Zamora, Holy Week, and the Beauty of Silence

Only the thunder of drums and trumpets break the profound silence that invades Castilla y León every spring during Holy Week, the most sacred week in Christendom. This region, along with others, becomes a gathering place where the faithful can experience the passion and resurrection of Christ, as well as enjoy the cultural and gastronomic delights each has to offer. To succinctly describe Holy Week in Zamora is to take on an impossible task, but one could start with three words: passion, ardor, and—yes— …

Silence

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Parades are not known for being silent. They are cacophonous affairs, rife with clashing cymbals, the blasts of trumpets, and the cheers of the bystanders.

Not here, not these procesiones (processions).

During the day, yes, the silence is indeed broken—by music, and choirs, Gregorian chants, even funeral marches compose an extraordinary soundtrack for the most splendid of processions—but soon night falls, and silence once again reigns. Here, silence is a symbol of religious devotion and austerity.

Silencio

Photo from All Posters

La Procesión del Silencio

The Procession of Silence. Even the name inspires awe. Keeping silent is not customary; keeping silent is not easy.

Kneeling in the cathedral atrium, surrounding the image of Cristo de las Injurias, the brothers wait for their oath. The mayor says a short prayer, and the bishop goes on to take the brothers’ oaths, saying:

“Hermanos de la Cofradía del Santísimo Cristo de las Injurias, ¿juráis guardar silencio durante todo el recorrido de esta santa procesión?”

The brothers swear this oath together, vowing to keep silent for the entire route. Some walk barefoot throughout the cobblestoned city streets, but all maintain silence. They march together—slowly, solemnly, dolefully through the streets of Zamora, a town which at times seems to have been transformed into the13th-century, back to a time where Spain did not yet exist. The first documented reference to the celebration of Holy Week goes back to this century, when Zamora’s monasteries and convents organized processions around their cloisters and streets. It was meant to teach the common people, in a powerful way, about the passion, death, and eventual resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Throughout the centuries, Zamora’s Holy Week has maintained its sobriety and solemnity. (In other regions, the festival has been transformed into a rather glamorous affair.) But like Catholicism in Spain, Holy Week is full of contrasts: noise and silence, day and night, joy and sobriety … but this does not take away from the beauty and drama of Holy Week in Zamora.

Still, for many, the most moving experience of the whole week is the singing of Miserere mei Deus. After a two-hour-long procession through the streets of the casco histórico, the street lights are turned off and the only light comes from the red candles the penitents carry. And then the choir begins to sing, the words ringing out into the cold night:

Miserere mei Deus, secundum magnam, misericordiam tuam …

Miserere mei Deus

 

For an enchanting contrast to other Holy Week celebrations, make your way to Zamora for a singular look at the power Catholic traditions still hold in an increasingly secular country.

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5 comments

  1. Hi Kaley!
    It is certainly impressive the Zamora Holy Week; but I would like to recommend, as a counterpoint, the procession of the funeral of our father Genarín in León.
    Genarín was a drunken acquaintance lions, which the night of Holy Thursday in 1929, while it alleviated his bladder was hit by the first of the city garbage truck. Since then the brotherhood of his name is reminiscent of this great secular Saint, between songs, dances and many “orujo”. http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genar%C3%ADn

  2. Interesting! It makes sense why they would keep quiet, but I’ve never seen a quiet parade anywhere.

    My impression of Semana Santa in Barcelona is quite different – everyone wants to go traveling, so they call it ‘Operación Salida’. Last year, I didn’t see very any big events for the holiday at all, though I know there are a few parades. It’d be fascinating to see it celebrated somewhere where the traditions are still going strong.

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