The above image is not an uncommon sight in Seville. Most likely to be spotted during Easter (known as Semana Santa or Holy Week) but not exclusive to this date, it can be quite normal in this city to stumble upon a procesión at almost any time of year.
A few weeks ago that was exactly what happened. During the course of a weekend I saw a couple of processions take to the city centre streets and do a tour around the neighbourhood. The sound of the drums kept playing right into the evening (here evening is 10 or 11pm). They’d been marching round the streets since 6pm and I’m still unsure what it was all about. It was most likely something to do with what’s known as Las Cruces de Mayo or May Crosses, or perhaps Corpus Christi, but any number of reasons could have motivated the scenes I captured through my lens.
So, even though my knowledge is rather limited in regards to all things procesión-y, I thought I’d share a glimpse of this tradition that is so closely associated with Seville.
If you’ve never experienced a Spanish procession you might think this was quite a spectacular sight. But the two taking place on the aforementioned weekend were very minor events compared to some of the city’s famous Holy Week traditions.
Even so, there are a few basic facts common to all processions (big or small):
- A procession is organised by an hermandad or brotherhood, linked to a particular church or chapel. They are usually devoted to a particular image of a Saint, Virgin or Christ.
- The “floats” are called pasos. They’re big and heavy and carried by the members of the brotherhood (no wheels under there, just strong shoulders!). You can sometimes see the feet poking out from below.
- The bearers are called costaleros, they wear a costal on their head (see photos), which is slightly cushioned and helps them support the weight of the paso. This can be anywhere between 30 and 50 kg per costalero, making the total weight quite considerable.
- The procession is accompanied by music that helps the bearers walk in time. The rhthm could simply be set by a group of drummers, be played by cornets and bugles or a full brass band.
Anyway, spectacular or not, it was interesting to watch these go by. There is quite a festive atmosphere in the street and plenty of animated chatter, with some stopping to snap photos, others following devotedly along behind and the kids excitedly gathering wax from the melting candles, making it into a ball and competing to see who can take the most wax home by the end of the event. Local neighbours were standing on their balconies taking in the sights from above and bored band members who were simply there to do a job chatted or checked their phones between tunes.
It always amazes me how these traditions are so rooted in local customs. For some it is very much a part of what it means to be Sevillano. Others are fed up with an archaic practice that more often than not causes road closures and inconvenience for those trying to get anywhere along the route (this article in a local newspaper sums it up quite well).
Still, it’s likely to continue to be a common sight in Seville for quite some time yet.
Have you ever experienced a procession? What surprised you most?
Photos: ©SpanishBerry 2016