Sunday, April 4, 2010

Semana Santa, Seville

I wish to continue my very un-Methodist (but very Episcopalian) fascination with big public religious spectacles with an event from the week just past, Holy Week in Seville.
I have never been to Seville, or to Spain, but I've known people here in New York who never miss this event, who travel to Seville every year.

The religious and charitable confraternities of Seville stage these processions all 8 days of Holy Week. They begin at the parish church, or the confraternity chapel, and proceed to the cathedral and back. Sometimes, these processions take hours and can last late into the night, depending on the size of the confraternity. These processions are officially penitential acts. Many of the members of the confraternities walk the procession barefoot. Each confraternity carries 2, sometimes 3, floats or pasos. Members carry them on their shoulders entirely concealed beneath them. They are guided by a captain who barks directions to them. There is always a paso of the Virgin Mary. Each paso has its own marching band, and the bands of the Virgin Mary always play upbeat marches. The second paso is always a tableau from the Passion accompanied by a band playing flamenco dirges. Sometimes there is a third paso that is a religious allegory of some kind.
Some of these pasos are very old going back to the 18th and 17th centuries. Great artists like El Greco and Juan Montanes made pasos for similar Holy Week processions in other Spanish cities.

The confraternities are not secret, but members participating in the processions are required to be anonymous, thus the concealment beneath the pasos. The people wearing the frightful-looking tall peaked hoods are Nazarenos, officers and members of the confraternity not involved in carrying pasos. Since 1980, Seville's confraternities have admitted women, so some of them are Nazarenas.

Here is the most famous and celebrated of all the pasos, the "Queen of Seville," Nuestra Senora de la Esperanza Macarena beginning her procession:

Here is one of the pasos of the Passion accompanied by a very loud flamenco dirge:

Sometimes the processions stop, and a person in a balcony sings a lament known as a saeta. You can hear the Arab heritage of Andalusia in these laments.

Finally, a little glimpse of how much Spain has changed, and how much it remains the same, in the 35 years since Franco died. Nuestra Senora de las Aguas decides not to stop for the specials at Ben & Jerry's or at Starbucks. Forgive me, but I love these marching bands:

Spanish national TV broadcasts Holy Week from Seville, and that's where most of these videos come from.

Spain, that looms large in the Anglo-American imagination as the home of all that is dark, reactionary, and superstitious (the Inquisition, the Escorial, Phillip II, Franco), now has legalized gay marriage and national health insurance. Who wears the dark mantilla of imperial pride and religious fanaticism now?


JCF said...

a person in a balcony sings a lament known as a saeta. You can hear the Arab heritage of Andalusia in these laments.

Arab . . . or Jewish? Fran---who's been to Seville for Santa Semana several times---posted one of these last week, (mentioning the Jewish/Arab past of Andalusia), and I was wondering if saeta was a cognate for seder?

At any rate, Doug, thank you!

Counterlight said...

You may be right about the Jewish origin of the saeta. I don't know. Andalusia was Arab territory for a long time, and the local Jewish culture flourished under Arab rule. It flourished until 1492 when King Ferdinand expelled both Jews and Arabs from Spain.

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

We had only a tiny procession at Torrelaguna. Two set-ups. One with the Cruicifixtion and the other with the Madonna from a nearby Hermitage. But it went on from 8 PM to past midnight...