Semana Santa or Holy Week is one of Spain’s most interesting traditions. It takes place every year during the last week of lent and ends on Easter Sunday. Each city has their own unique twist on this centuries-old tradition, with Seville being the most famous of them all. However, if you want to experience this unique cultural event without the insane crowds or exorbitant costs, I’d recommend giving Semana Santa in Sanlúcar de Barrameda a try.
A float depicting a scene from the Passion of Christ
Quick tips for attending Semana Santa in Sanlúcar:
- Processions (pasos) kick off on Palm Sunday (Domingo de Ramos)
- Processions take place daily during the week from 16:00 to 3:00 in the morning and there are 2 – 4 processions per day
- All processions follow an official route (carrera oficial) through the city
- You can get a procession schedule from the tourism office in Sanlúcar
- Each brotherhood (hermanded) parades one to two floats from their parrish (parroquia); one depicting a scene from the Passion of Christ and one featuring the Virgin Mary
- You’ll notice boxed seating along the procession route on Calle Ancha (main street); these seats are purchased by locals and members of the brotherhoods
A float featuring the Virgin Mary on Palm Sunday in Sanlúcar
The brotherhoods of Semana Santa
Every brotherhood (hermandad) is affiliated with a local Catholic Church, and most of them have been around for hundreds of years. Each hermandad is composed of different groups who carry out specific functions; the most eye-catching members you’ll notice when attending Holy Week are the following:
- Costaleros: The men who carry the floats are called costaleros in Sanlúcar. Their name comes from carrying the weight of the float on the back of their necks (in other cities men carry the floats while kneeling, others on their shoulders, etc). The person who guides the float and leads the costaleros through the streets is the capataz.
- Nazarenos: The men, women, and children who walk in the processions wearing hoods and robes while carrying candles, torches, and crosses are penitentes or nazarenos. They accompany the floats throughout the procession as their form of ‘penance’ or those who are seeking forgiveness from God for their sins. Their tunics come in different colors like white, green, purple, burgundy, black, etc. and usually the darker their tunics, the more serious/somber the brotherhood. Although their outfits might look similar to those worn by the Klu Klux Klan, the tradition of nazarenos’ robes and pointed hoods existed long before the hate group was founded and is not related in any way.
- Las Mantillas: You may notice women dressed in black walking behind the floats on Holy Thursday and Good Friday. These women are known as Las Mantillas (or Manolas in Madrid) and in addition to their their black mourning clothes, they also wear a large comb atop their head with a black lace veil that cascades over their shoulders and down their back. They are symbols of piety who honor and mourn the passion of Christ.
- Saetero/a: Serenading the Virgin or Jesus at Holy Week is known as singing seatas. Normally the saetero/a will sing from a balcony or stand in front of the float as it leaves the church. A saeta is a sort of prayer, full of passion and fervor. You’ll notice an unmistakable flamenco flair as the saetero/a sings a capella for the crowd of spectators. This person can be associated with a specific hermandad, neighborhood, or simply be chosen to sing based on their talent.
All members pay annual fees to belong to the brotherhood; they also pay extra fees to participate in Holy Week processions which helps cover the maintenance of the float, the cost of hiring a band, flowers, candles, etc. If you’re in Sanlúcar on the Friday and Saturday before Palm Sunday, you might catch some of the newer groups who are in the process of building their float and establishing their brotherhood—ex. you’ll notice their float is mostly wood with partial gold foiling, they might have fewer nazarenos, etc.
A nazareno adding wax to a child’s wax ball (bola de cera) – a fun tradition for the little ones!
Where to watch Holy Week processions in Sanlúcar
As mentioned, there’s an official route you can follow to see the processions in Sanlúcar. I’d recommend grabbing a copy of the official holy week itinerary from the tourism office. The official route begins at Calle Cárcel in Barrio Alto (uptown), each float passes by Nuestra Señora de la O (the oldest church in Sanlúcar), and exits the route at the end of Calle Ancha (main street).
You’ll notice there are times listed on the itinerary indicating when the procession will pass each point so you can plan to be nearby around that time. The easiest place to watch will be along Calle Ancha. Another option would be to try to book a hotel or apartment along the official route with a balcony.
There’s a lot of info in these booklets! 😂
You can grab a copy of the Semana Santa schedule at the local tourism office
Best seat in the house (literally) 😉
👇Check out my reel on Instagram for highlights from Semana Santa in Sanlúcar de Barrameda👇