Holy Week in Seville (Semana Santa de Sevilla) is one of the most important traditional events of the city. It is celebrated in the week leading up to Easter (Holy Week among christians), and is one of the better known religious events within Spain. The week features the procession of pasos, floats of lifelike wooden sculptures of individual scenes of the events of the Passion, or images of the Virgin Mary showing restrained grief for the torture and killing of her son. Some of the sculptures are of great antiquity and are considered artistic masterpieces.

During Holy Week, the city is crowded with residents and visitors, drawn by the spectacle and atmosphere. The impact is particularly strong for the Catholic community.

The processions are organised by hermandades and cofradías, religious brotherhoods. During the processions, members precede the pasos (of which there are up to three in each procession) dressed in penitential robes, and, with few exceptions, hoods. They may also be accompanied by brass bands.

The processions work along a designated route from their home churches and chapels to the Cathedral, usually via a central viewing area and back. The processions from the suburban barrios may take 14 hours to return to their home churches.

As of 2009, a total of 60 processions are scheduled for the week, from Palm Sunday through to Easter Sunday morning. The climax of the week is the night of Holy Thursday, when the most popular processions set out to arrive at the Cathedral on the dawn of Good Friday, known as the madrugá.

The Brotherhoods

At the heart of Semana Santa are the brotherhoods (Hermandades y Cofradias de Penitencia),[1] associations of Catholic laypersons organised for the purpose of performing public acts of religious observance; in this case, related to the Passion and death of Jesus Christ and to perform public penance.

The brotherhoods, besides the day-to-day work in preparation for the processions, also undertake many other self-regulated religious activities, and charitable and community work. Many brotherhoods maintain their own chapel, while others are attached to a regular parish.

Membership is open to any baptised person, although internal rules may limit who can participate in a procession (e.g. women are still not allowed to process in some brotherhoods)[2]. Currently, membership of one (or more) brotherhoods is usually a matter of family tradition, neighbourhood or personal taste.

There is a Supreme Council of Brotherhoods (Consejo Superior de Hermandades y Cofradías), whose members are chosen every four years by the elders (Hermanos Mayores) of the different brotherhoods. This council is in charge of organisation and agreements with local authorities on the official itinerary. It acts also as the link with the canonical authority (the Archbishop) and between brotherhoods.

The earliest known brotherhood (Primitiva Hermandad de Nuestro Padre Jesús Nazareno, known as El Silencio - The Silence); was founded in the mid 14th century. Since then, many have formed, merged or disappeared. In 2008, 59 brotherhoods will make the stations of penance to the Cathedral during Holy Week, while 9 others will process on the preceding Friday and Saturday without entering the Cathedral (the so-called Hermandades de Visperas)[3].

In addition to these brotherhoods there are over 50 other independent non-penitential Catholic brotherhoods in the city of Seville (such as the various brotherhoods of the El Rocio pilgrimage).

The Processions

The marching order


The core events in Semana Santa are the processions of the brotherhoods, known as estación de penitencia (stations of penance), from their home church or chapel to the Cathedral of Seville and back. The last section before arriving to the Cathedral is common to all brotherhoods and is called the Carrera Oficial.

The standard structure of a procession is:

  • A great cross (the so-called Cruz de Guía - Guiding Cross) is carried at the beginning of each procession. opens the way.
  • A number of people (sometimes barefoot) dressed in a habit and with the distinctive pointed hood (capirote), and holding long wax candles (only lit by night), marching in silence. These are the nazarenos. Colours, forms and details of the habit are distinctive for each brotherhood - and sometimes for different locations within the procession. Usually the nazarenos march in pairs, and are grouped behind insignia. Moving between the lines are diputados de tramo, guardians who keep the formations organised.
  • A group of altar boys, acolytes, dressed in vestments (many of them wearing dalmatics), with chandeliers and incense, and other servants.
  • The Paso.
  • When applicable, the musical group follows (bands) or precedes the paso(chapel music)
  • A number of penitentes, carrying wooden crosses, making public penance. They wear the habit and the hood of the brotherhood, but the hood is not pointed.

This structure repeats itself depending of the number of pasos (up to three). Usually the last paso is not followed by penitentes, and the procession should be closed -presided- by the titular chaplain in full processional vestments known as el preste

Although this is the standard structure, depending on the traditions of each brotherhood, details (and even the plan) may vary.

