Easter in Southern Spain: a Spine-tingling Experience
Never have I experienced anything so, if you’ll excuse the cliché, spine-tingling and awe-inspiring.
Easter in Spain. I’ve read about it, I’ve seen the photos, I’ve watched it on TV. And now I can say that I have been there. What an experience!
Firstly, I’m sure many people have read about Easter in Spain and may think that it’s something only those with a religious incline would appreciate. But this is simply not the case: yes it helps if you have a bit of background on the Easter story, but to simply appreciate the atmosphere, the sights and sounds, I really don’t think you have to be a church-goer.
If you are going to Spain for Easter, don’t expect to get much sleep. We were woken on several occasions by trumpet blast and thumping drums outside our hotel at 1am, 2am, 3am, 4am... the processions go on all through the night.
Be prepared to drop everything at the sound of the marching bands! Whilst enjoying breakfast in the hotel one morning, we heard the notorious beating drum and trumpet sound, and smelt the scent of incense wafting in through the open back door. Within seconds, the dining room was deserted; everyone had grabbed their cameras and made for the back door – including the hotel staff! I followed them, and was met with a head-on view of one of the processions. To see the march-past so close was thrilling, but to also witness the emotion of those watching, was very touching. Imagine these people who live and work here; they see these processions year in, year out. But still, they down tools at the faintest inkling of a passing procession, and still, they watch, with tears in their eyes, in awe, as the brethren carry the amazing Tronos, and the bands march past.
Before we went, I obtained a timetable from the Tourist Office website, so that I could see which Brethren were marching, where and when. This proved very useful.
We arrived in Jerez on the night of Maundy Thursday and were instantly thrown into an electric atmosphere. We followed the sound of the marching drums, not really knowing what to expect. And then there it was: the first Trono we had ever seen in real life: Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. It was dark, night time, and the Trono was lit with hundreds of candles. The candles cast shadows on the face of Our Lady, and as she drew closer, she seemed to look me straight in the eye. She was so beautiful and was dressed in a flowing, rich red and gold velvet gown. The first of many shivers prickled the back of my neck.
The morning of Good Friday was spent darting from street to street, and running along with other onlookers trying to ‘head off’ the processions to get a full frontal view. We saw three different brotherhoods that morning, each parading their own spectacularly ornate Trono. I read that the brotherhoods spend months preparing for the Easter processions; practicing their marches and polishing those amazing floats. You can see the evidence of this as soon as you lay eyes on them.
The Good Friday processions are followed by ‘penitents’ who wear the renowned pointed headdresses and flowing gowns. Men, women and children were marching in these costumes, carrying large candles and heavy crosses. Some of them were barefoot.
The morning processions subsided around lunchtime and all fell quiet in Jerez, leaving us to visit some of the sights.
For a few hours you’d never believe what you had been in the midst of that morning. Until, that was, around 5pm, when that now familiar beating drum stimulated a distant band to strike up their notorious sound. We joined the hundreds of eager onlookers lining the streets just outside our hotel. Our excellent front line view gave us the opportunity to witness exactly what happens during the parades. The distinct and mesmerising sound of the band drew closer in a gradual crescendo and we saw, in the distance, the first of many Tronos approaching.
Just before it reached us, the parade came to a halt. The band stopped playing, and began 'El Silencio'. Everyone was totally quiet, even the young children. The silence lasted for around three or four minutes and was incredibly moving. At this point, on two or three occasions over the weekend, we witnessed a member of the crowd breaking into a ‘saeta’. This is an impromptu solo mantra, in a crude Flamenco style, and is aimed at the pausing Trono. The passion of the singer was evident by their falling tears, their outstretched arms, hands curled with veins pronounced. They sang praise, continuing until they had their say. Heartfelt applause and tears from the crowd followed.
Then the procession was ready to move off again. One of the brethren would tap three times on the front of the Trono, on what looks like a door knocker.
Then one drum would start beating slowly, joined by another, then another, then all of a sudden, the Trono would be lifted with a mighty sigh and gasp from the crowd, who may even cry ‘guapa’ or ‘guapo’ depending on who the Trono depicts. The band launches into one of its emotive numbers, and the march starts again.
Some of the Tronos are so amazing – if you are lucky to get a close up view then you won’t believe what you are seeing: filled with fresh and silk flowers, candles stood in highly polished gold and silver candelabras, all set on intricately carved wood. The statues on them are so life-like - they actually seem to be looking at you.
One of the most emotive sights we witnessed was when the brethren carrying the Tronos would make them ‘sway’ in time with the music from the following bands. This really has to be seen to understand, but I will try to explain: imagine this amazing, emotive and very loud music, the crowds in awe, shouting their appreciation for the passing procession, you indulge yourself in the rhythm of the music and actually start to move in time with it: then you see the Trono in the distance, moving towards you. You are totally in tune with the beat of the drum, and your eyes are fixed on the face of Our Lady, Our Lord or St John the Evangelist. Then you see them start to ‘walk’ towards you, one shoulder in front of the other, ‘swaying’ in time to the music. It is so real, you actually forget that these are statues and the atmosphere enhances this feeling. The swaying motion is met by applause and cheers from the crowd, as it is appreciated how difficult it must be for this effect to be achieved.
On Easter Sunday, we followed the entire procession from start to finish. We witnessed some amazing sights including exquisitely dressed women wearing white Mantillas held in place by intricate brooches, (on Friday they were wearing black Mantillas) and brethren carrying heavy gilded crosses. And the sight of sights: the amazing Trono of Christ of the Resurrection.
The procession lasted two hours and culminated at the Cathedral, where the achingly heavy float was carried, with utter eminence, up steps and slopes, to the entrance, where in a rapture of applause, it disappeared inside.
After some hours inside the Cathedral, every Trono that had been involved in the Semana Santa processions filed out around early evening, and we saw some of the best processions of the weekend. The feeling in the crowd was uplifted, the mood one of hope, happiness and joy, and even the incense smelt different.
This weekend was such an experience, truly heart-wrenching. Put this on your Traveller’s Wish List: Semana Santa in Spain!
About the Author
Sarah McInerney - Words by Sarah Mac - is a creative copy writer with 15 years experience of writing compelling, quality words for business websites, brochures, advertising, press, sales literature, news letters and online material. She has travelled extensively through Spain and specialises in writing articles on popular tourist destinations. If you are looking to make an impact using the power of power of good wording, then visit www.wordsbysarahmac.co.uk
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