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Journal 20 - Semana Santa

April 16, 2006

Gallery 6
gallery 6
Easter has always been an important holiday for me.  Sometimes our church will meet on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday for a service, but the emphasis certainly is focused in the Sunday events.  There is a morning service to celebrate with the church, and later, family gatherings enjoy special food and time together.

This year I’ve had the opportunity to see a very different way of celebrating Easter.  The Semana Santa, Holy Week, begins on Palm Sunday.  At 3:15 in the afternoon, the first processional began at the parish Ntra. Sra. del Carmen.  Leading the group is the Elder Brother and the first Brotherhood.  They dress as penitents, wearing cone-shaped headpiece and masked from head to toe.  Depending on where they walk in the procession, they might carry a large candle, some kind of cross or ornament, or incense.  Behind around a hundred penitents follows the first paso, which are the processional floats. For Palm Sunday, the first paso portrays Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  The pasos are plated by lots of silver and gold, and turn into ornate works of art.  They’re carried by a team of men who are packed underneath and slowly step together until they get their next break to duck out and catch some fresh air.  As the week goes on, the Jesus pasos tell different parts of the crucifixion story (although they don’t come in any order).  Jesus’ paso is followed by a marching band.  Next, around another hundred penitents walk before the Virgin Mary’s paso and band.

Each procession leaves from a different church around Cádiz, makes a visit to the Catedral and returns to its church.  The trip usually takes between six or seven hours.  In Cádiz, four processionals leave each day, beginning in the afternoon and finishing around 1:00 in the morning.  The biggest day (or night rather) is Thursday, when the eight processionals that begin in the afternoon don’t finish until 10:00 Friday morning.   Who will want to watch a processional that starts at 2:00 and ends at 7:00?  There are an amazing number of people that turn out to see the pasos, and fill the Cádiz hotels for the week.  My host parents usually take a few trips to go out and see the processionals, but they’ve spent most of their week watching processional (and their reruns) on their TV.

Tomorrow at 11:00 in the morning the 28th paso will leave from the Cathedral.  This last procession celebrates the resurrected Jesus and concludes the Semana Santa.  Other than the first and last pasos, the emphasis on the week is overwhelmingly on the Jesus’ crucifixion and Mary’s faithfulness and suffering.   

The Semana Santa brings together some different aspects of Spain’s culture and experience. Especially for the older generation, the week is a special time to remember and celebrate their faith.  There are those who do penance in the procession, sometimes carrying chains or walking barefoot.  Younger people participate in the processionals and are taught from an early age to value the pasos.  However, for secular Spain the week is valued more as a nice cultural folklore that is worth holding onto than something that has real spiritual significance.  In addition, in a region that struggles to produce employment opportunities, the amount of tourism that the week brings is certainly a benefit.  The question that I am left with is whether the cultural and financial aspect be reason enough to continue with such events through the next generation.  As we are reminded of Christ’s faithfulness, may we also gain the hope of new life.