This was the first time we’d been in Spain for what is Easter in the UK. In Spain, they celebrate Semana Santa and is the most important religious date in the Spanish calendar.
We’d planned to go into Malaga, later in the week to watch the big processions, having seen them on youtube and suchlike but we ended up staying in the village and were really pleased we did.
I’m sure the Malaga processions, carrying the “Tronos” would have been very impressive and on such a big scale but we found watching the processions in Sedella was much more personal. Many people we’ve seen in the village and spoken to, were involved, from the smallest child and upwards. It all started on Sunday 9th April, with people of all ages, meeting at the Hermita and taking an olive branch from the pile that had been dropped off. Then, a group of teenagers lifted a smaller trono (throne) onto their shoulders and began the slow walk from the Hermita to the local church, with proud parents nearby, assisting or simply watching the procession, which began with very uneven cobblestones, a small slope down and then a short piece of flat road before they met the first slope, which Mrs S and I don’t find that easy, even when not carrying anything.
On the following Thursday evening, we stood a short distance from the church and watched the preparations for the next procession. This was the turn of the adults and after a short wait and watching various people arriving to take part, we heard the sound of cornets and drums and then saw the band approaching the church. Most of the band were children but very good they were as they paraded to the church and met up with the Sedella band. Still people arrived to take part in the procession, looking quite serious but still chatting away to one and all. After a period of getting everyone into position, including very young children, which couldn’t have been easy, the first ornate trono appeared to a big round of applause, as the carriers made their way down the sloping path, leading to the plaza. This was followed, a few minutes later by the second trono, again carried down the path to the plaza. The procession was led by robed men and followed by a small group of women, elegantly dressed in black and carrying lighted candles. Behind them came the gaggle of robed children and then the tronos, with the band in between. As the first trono was being manoeuvered in readiness to leave the plaza via a sloping stepped side street, first, they had to negotiate the overhead power cables. Having done this many times before, there is someone on hand, with a long pole, to move the cables out of the way, allowing the trono to pass, relatively easily. They also have a number of other people, with shorter support poles, which they can use to take the weight of the trono for a short time if and when necessary. We watched as the men made their way tentatively down the street, being guided by one man in front of them, giving instructions as they moved slowly downwards.
We walked further along the street and then down another sloping street, to get ahead of the procession and watch it as it passed by on a level street. Level must have been good for the men carrying the tronos but it wasn’t that easy, the street became very narrow and a tangle of overhead cables really made things awkward for them. After the procession had passed, we followed behind, as it negotiated a ninety degree turn, onto another narrow street, with the leaves of a palm tree providing a further obstacle. The procession made it’s way to the Hermita but the first trono diverted off around to the back of the Hermita and towards a hill. The rest of the procession finally positioned at the front of the Hermita, watched as the men began to carry the trono up to the top of the hill. The carriers were assisted by other men, on hand to give a helping hand in pushing from behind. Finally, they made it to the top, where after only a short pause, they pushed their arms upwards and held the trono high in the air, while everyone watching applauded loudly. They made their way carefully back down the hill and to the Hermita, where the tronos were supported, giving the men a very well earned break. We weren’t sure what was going to happen next but after a little while, the tronos were again hoisted onto the mens shoulders and they began the journey back but stopped shortly after, in front of one of the houses, where a man was waiting on the balcony, who proceeded to sing a very impassioned song, in front of everyone gathered there. Having looked this up afterwards, the song is dedicated to the tronos. After great applause, the men started up one of the steep streets, back towards the church but at this point, we veered off and made our way back home.
On the Friday, which would have been Good Friday back in the UK, there was a much smaller procession in the evening, with a small group of men carrying a statue of Jesus on the cross. There were very few actually in the procession this time and not quite as many people following as the Thursday procession but it seemed very intimate and we didn’t want to risk offending anyone by following the group. In the schedule of events was also a procession of Saint Maria, which took place at 11pm. Neither of us were sure what it entailed and we didn’t actually go to the church but at sometime after 11pm, Mrs S noticed that all of the street lights were off. We went out onto the terrace and from across the village, we could see the glow of candles in one of the streets. Looking across, we caught sight of the tronos, being carried by the men, again down one of the steep streets with only candlelight to make their way by. We left the house and walked just around the corner, where we thought the procession would come and in a short while, the glow became brighter and we saw the trono and group of men, women and children in front of and behind the trono, all bearing candles to light the way and illuminate the beautifully carved statue . We stood in silence as the procession passed slowly by and looking back, I’m still not sure if solemn is the right word to use for what we saw. I think it is as close as I can get and hope it conveys the feeling at that time. The trono passed and a few yards after, it stopped and the priest, who was in ordinary clothing began speaking, followed by the people replying. The group then continued up the street and the people in the procession began singing as they walked out of our view.
Sunday arrived and it was soon noticeable that the hourly church bells were silent. The village was eerily quiet too, none of the usual chattering or children playing could be heard. Neither of us wears a watch and we’d become used to the bells giving an idea of how quickly time was passing. This should have been even more liberating than taking off the watch but it was quite strange to begin with but after a short while, or was it a long while? We relaxed into it. The day passed uneventfully, we walked around the village, took more photos, before returning to the house for a meal and watching the sun disappear behind the rooftops. I thought it would be a good idea to go to bed at no bells o’ clock and so off we went, enjoying the silence. That was until silly o’clock, when we were both shook from our sleep, by what I initially thought was a sneak attack by North Korea. Multiple explosions all around and in rapid succession to complete the effect and due to the acoustics of the village, it even sounded like some of this was actually happening in the room. I do like the odd joke here and there but I’m serious, I’ve been rudely woken before but nothing quite like the barrage that night. As my heart returned to a more normal rate, we both got the giggles and Mrs S remarked that we should have known there would be fireworks at some point. We haven’t done New Year in Spain, so I can only imagine how that would go. Sleep came, if a little tentatively, waiting for the next salvo, which never came. Monday arrived and all was back to normal. The church bells rang, children played, people were talking and going about their daily business.
So, to sum up Semana Santa. I wouldn’t say either of us were particularly religious but watching the processions was certainly what turned out to be an emotive experience. It was completely different to being in the UK, where the only things of any importance seem to be Easter eggs and what times the shops will be open. This was quite a personal and unexpected glimpse of Spanish life and of a close community, carrying on it’s religious traditions in a world that is becoming more commercial year by year.
All Images © 2008- TheSlowWalkers