Semana Santa is the biggest national fiesta in Spain, with parades that feature solemnity and gaudiness in equal measure.
The most glamorous are held in Andalucia, in Malaga and Seville especially, although aficionados of these things claim that the true Semana Santa, in other words the more sombre celebrations, are held in the towns of Castille, such as Zagora, which has documentary evidence of Holy Week celebrations going back as far as 1179, (although equal rights didn’t get a look in for over 800 years, until the Hermandad de las Siete Palabras became the first cofradía to permit women dressed in the traditional flowing robes and pointed hoods to march in the parades) and Valladolid, which is only second to Zamora in age and the beauty of its floats.
Holy Week is officially from Palm Sunday (Domingo de Ramos) to Easter Sunday (Domingo de Resurreccion), and while the UK celebrates Good Friday, in Spain you have Lunes Santo, Martes Santo, (Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday), and the same throughout the week, so every day is Good and Holy.
Whether in village or city, Semana Santa has basically the same format; extravagant parades of biblical scenes carried around on platforms (tronos – thrones) by extravagantly costumed supporters – quite literally in the case of those who actually carry these monumental effigies.
While the whole thrust of Semana Santa is of religious intent, it’s wonderful to know that there is at least one secular procession, the Entierro de San Genarín, the “Burial of Saint Genarín”. In 1929 on Holy Thursday night, a poor alcoholic called Genaro Blanco was run over by the first rubbish truck in León. The procession consists of a march through the city bearing a bottle of orujo, the tongue-numbing liquor made from grape skins, at the head of the procession. At the spot by the city walls where poor Genaro met his end, cheese, a bottle of orujo and two oranges are left in commemoration. A more economical memoriam than gilded statues or ornately embroidered capes.