A procession can be made up from a few hundred to near 3,000 nazarenos and last anywhere from 4 to 14 hours, depending how far the home church is from the Cathedral. The largest processions can take over an hour and a half to cross one particular spot

The paso

At the center of each procession are the pasos, an image or set of images set atop a movable float of wood. If a brotherhood has three pasos, the first one is a sculpted scene of the Passion, or an allegorical scene, known as a misterio (mystery); the second is an image of Christ; and the third an image of the suffering Blessed Virgin Mary, known as a dolorosa.

The structure of the paso is richly carved and decorated with fabric, flowers and candles. Many of the structures carrying the image of Christ are gilded, and those carrying the image of the virgin often silver-plated. As of 2007, all but one of the dolorosas are covered by an ornate canopy or baldachin (palio) attached to the structure.

The sculptures themselves are carved and painted, and often lifesize or larger. The oldest surviving were carved in the 16th century, though new images continue to be added. Those highly regarded artistically include the Jesus del Gran Poder and Cristo de la Buena Muerte by Juan de Mesa, Francisco Antonio Ruíz Gijón's Cristo de la Expiración (known as El Cachorro) and the two virgins named Nuestra Señora de la Esperanza from Macarena and Triana. All of the principal images of the Semana Santa are on display for veneration in their home churches all year round.

Semana santa-capataz sevilla

Overseer giving orders to the costaleros.

A distinctive feature of Semana Santa in Seville is the style of marching of the pasos. A team of men, the costaleros (literally "sack men", for their distinctive - and functional - headdress), supporting the beams upon their shoulders and necks, lift, move and lower the paso. As they are all inside the structure and hidden from the external view by a curtain, the paso seems to move by itself. On the outside an overseer (capataz), guides the team by voice, and/or through a ceremonial hammer el llamador (caller) attached to the paso.

Depending on weight (most weigh over a metric tonne), a paso requires between 24 and 54 costaleros to move. Each brotherhood has a distinctive way to raise and move a paso, and even each paso within the procession.


Golden 'caller'.

Up to 1973, dock workers were hired as costaleros. From that year onwards, that task has been progressively (and almost universally) taken over by the members of the brotherhoods which organise each procession.

The music


Singing a saeta.

Some processions are silent, with no musical accompaniment, some have a cappella choirs or wind quartets, but many (and especially those historically associated with poorer neighbourhoods) feature a drum and trumpet band behind the image of Christ and a brass band behind the virgin playing religious hymns or marchas from a standard repertoire [4] Those associated with the images of Christ are often funeral in nature, whilst those associated with the Virgin are more celebratory.

- As each procession leaves its home church, (an event known as the salida), at its return (the entrada), and along the march route, improvised flamenco-style songs may be offered by individuals in the crowd or from a balcony. These songs are generically called saetas (arrows).

The crowd

The processions attract a huge following throughout the city.

With a few exceptions (Santa Marta,El Silencio), where the whole procession is traditionally watched in silence, the crowd behaves normally while nazarenos are marching, but turns to respectful silence when the images pass. Depending on the character of the brotherhood, the lowering or raising of the images can be followed by applause form the spectators, rewarding the work of the costaleros. If saetas are sung, these are traditionally seen as prayers and are not generally applauded. Exceptionally, on the appearance of one of the Esperanzas, it is still common to hear cheers and shouts from the crowd.

A common sight during Semana Santa is small children begging for candy, a stamp or wax (with which they form balls) from the nazarenos.

La Carrera Oficial (The Official Path)

Many of the processions pass through an official viewing area which occupies some of the city's main streets, beginning in Campana, followed by Calle Sierpes, Plaza San Francisco, and Avenida de la Constitución, before reaching the Cathedral. Due to the increasingly crowded schedule over the week, and also urban spread, a number of recently formed brotherhoods have to procession before Palm Sunday and do not march into the Cathedral

Traditional Dress


The traditional suit worn by women on Maundy Thursday (and sometimes on Good Friday) is known as La Mantilla (the mantle). This custom has become revitalised since the 1980s. The outfit consists of the lace mantle, stiffened by shell or another material, and a black dress, usually mid-leg, with black shoes. It's expected for the woman to hold -and show- a rosary. Jewellery may include, at most, bracelets and earrings.

