Friday, 11 April 2014

The ‘pasos’ of Semana Santa

Now that we’re only a few days away from Semana Santa it seems like Seville just can’t contain its excitement any longer! There are more and more tourists on the streets, many houses, walls and monuments have been restored or cleaned, you can see children carrying their paper headdresses for their nazareno outfits and every time we go out to the streets we see bands or costaleros endlessly practicing for the big event. (for a quick overview about Semana Santa click here.)

The main characters of the Holy Week are without a doubt the pasos, these floats that go around Seville, into the Cathedral and back to their churches. But what are the pasos exactly? As you probably suspect, we have to look into history again. Of course nobody knows what went on exactly but in my imagination it happened like this.

Once upon a time when the common people in Spain were still illiterate the Church needed a way to introduce the Passion of Christ to them. They needed hands on techniques that capture people’s attention and in a way that even they could understand the events of the Bible. Therefore they called a country-wide meeting for all the priests to attend and brainstorm some ideas. The meeting might have been called ‘The passion of Christ for dummies’ or something like this. As it usually goes, the tickets of the participants went into a lottery pool where they could win desirable prices such as a new string for their rope or a cape with a velvet-lined hood.

A few hours later the priests were all sitting in a big circle with their thinking hats on. They thought and thought but nothing interesting came up. At some point somebody put their hands up and said:
-          ‘Why don’t we put all the Christ and Virgin figures on floats and carry them around the streets?’
-          ‘Well, I don’t want to carry them, they are too heavy.’ ‘’
-          ‘The folk can carry them around, if we say it’s a penitence they will even fight for the privilege’.
-          ‘So what, they’re going to run around the streets with the floats?’
-          ‘They can always take them to the Cathedral’.
-          ‘What would be the point of taking the Christs and Virgins to show them in front of another Christ and Virgins??’
-          ‘We don’t need to concern ourselves with unimportant details.’
-          ‘OK, but what would they wear? We need to come up with a uniform.’
-          ‘Well, have you heard of that group in the America called Ku-Klux Clan?...
And so the world famous Crash Course on the Bible began.

The floats themselves are very big and they take a long time to prepare for Semana Santa. Thanks to that it is possible to go and see them in the days before the big event. It is very useful as you won’t have the chance to see them from close up during the processions. Not to mention the fact that unless you’re a hardcore Semana Santa-ista (I just made up this word in English but it actually exists in Spanish!) you will only get to see a few of them. This way you can just walk around the churches and see all of them. A sneak preview, if you like. If you’d like to see some, keep following my blog.

Finally, please pardon my cynicism about Semana Santa. Let’s face it, it’s only 35% religion. The rest is tradition and tourism. 

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