HOW TO TRULY DISCOVER THE SPANISH “SEMANA SANTA”, AND A TOWN’S SPECTAULAR SITES ALL YEAR ROUND

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To really get to know the true significance of Semana Santa, and the town itself as well, where it
is celebrated, with the
spectacular cultural, historical and scenic views on offer,
spend it in a pueblo. Almagro is just the right place.


 

by Muriel Feiner
Photos: M. Feiner

I discovered the best way to really get to know the significance of “Semana Santa” (literally translated as “Holy Week) or Easter, in Spain is to experience the holiday in a pueblo. I had the good fortune of spending it in the town of Almagro, in the centrally-located Calatrava region, in the heart of La Mancha.

The remarkable enthusiasm of actors and spectators

The most remarkable characteristic for me was seeing how the entire town participated directly in the processions and celebrations, if not as actors, but as enthusiastic spectators.

Each town relieved the “Passion of Christ” in a similar fashion, with its respective processions and magnificently carved and adorned images carried through the streets on the floats, many with as many as 28 “costaleros” holding it up, each supporting a weight of 60 kilos on his shoulders.

Some of the images date back to time immemorial

These processions with a dozen different “pasos”, related to the Passion of Christ”, from his humble arrival on a burro to Jerusalem (“El Borriguito”), the betrayal of Judas and the payment of the 30 pieces of silver, Jesus’s arrest in the Mount of Olives by the Roman soldiers (“Prendimiento”), Jesus dragging the cross through the Via Crucis, the appearance of St. Veronica, the Crucifixion, his descent from the Cross (“Silencio”), the Burial (“Santo Entierro”) and the Resurrection. Some of these images date back to time immemorial and they reflect the way in which the Catholic Church could illustrate to the local townsfolk — most of whom were illiterate — the story of Christ.

Another keynote to the observance of the Holy Week traditions which can be admired from many viewpoints — religious, cultural, historical, social… — is its generational nature.

The passion for  and the splendor of the Semana Santa in these parts have resulted in the distinction of “Fiesta de Interest Turistico Nacional”

The Calatrava region, made up of ten municipalities (Aldea del Rey, Almagro, Bolaños de Calatrava, Granátula de Calatrava, Miguelturra, Pozuelo de Calatrava, Torralba de Calatrava, Valenzuela de Calatrava, Moral de Calatrava y Calzada de Calatrava), owes its name to the religious and military order of Calatrava, founded in the 12 th century. The profound passion and splendor with which this part of Spain relives the “Passion of Christ” has justly earned its recognition as a “Fiesta de Interés Turístico Nacional”, and it is currently seeking a similar international distinction.

The 17th century Corral de Comedias, the oldest of its kind in the world

Almagro is an ideal place to truly “live” the Semana Santa experience. It is clearly worth visiting any time of the year in order to tour its spectacular and immense Plaza Mayor with its colonnades and glassed-in galleries; the Corral de Comedias built in 1628 and the only theatre in the world which still maintains its original structure; the National Theatrical Museum; the Lace-making Museum, the Ethnological Museum; the Convent of La Asunción de Calatrava; the Fúcares Palace; the Church of San Agustín; and for a magnificent view of the surrounding region, the “Mirador del Silo”. In fact, the entire town itself has meticulously conserved its old palaces and mansions, thus creating a charming and quaint atmosphere in which to wander the cobblestone streets with the sensation of being transported back to medieval Spain.

“Roman soldier” in colorful attire

A very unique tradition in this region is the “Armaos”, the Roman soldiers who apprehended Christ on the orders of governor Pontius Pilate. Dressed in colorful attire, shiny armor and plumed helmets, they play a privileged role in the processions, following a custom passed on from one generation to the next.

Women just don’t walk behind the procession anymore. What is there is equative participation, gender- and age-wis

And finally, I was also impressed by the active participation of the young people and equative female participation, particularly in the groups of “Armaos” and the penitent “Nazarenos”, dressed in long robes and conical hoods (reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan). In the past, women were limited, as in other cities, to walking behind the processions, dressed elegantly in black, with their “mantillas” and “peinetas”, and bearing flowers.

But let the pictures tell the story.