Easter on the Costa del Sol – Semana Santa means Holy Week in Spanish. In the Christian religion, it refers to the week prior to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. While virtually all Christian churches around the world have important observances of this week, this particular week is the holiest time of year for the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Church. In countries where Catholicism is the predominant religion, these observances are particularly elaborate as well as public. This is true especially of Latin speaking countries, including most of South and Central America, Italy, and Spain. The week begins with Palm Sunday and includes Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Easter Sunday is not included, as it is the beginning of The Great Fifty Days also known as the Pentecost.
The brotherhoods of the most important churches spend months in advance practicing their processions, resulting in a solemn and awe-inspiring experience. Dozens of men and women march through the streets, carrying the statue of their church’s patron saint, flanked by hundreds of candles. This event, though it may sound strange, is one of the top fiestas for everyone in Spain: entire families bring chairs and snacks, and they settle on the sidewalk to witness the impressive processions.
In Malaga, after centuries of Muslim influence, there was a strong conversion to Catholicism when the Catholic Monarchs’ reconquista took place. This began Easter celebrations through holy processions, which have grown into the ones that we know today. These processions are led by brotherhoods and fraternities, with la Hermandad del Cristo de La Veracruz and la Archicofradía del Cristo de la Sangre known to be the most ancient. Although Semana Santa officially starts on Palm Sunday, going until Easter Sunday, the confraternities begin planning many months in advance, focusing on all the smallest details. Preparation is essential so that the huge thrones or tronos, musical groups, traditional dress, pointed hoods, and other elements that accompany the processions through the city are perfectly prepared.
You’ll see people waiting impatiently and enthusiastically for the departure of the majestic thrones for their extensive tours of the city. A throne’s exit of it’s temple is an especially moving event. Some brotherhoods accompany these spectacular exits with typical Semana Santa music, as the thrones head out to a passionate and lively crowd. Many Málaga locals, malagueños, accompany these processions, some carrying crosses and others candles.
The procession route is especially difficult for the men who carry the thrones, understandable because some thrones can weigh more than five tons, needing more than 250 men to lift them.
Accompanying the floats are penitents (nazarenos) who wear robes and hoods (capirote) that to Americans resemble the regalia of the Ku Klux Klan, which in fact took the model for its robes from these. There are also groups of altar boys swinging incense burners, some musical bands, and the size of each procession depends more or less on the size and importance of the church being represented. The longest processions can consist of as many as 3,000 people and take many hours to pass a certain point.
Make no mistake this is a time of great joy, celebration and happiness throughout Spain, and if you happen to be in the country at this time you would be well advised to immerse yourself in this tradition.