This year, Semana Santa here in Seville was, yet again, adversely affected by the weather.
The processions which fill the city with statues, hooded penitents, incense, and devotion during Holy Week, were curtailed by rain, as so often happens – some vicious downpours which caused pasos (floats) to hurriedly leave their set route and seek shelter in the nearest church. The co-ordination needed for up to nine processions making their way through the city’s narrow streets at the same time, and then making unscheduled stops to avoid their figures being damaged by moisture (one Jesus was even seen sporting a raincoat), must be incredibly complicated.
The high point of the week, for many, is La Madruga’, when (arguably) the most important hermandades El Silencio, Jesus del Gran Poder, La Esperanza of Triana and La Macarena, come out on early Friday morning. This year, their return to their temples was affected by a heavy downpour, resulting in headlines such as “Madrugada Rota“. Some had to stay in the Cathedral until the skies calmed down, even until the following day.
Earlier that day, however, on Thursday afternoon, the clouds broke and the sun shone through. Having been keeping a close eye on the weather forecast, comparing three different reports, I noticed that all seemed to concur on the afternoon of Jueves Santo offering a brolly-free experience.
Las Cigarreras (formerly based at the chapel of the Tobacco Factory of Carmen fame, now the University of Seville, hence the name) were due to start crossing the San Telmo bridge, which crosses the river between Triana and Puerta Jerez, at 4pm. Since I find the narrow, packed streets of the centre somewhat claustrophobic, an open plaza giving onto the river was the ideal spot. There was even a raised area – the roundabout on Plaza de Cuba – from which to take photos, and sit down for a rest periodically (the processions take between 30 minutes and over an hour to go past). The view from here encompasses the Giralda, Torre del Oro, Palacio San Telmo and even one of the towers of Plaza de España.
The colours of this hermandad (brotherhood) are rich, shiny purple hoods over white gowns, which looked unexpectedly glamorous and glossy in the rare sunshine. Some of them carried black wooden crosses, as an act of penitence.
The Christ paso is one of the more sombre and graphic, and somehow more affecting that seeing the figure on a cross: Nuestro Padre Jesus Atado a la Columna (Our Father Jesus Tied to the Column). He’s surrounded by other figures – Roman guards and two other men, one of whom is wielding a whip. They all look extremely life-like, which is unnerving to say the least. This is a contemporary work – the Jesus was made in 1974, and the other figures just ten years ago.
After some more nazarenos, the paso of the Virgin (also called palio), made her way across the plaza. She is Maria Santisima de la Victoria, and dates from the 17th century. After her came the band, and a surge of people followed the tail of the procession over the bridge towards Puerta Jerez.
This being Jueves Santo, I noticed that several women, of all ages, were wearing black outfits – elegant dresses with lace mantillas, veils which sit over peinetas (tall combs) on the back of their heads. The mantilla is also traditionally worn at bullfights, and – in white – at weddings, and while most Sevillanas wear theirs on Holy Thursday, some sport them on Friday too.
After crossing the bridge, the column of nazarenos turned left onto the broad avenue Paseo de Cristobal Colon (normally buzzing with traffic, but closed off for this afternoon), passing the Torre del Oro on the left. Las Cigarreras is the only procession which takes this riverside route, next to the Guadalquivir, offering a wide, light space to enjoy the spectacle – people can even sit on the wall by the tower while they watch.
After this it was right turn into a narrow street, into the more typical Semana Santa setting, with people hanging out of their windows and balconies above to see the action. The strong red and yellow of the building made a great backdrop for this section of the procession.
Following the paso, she turned left into the street of the Atarazanas, and then right and up into the Arenal, at which point I took my leave.
One of the most approachable aspects of Semana Santa is that despite all the ceremony, silver staffs, and a certain degree of seriousness, like the rest of Spanish life, it’s a family affair. You see mini-nazarenos, monaguillos (altar boys), and even mini-mantillas. All ages take part – if too small to be in the procession itself, then by wearing their outfit – and it’s a way of introducing, and including, the next generation who may not go to Mass in this centuries-old tradition. For many, the rites of Semana Santa and being part of a cofradia (the association attached to a church, some of whose hermanos – members – wear the nazareno dress) are quite apart from attending actual services.
For my own children, they don’t even take Religion lessons at school; I’m waiting until they’re older and can make up their own minds about which faith if any, they want to follow. They’ve got plenty of time to decide for themselves.