The traditional accompanying male dress is a dark suit, black necktie and shoes.

The Days of Holy Week

Below is a list of the brotherhoods which make penance each day, as of 2008, with the traditional year of establishment ( or first procession to the Cathedral for those founded in the last century), and a few notes. The names in the list are those in common usage.

Palm Sunday

  • La Borriquita (The Donkey). The body of nazarenos is exclusively formed by children (except guardians and costaleros).
  • Jesús Despojado (Stripped Jesus). 1936.
  • La Paz (Peace). 1939. The paso represents the moment when they're giving Jesus the cross. It's also the first one to go out.
  • La Cena (The Last Supper). 1591.
  • La Hiniesta (The Broom). 1879.
  • La Estrella (The Star). 1560. Also known as the Valiente (Brave), since it was the only brotherhood which processed in 1932.
  • La Amargura (The Bitterness). Late 17th century. The virgin of the Amargura was the first Dolorosa to be crowned, in 1954.
  • El Amor (The Love). 1508.

Monday of Holy Week

  • Cautivo del Poligono (Captive). 2008 It's the latest addition to the number of Brotherhoods processioning into the Cathedral
  • El Beso de Judas (Judas' Kiss). 1959.
  • Santa Genoveva. 1958. This brotherhood's image of the captive Christ is usually escorted by a sizable number of street-dressed women undertaking private penance.
  • Santa Marta. 1946. As of 2007, the only brotherhood whose costaleros are still "de jure" paid for the task.
  • Vera-Cruz (True Cross). Founded originally in 1448 and revived in the early 20th century.
  • Las Penas de San Vicente (The Sorrows, San Vicente). 1875.
  • Las Aguas (The Waters). 1750.
  • El Museo. (Museum) 1575.

Tuesday of Holy Week

  • El Cerro. 1989. As of 2007, it is the brotherhood travelling furthest to make station; the procession lasts some 14 hours.
  • Los Javieres. 1946.
  • San Esteban. 1926.
  • Los Estudiantes (The Students). 1924. The image of Cristo de la Buena Muerte (1620) is considered the masterwork of Juan de Mesa.
  • San Benito. Founded by shipbuilders in Triana in the 16th century.

The Pilatos's Paso from San Benito

  • La Candelaria. 1922.
  • El Dulce Nombre (The Sweet Name). 1584. It is known popularly as the Bofetá (slap in the face) because its current paso represents the moment when, after Jesus has been detained, he is slapped in the face by a servant.
  • Santa Cruz (Holy Cross). 1904.

Wednesday of Holy Week

  • Carmen Doloroso (The Suffering Virgin of the Carmen). 2007.
  • La Sed (The Thirst). 1979.
  • San Bernardo. 1748.
  • El Buen Fin (The Good End). 1590.
  • La Lanzada (The Spearthrow). 1591.
  • El Baratillo. 1693.
  • Cristo de Burgos (Christ of Burgos).
  • Las Siete Palabras (The Seven Words). 1561.
  • Los Panaderos (The Bakers). 18th century.

Maundy Thursday

  • Los Negritos (The Blacks). Prior to 1400. Up to the mid 19th century, only black people (both free and slave) could be full members.
  • La Exaltación (The Exaltation). 16th century. Nicknamed los caballos (the horses).
  • Las Cigarreras (The Cigarmaking Girls). 1563.
  • Monte-Sión (Mount Zion). 1560.
  • Quinta Angustia (Fifth Anguish). 1541.
  • El Valle (The Valley). 1590.

Good Friday (Early Hours) La Madrugá

Starting a little while after midnight into Good Friday, and lasting sometimes until midday, the Madruga (dawn) is the high point of the processions in Seville.

  • El Silencio (Silence). 1340. Considered the oldest existing brotherhood. The whole procession is followed by the watching crowd in silence. Jesus carries the cross backwards.
  • Jesús del Gran Poder (Jesus of the Great Power). 1431. The image of the Lord is one of the most venerated in Seville and elsewhere. It's carrying the cross.
  • La Macarena (Our Lady of Hope (Macarena)). 1595. The most popular image of the Virgin in Seville. Her presence arouses passion in the watching crowds. It remains in the streets 14 hours.
  • El Calvario (Calvary). 1571. The smallest and shortest procession of the night.
  • La Esperanza (Triana) (Our Lady of Hope (Triana)). 1418. The Virgin of Triana has a passionate following in Triana and elsewhere.
  • Los Gitanos (The Gypsies). 1753. Even now, the hermano mayor(principal of the brotherhood) is expected be a gypsy.

