated up here in the North. I love to watch the Seville goings on on Gente but I must say that to an outsider’s eyes it can all look a bit intimidating!

    1. Fiona Flores Watson

      Thanks for your nice comments, AD. Yes, it does look strange to an outsider. I’m fairly used to it now, though actually being there still blows me away, especially the saetas (sad songs sung to the Virgin as she goes past by people on balconies – look out for next blog post!). At least weather was better yesterday – all the pasos went out! I went to see one, which I’ll blog about soon. Supposed to be fine today too, but dodgy tonight for the madrugada, when the two most important virgins, Macarena and Estrella (Triana) go out – most important moment of SS for many Sevillanos.

  3. Emma

    This post has made me feel Seville-sick, the city which was my home for three years. I absolutely loved the pageantry of Semana Santa.

    1. Fiona Flores Watson

      Yes, it is amazing, there is nothing like it. Even if you’re firmly atheist, like me, you can’t help but be moved by it. Hard to convey in words if you’ve never seen it.

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