Holy Week Outside of Andalucía: Semana Santa Zamorana

Sevilla is famous for its Holy Week processions. When most people (even in Spain) think of Holy Week, they imagine Sevilla, or at the very least, Andalucía. But hold up a second …

© Copyright - J.Pascual

© Copyright – J.Pascual

What is Holy Week anyway?

In my part of the U.S., we grew up celebrating Easter. In Spanish, the word is Pascua, but you won’t often Spaniards talking about Pascua. Rather, they speak with fervent passion about Holy Week, procesiones, pasos, and costaleros. I know: I just got real with you on the Spanish vocabulary, but we’ll get to that in a bit. The important thing to remember is that Easter celebrations here last more than a week, starting with viernes de dolores (the Friday before Palm Sunday) up to lunes de Pascua (Easter Monday, the day after Easter Sunday). As I work at a high school, my holidays lasted from Friday, April 11, to Monday, April 21. Think of it as my spring break. While many choose to travel abroad during this time, most of the Zamoranos I know stay put to celebrate Holy Week in their hometown.

Holy Week started in the Middle Ages as a way to make penance and to remind the people about the Passion of the Christ. Generally the processioners wear nazareños (penitential robes) and capirotes/caperuzos (hoods) to mask their identities. They may carry processional candles or wooden crosses. Some walk the streets barefoot.

Every procession is carried out by a cofradía/hermadad, a brotherhood. In Sevilla people are generally a member of one, but in Zamora, membership is much less costly, and many choose to be a member of more than one. In the procession, the brothers (and sisters) either walk or carry a paso (from Latin: scene, suffering), which are elaborate religious floats. They often weigh quite a bit, meaning that those who carry it (called costaleros) have to be ready to support quite a lot of weight for many hours! Good thing there are breaks! These pasos are often centuries old, and they are the main draw for those who come to watch the processions. The pasos are often accompanied by bands playing marchas procesionales, or processional marching music.

Holy Week in Zamora

Spain’s oldest Holy Week procession is not from Sevilla or Málagait’s from Zamora! The earliest processions can be traced back to a 12th-century written by King Alfonso X’s brother:

“… Otro si el obispo e el Cabildo e la clerecía de Çamora ayan libremiente entrada e salida sobre la puerta de Mercadiello, para cantar los viersos e fazer presentaçión de Nuestro Sennor en día de Ramos a servitio de Dios, e del Rey, e de mí, e a onra de la cipdat, assí commo fue siempre usado e otorgado por el Conceyo..

Confession: I love that old Castilian, and the fact that Zamora was spelled Çamora.

Zamorans are almost universally proud of their Holy Week, declared Fiesta of International Tourist Interest of Spain in 1986. They even have a statue dedicated el Merlú, members of a brotherhood who play the cornet and drum to call the brothers to start the procession. (Video here)

Merlú Zamora Spain

Holy Week in Spain differs from that of Andalucía in that it is quite somber. It is the main social event of the year. There is always something going on: a procession, a mass, a speech, a meal … from sun up to sun down, if you want to be doing something, you can be. Music is characteristic of the daytime processions, whereas silence and meditation mark the nighttime. My favorite bit is one in which Mario participates on the night of Maundy Thursday, where the hermanos cantores sing The Miserere, a hauntingly beautiful song.  After two and a half hours of procession, the lights are turned off as the brothers of Jesús Yacente stop in the Viriato Plaza. The crowd falls silent, and all that can be heard are tinny bells rung by a few brothers. But suddenly the silence is broken by the brothers’ voices as they sing:

Miserere mei Deus, secundum magnam, misericordiam tuam

After this brief interval, the brotherhood of Jesús Yacente continues their slow, halting procession.

Another procession in which Mario participates is El Silencio. In this one, the brothers take a vow of silence, swearing not to speak for the duration of the procession. Again, this procession, which takes place at night, is markedly different from those in southern Spain or even those that take place during the day in Zamora.

Spain Holy Week

El Silencio ZamoraSource: ABC

Related (and slightly humorous): The brothers of this procession were none too happy when they found out the final game of the Copa del Rey would be played on the same day. (This happened three years ago as well.) They even sent out a nationwide proposal, claiming that this would hurt tourism in Zamora. (Spain has two religions: Catholicism and football soccer.)

These are just two personal examples of Semana Santa in Zamora. If you want to really get into, Radio Televisión Española broadcast one procession, one that my husband and brother-in-law were in. Actually, Mario shows up in this video (at a distance, and you have to work really hard to see him)!

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So You’re Dating a Spaniard—Hillary

No need for introductions this time. You know what this is about by now! Thanks to Hillary for agreeing to be interviewed for my series.

¡Hola! My name is Hillary, and I’m 24 years old. I am from a small town called Collierville, Tennessee, which is just outside of Memphis, in the United States. I came to Spain in September 2013, to be an auxiliar de conversación, and to help with English classes in a Spanish school. Currently, I am living with a host family in a city called Cerdanyola del Vallès, which is just north of Barcelona.

Hillary1At a club in Barcelona.

Tell us about how you met.


Holy Week Foods in Zamora, Spain

You may have realized this by now, but food in Spain is a pretty big deal. Buying the ingredients, choosing just the right store, preparing dishes, the presentation, the first bite, talking about the food you’re eating, savoring the food, talking about the meal in general … all of these are regular practices at my in-laws’ house. Food is important. This is one of my favorite parts about Spain, because it reminds me of how fortunate we all are to be able to eat high-quality delicious food with the people we love.

I’ve talked previously about foods Spaniards eat at Christmas. Now we’re in the middle of perhaps Spain’s most important holiday: Semana Santa, or Holy Week. And, as is to be expected, food plays a major role. Of course, what people eat during this holiday season varies from region to region, from family to family. But I’ll talk about my experiences here in Castilla y León and, more specifically, Zamora.

During the Lenten season, meat used to be totally off limits on Fridays. Most Catholics (and lapsed Catholics) no longer follow this rule, but my in-laws do. So what’s for lunch on Fridays during Lent?


Potaje espinacas garbanzosSource: Lola en Cocina

Potaje is a soup. It can be made with vegetables, lentils, or chickpeas. My in-laws eat a chickpea potaje, made with chickpeas, spinach, rice, garlic, and paprika. This recipe will vary greatly from household to household, though. This is for the primer plato (first plate). For the segundo plato, the second plate, they will most often eat some form of bacalao (cod) or another type of fish. For example, bacalao al ajoarriero, cod with braised vegetables (e.g., tomatoes, onions, peppers, and garlic) and potaje de vigilia, which can have chickpeas, cod, spinach, and paprika, decorated with hard-boiled egg. (more…)

La Familia and Independence

Ah, la familia. Mothers and fathers. Sisters and brothers. Cousins, aunts, uncles. Grandparents. Godmothers and godfathers. “Aunts” and “uncles”. The friends who feel like family. In Spain, there is a saying, or perhaps more of a refrain: Madre, sólo hay una. You have but one mother. If I’ve learned anything about Spain—and oh, there is much to learn—family is important. And mothers … well, you’ve only got one.

The stereotypes are (somewhat) true: Spanish children don’t leave the nest as early as those of us in Anglo-Saxon countries. The average age for leaving home in Spain is 25.2 years old (source). This is not seen in a bad light here; it isn’t shameful. In fact, even if a 20-something does have a job, they may choose to stay at home with Mom and Dad, just because they can. After all, why pay rent when you can stay at home rent free?