Good Friday

  • La Carretería (The Cartwright's Shop). 1550.
  • Soledad de San Buenaventura (The Loneliness, San Buenaventura). 1847.
  • El Cachorro (The Puppy). 1689. The image of the crucified expiring Christ, made in 1682 by Ruiz Gijón, is a masterpiece
  • La O 1566. Was the first brotherhood of Triana to process across the river to Seville, on 9 April 1830.
  • Tres caídas de San Isidoro (Three Falls, San Isidoro). 1605.
  • Sagrada Mortaja (Sacred Shroud). 1692.

Holy Saturday

  • Los Servitas. 1696.
  • La Trinidad (The Trinity). 1507.
  • Santo Entierro (Holy Burial). c. 1570. With representatives of public authorities, civic bodies and legations from most other brotherhoods.
  • La Soledad de San Lorenzo (The Loneliness, San Lorenzo). 16th century.

Easter Sunday

  • El Resucitado (The Resurrected). 1969.


The origins of the penitential Holy Week in Seville are to be found in the late Middle Ages (from 1350 onwards), but details are scarce.

By 1578 already over 30 brotherhoods performed penitential processions during the Holy Week.

By 1604 Cardinal Fernando Niño de Guevara,gave the first ordinances mandating all sevillan confraries to make a stop in the Cathedral (and at St. Anna those of Triana) and assigning certain time frames for this (from Wednesday to Good Friday).

In 1777 flagellants and nightly processions where forbidden in Spain, although in Seville, the confrary of "el Silencio" was allowed to keep processioning at midnight of the Good Friday.

From 1798 onwards (first deamortization by Godoy, which hit hardly the brotherhoods) started a very complex period for them, parallel to that of the spanish society. Despite of this, by the mid XIX c. the Holy Week was a popular destination for travellers and had already acquired some of their actual caracteristics (The Madrugá, Triana brotherhoods crossing the river, the pasos).

The XX c. has seen a progresive revival and fixing of the forms of the Holy Week, despite two serious blows in between: The period of the anticlerical Second Spanish Republic, which culminated in the paroxistic destruction of Churches, Images and goods around July 18, 1936, and the period immediately following the II Vatican Council, which coincided with the social changes in Spain around the death of Francisco Franco


  • Almela Vinet, Francisco (2003). Historia de la Semana Santa en Sevilla : descripción de las cofradías que hacen estación durante la misma a la Santa Iglesia Catedral (1899). Ediciones Espuela de Plata (Editorial Renacimiento). ISBN 84-96133-04-4
  • Carrero Rodríguez, Juan (1981). Gran Diccionario de la Semana Santa. Editorial Almuzara. ISBN 84-885-8631-0
  • Martínez Kleiser, Luis (2003). La Semana Santa de Sevilla (1924). Ediciones Espuela de Plata (Editorial Renacimiento). ISBN 84-96133-05-2
  • Sánchez Herrero, José. La Semana Santa de Sevilla. Editorial Sílex. ISBN 84-7737-120-2
  • W. AA. (2003). Recuerda Semana Santa de Sevilla. Editorial Everest S.A. ISBN 84-241-0071-9
  • Antonio M. Rueda. Spanish Language and Literature Professor in the University of Chicago (USA).

See also


  1. There were subtle canonical differences between a hermandad and a cofradia, but these have become obsolete
  2. Even against the express wish of Seville's Archbishop Cardinal Amigo
  3. Consejo General de Hermandades y Cofradías de Sevilla
  4. Sevillian terminology for musical groupings is -Banda de Cornetas y Tambores (drum and trumpet band). -Banda de Musica (full brass band) It's only for the Virgins. The repertoire tends to be more triunfal and celebratory. -Agrupación Musical (Musical Agrupation) -an intermediate form between the other two- used only for our Lord images. -Musica de Capilla (Chapel music): Normaly a wind quartet. Unlike the other music groups they precede the image they escort

External links