Strange Spanish Semana Santa Traditions
Semana Santa is celebrated by the whole of Spain, but in no two places is it celebrated in the same way. They all revolve around the Catholic tradition, but many Spanish regions have their own rituals and differences in comparison to others. They all include processions, piercing chants and penitents clothing, but there are other places where Semana Santa is celebrated in a curious manner. We are going to take a look at some examples.
We will start with a tradition that is no doubt Spanish. We travel to the village of Navaluenga, in Ávila (Castilla y León): here it is custom that every Holy Thursday the congregation accompanies the figures of “Christ bound to the column”, “The Fall”, the “Christ of the Veracruz” and “Our Lady of Sorrows” whilst reciting poems by 17th century Spanish author Lope de Vega. The congregation come together to form teams or groups which finish their escort by competing to see who can recite the poems with the most feeling.
Equally strange are the so called “Turbas”, which you can see in the city of Cuenca (Castilla-La Mancha): a large congregation accompanies Christ while making clear, out of tune sounds and banging drums. These shrill sounds simulate the voices of those who made fun of Jesus as he carried the cross on his shoulder. It is a strange and emotional tradition which is slightly misunderstood: firstly we have to point out that it isn’t a disrespectful tradition as these mockeries don’t ridicule Christ but rather those who ridiculed him; secondly we also have to point out that for many years there had been an urban legend which linked this fiesta with an imaginary “procession of drunks” who carried a figure of Jesus from bar to bar. This belief was born when a group of hooligans ruined the procession: what began as a bad action became, as a result of rumours which weren’t denied, a popular belief.
We continue our journey to Cartagena. Processions here are characterised by their precision and discipline. The penitents and members march in unison to the sound of the drums. When they arrive at a stop point on their journey (remember that these processions refer to “the way of the cross” or the journey that Jesus followed from his capture to his crucifixion), the crowd and members stand as still as statues and in complete silence. There may be little to be said about this, but those who have seen it say that it is a rather eerie experience.
Eerie can also be a way to describe the ritual which takes place after the Holy Thursday procession in Verges, Gerona (Cataluña). It is called the “Danza de la Muerte” (Dance of death): it involves five people dressed as skeletons (each one carrying a symbolic element: a clock without hands, a scythe, a banner with the image of death and two bowls of ash) who perform a macabre dance. This dance is then followed by a procession of various hooded people with skeleton masks who carry torches and set the pace to the sound of a drum. It is said that this ritual dates back to the 14th century, when an outbreak of the Black Death devastated Verges, said to be a way of punishing the town that had forgotten their religious duties.
These are not the only strange customs of the Semana Santa in Spain. There are many more: we recommend that our readers venture into this unknown Spain where there is always something new to discover.