Walking in compás at Semana Santa
Whether we’re religious or not, we’re now in the Holy Week; ‘Semana Santa’ of this year in Spain officially starts on Sunday 28th March and lasts until Saturday 3rd April, although we can’t sadly expect to have the famous processions this year.
Semana Santa processions
Semana Santa is literally a week before Easter and an annual tribute to their Catholic religion. The holy week features processions from each local parish church to the cathedral, carrying pasos (floats) with a lifelike painted sculpture, usually that of either Jesus Christ or the Virgin Mary, being ornamented with candles and flowers. In contrast to such gorgeousness of the pasos, the serene appearance of brotherhoods, los nazarenos, who quietly precede the processions, has a visual impact by hiding their human individualities with the mysterious capirotes, conical pointy hats.
Although such decorated yet solemn processions could be observed in many towns and villages in Andalusia (under normal circumstances), it’s touristically most associated with Seville. Each local parish church proudly houses their own holy image of Jesus Christ or Virgin Mary, depending on the church’s philosophy. The parishioners look forward to the particular day of Semana Santa when their beloved Lord or Mother is to be seen and taken to the cathedral.
Saeta and flamenco
As well as the music by the marching band, Saeta is traditionally sung. Although initially having no connection to flamenco, the role of Saeta singers, Saetero/a, has become bandwidths of flamenco singers since the 19th century. We nowadays tend to define Saeta as a more religious version of flamenco, especially sung during Semana Santa (and in other Catholic events).
As in its mournful and emotional style, it reminds us of ‘proper’ flamenco palos like Seguiriyas, Tońas, Martinetes, usually performed a capella or to drums and horns. The significant feature is that the singer often dedicates their voice from a balcony, addressing to Jesus or Mary on pasos, who is sorrowfully ‘walking’ from their local church to the cathedral, being carried from underneath by devoted brotherhoods called los costaleros.
Being a Catholic country, they have a strong attachment to Virgin Mary. The most popular ‘Mary’ in Seville is the one of Triana and Macarena respectively, both appearing at la madrugada (dawn) of Good Friday, el Viernes Santo. Here, we can appreciate the Saeta singing, dedicated to each ‘Maria’:
Saeta a la Esperanza de Triana (2019) by Laura Gallego
Saeta a la Macarena en la Campana (2013) by Manolo Cuevas
Walking in compás
El Cristo de las Tres Caídas of Seville is one of the most respected holy images of Jesus in Seville, depicting a Biblical scene of Three Falls of Christ, his third fall while carrying the cross. This representation of the son of God is also called el señor del compás; as if proving this name, the paso moves as if the señor is solemnly dancing to the rhythm of mournful marching music:
‘La Esperanza’ | Tres Caídas de Triana 2018
Such moves are made possible with choreographed steps performed by the trained costaleros, who literally serve as the legs for the Lord (or Virgin), even though their vision is limited underneath the beam. It takes them months to practise and requires physical strength; for about 40 people in a team, the weight on their shoulder and neck seems approximately 50kgs per person for almost 8 hours. As a lifetime honour being a costalero, they respond to the navigator and to the band, so that the heavy yet holy paso can move forward to complete the important processions.
Their dedication inspires us during the lockdown - we can spend this year’s Semana Santa to prepare and reorganise our steps (pasos) in order to move forward in the dark era with hope.
For more details of Semana Santa in Seville: