Semana Santa (Faith and Passion Week) here in Cartagena ran from 7th to the 16th April this year.
It’s one of the biggest Easter events in Spain and designated as being of International interest.
As with the Romans and Carthaginians Festival back in September it was a seemingly non-stop period of parades and events. The earliest started at 3.30am and the latest finished at 2am. The longest processions took over four hours to pass by.
The organisational and logistical challenges involved in running these events is truly staggering. It was exhausting just keeping up with what was happening.
There are four ‘Brotherhoods’ (Cofradías) in Cartagena that share this burden.
The Marrajas (Founded early 1600’s)
The Californians (Founded 1747). My friends in the U.S.A. might be interested to know that this brotherhood is so named because of its links with first Spanish settlements established in what later became the Las Californias. These links continued into the 18th century when Californian miners came to the area to work in the nearby Sierra Minera.
The Socorros (Founded 1691)
The Risen Ones (Founded 1940)
Members of these “Brotherhoods’ are easily identified by their distinctive dress. They each have their own colour and insignia.
These ‘Nazarenos’ wear tall, pointy hats and matching robes with their faces completely covered, apart from their eyes.
Inevitably these costumes are frequently compared to those of the Ku Klux Klan but there is no connection whatsoever between the two. The ‘Nazarenos’ have been wearing them for centuries.
They are also known as ‘penitentes’ (penitent ones) and although the origin of their dress has been lost in time it’s believed they are disguised as a sign of shame for the sins they have committed throughout the year.
All the parades were memorable but perhaps the most striking was the one held on Holy Thursday.
The Procession of Silence and the Holy Christ of the Miners (California Brotherhood)
I wrote this description shortly afterwards. Remember that this took place in a large city centre with hundreds of people crowded together. It was an amazing experience.
A lone drum beat carries on the warm still evening air. Its slow cadence echoing between the high buildings. Suddenly the brightly lit street is plunged into darkness. The crowd falls silent and waits, heads turned in anticipation.
The drummer appears, silhouetted in soft flickering yellow light. He marches slowly towards us. He is followed by strange apparitions. Two rows of shadowy figures stretching back into the gloom. Tall conical hats swaying back and forth. Faces masked by cloth draped beneath. Two small dark holes where eyes should be. Long gowns and cloaks sweeping the floor.
The drummer passes, the beat softens and slowly fades into the distance.
The ‘Nazarenos’ continue slowly past. Gloved hands grasping wooden staffs topped with ornate candle lanterns. The glass teardrop crystals hanging below swing and tinkle as wood taps marble. The only other sound, the soft footfall of their flat leather sandals.
On two occasions we heard the ‘Saeta’. This is an evocative song sung ‘a capella’. The raw emotion and passion of these unique sounds will live long in our memories.
The video below was shot in Malaga, but we witnessed something very similar at 5am on Good Friday morning. It should give you a better feel.
Perhaps the most impressive element of these parades are the ‘Tronos’ (Thrones). These huge platforms feature ornate sculptures and are highly decorated with flowers, gold leaf and chandeliers. They are carried on the shoulders of over 100 men or women. Watching these enormous works of art sway down the street and manoeuvre around tight corners is truly amazing.
My words will never do justice to all we saw of this amazing Easter.
So I’ve put together a slideshow to give you a flavour.