I am not a religious person. I did not grow up in a religious environment and have never felt the appeal to believe. This will not be a post about religion but I needed to explain why I was so surprised to be welcomed to a feast for the eyes, and yes the soul as well, when we visited Sevilla and Ronda this Easter. The plan was to work from Sevilla and enjoy the evenings there and escape to the hills around Ronda over the four day Easter break. I spent the first day in Sevilla behind my laptop and was keen to go out for a walk in the early evening. We were staying on the other side of the river, away from the old center. I was passing one of the bridges as I noticed everyone heading towards the old town. And they all were dressed in their finest clothes. Men and boys wore jackets and ties and the ladies mostly black dresses with ornaments on their head. I was curious and decided to follow the stream of people.
A Welcome Surprise
The noise from the crowds drew me to a street and as I turned the corner I saw hundreds of costumed men and women. They were dressed wearing long robes and cone-like pointed hoods that covered their face with only two holes to look out from. I have to admit that the first thing that came to mind when I saw the rows and rows of hooded people march by was something else completely, but that is what you get from consuming (too much) American shows and movies. They all carried a long candle which would create a beautiful atmosphere as the sun went down.
I had no idea that Easter was such a big thing in Sevilla and all of Southern Spain. This tradition during the Holy Week, the Semana Santa, where the brotherhoods connected to the various churches in the city march through the city dates back to the late middle ages. The participants wear the capirotes (the hoods) so they could walk the penitential walk but remain anonymous as self-confessed sinners. These days the tradition includes women on the walk as well and as the centuries have passed, it has morphed into a feast that recognized and celebrates what it means to be human. This 2022 edition was the first one since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and people were extra keen to be together in this special time.
Carrying a Burden
There are almost sixty brotherhoods that march on different days throughout the week that leads up to Easter. All of them go through the cathedral of Sevilla. Depending on the home church of the brotherhood where their procession starts and ends, it may take up to 14 hours to complete the route. Part of the reason why this takes so long is that every procession will have a group of strong men carrying a giant statues of Mary and Jesus, usually sitting on top of a massive wooden altar. The men can only carry the heavy altar for a few hundred meters at a time. The physical effort to carry the altars is so intense that the men do it in shifts and trade places along the route. Next to the weight, there is the challenge of maneuvering the altars through the narrow street where sometimes they only have five centimeters of space on both sides.
The Sound of Silence
My wife and I were noticing the buzz of a city that is filled with excited people, a sound that we didn't hear that much over the last two and a half years. During the processions there was a clear pattern in the sound. The buzz was there when the seemingly endless hooded members of a brotherhood slowly marched by, but when the altar with the statue of Maria on it came in sight, the crowd would hold their breath and an eerie silence would manifest itself in the narrow streets of the old town of Sevilla. The sound profile would change once more when the altars had passed as a brass band of dozens strong would follow suit and convert the strong emotional impact of the procession into musical notes.
An Intimate Version
We rented a car and drive to Ronda for the Easter weekend itself. This town sits on one of the hills outside of the Sierra de las Nieves about one hundred kilometers away from Sevilla. It is a town that dates back to pre-Roman times and has one of the most beautiful bridges I have ever seen. Being Easter weekend, Ronda also had brotherhood processions throughout the town. They were equally impressive as their Sevillian counterparts but for different reasons. Where in Sevilla you would be overwhelmed by the scale and size of the processions and the packed small streets of the old town, the Ronda processions where more intimate. There were less people watching but this created an atmosphere that made you feel less of a bystander but more part of the whole thing.
Ronda has a lot to offer beyond the Semana Santa processions during Easter. The old town is littered with charming back streets and beautiful squares and we've had our best food of our trip there. The hilly landscape outside of Ronda is great for hiking and cycling. The area also produces some very nice wines.
If you have the chance to visit Sevilla, and perhaps Ronda, during this special Easter Week, I can highly recommend it. I believe we will definitely return.
PS: for those that are regular readers of this blog, you will notice that a fair share of the photos in this post have been taken using a …. Leica. Yes, I have returned to this brotherhood. More on that in a future post.