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Seville gears up for another Semana Santa, hopefully without the bickering this time

Por: | 11 de abril de 2014

Semana Santa Sevilla
A procession files past Las Setas in Seville. Picture: James Bryce

As I write, scores of Spaniards are preparing to heave crosses, Virgin Marys and Jesuses through the streets, or watch as others do so. And Seville’s Semana Santa (Holy Week) parades are perhaps the most extravagant of all. A total of 62 processions – some containing up to 3,000 penitents – will take to the streets between today and Easter Sunday. Unless, of course, it rains.

The preparations, as always, have been thorough. Anybody wandering through the old town from January onwards may have noticed white-clad costaleros (carriers) packed tightly under heavy wooden floats loaded up with weights. Because it certainly takes practice to be able to carry a 2,000kg flower- and candle-laden paso (float) through narrow streets for up to 14 hours. Others may have seen the same men in bars enjoying well-deserved cañas (beers) after rehearsals, or perhaps heard trumpets and drums playing that evocative – and somewhat repetitive – music somewhere in the distance.

The question is, will this year's hermandades (brotherhoods) make it safely back to their chapels without squabbling? This was certainly not the case in 2013. The controversy of the Panaderos brotherhood, which become a trending topic on Twitter and even made the national press, began on the afternoon of Holy Wednesday. An 80% chance of downpours was forecast, prompting several processions to cut short their trajectories. Two others were called off completely. "It's been cancelled," said the owner of the hotel where my dad was staying in Barrio Santa Cruz. The hotelier, who had been anticipating watching the San Bernado procession pass his home at about 9.30pm, was visibly extremely disappointed he was going to miss out. But then, when you’re talking about airing wooden statues that are up to 500 years old, one cannot take any risks with the weather.

And the rain was to have even bigger repercussions that night. The more the clouds formed, the less the brotherhoods kept to their itineraries. At 10:30pm, when the Panaderos had been out for under an hour, the heavens opened. They decided to cut their losses and immediately head back to San Andrés chapel. Unfortunately the route they chose to take, via Calle Campana, cut right in front of the on-schedule La Lanzada procession. The La Lanzana members had no choice but to stand getting soaked for close to an hour while all 1,200 Panaderos passed by.

The fallout to this decision was substantial, with accusations and insults flying in all directions. The Panaderos were criticised for not doing anything to speed up – instead continuing to sway to the rhythm of the slow, mournful brass music. The audience was shamed for shouting, whistling and even booing the Panaderos (see video below). Some said they heard insults being exchanged between Nazarenos (the ones who wear tall, cone-shaped hoods). On the internet, devotees took to Twitter and YouTube to air their grievances, with heated exchanges still flowing months after the event. Some called for sanctions to be taken against the Panaderos.

Video: Heated moments during Semana Santa 2013: The crowd's reaction

“This is a disgrace. The Panaderos could have easily have waited until the La Lanzada had passed,” said Alejandro, from Cordoba, on YouTube. Meanwhile a member of the Panaderos brotherhood, Joaquin Mañes, had tweeted late on Holy Wednesday: "I would like to apologise to La Lanzada...I hope there will be some resignations tomorrow. Shameful."

Indeed, this degree of altercation, described by one local paper as “reminiscent of conflicts between brotherhoods at the beginning of last century,” is perhaps surprising for a festival where followers are performing penances in what one would hope would be a respectful and orderly religious event.

For some, the rivalry will have come as no surprise. "Semana Santa has nothing to do with religion," said Rafael, my Sevillano conversation exchange partner, as we sat in a cafe in late March, 2014. He added: "It's just a competition to see who can have the biggest paso and the most brothers following it.”

Rafael is not a fan of Semana Santa, dismissing it as a money-making exercise and pooh-poohing the entire concept on the basis that worshipping idols breaches the third commandment. While some would stress that Semana Santa penitents are not technically worshipping the effigies, the monetary gains associated with Semana Santa cannot be ignored.

Switching to English in case he offended any eavesdroppers, Rafael told me what is needed to join a brotherhood in Seville. Surprisingly, it is not necessary to be a member of the church whose effigies are to be carried, or to even attend it regularly. Instead you must join an association attached to that church. A monthly fee is required, and eventually brothers are told they have been selected to be part of the procession. "If they miss one payment, they’re put right at the end of the list again," said Rafael. Waiting lists for the most prestigious brotherhoods can be years long. Similarly, where Rafael lives in Dos Hermanas (on the outskirts of Seville) there are two brotherhoods, with only one shop selling the correct Nazareno uniforms. This means a pretty penny is made from their sale each year. All in all, being a brother is an expensive business.

For some Spaniards, however, Semana Santa is worth every cent. Jose Ruiz, a brother interviewed for a local paper I worked at in Ronda, Malaga province, said: “It’s a tradition for my family as we’re all members of the church. I grew up watching the parades and have always liked the imagery. When you see and feel something special like that, it makes you want to be a part of it.” Like Seville, Ronda is renowned for its traditional approach to Semana Santa.

For others though, Semana Santa is simply a reason to get out of Seville for a week – not only because you can rent your flat out for four times what it'd usually fetch, but also because any hope of leading a normal life – or, in some cases, getting to your own front door – needs to be put on hold until it’s all over for another year.

Semana Santa Sevilla 2
Nazarenos. Picture: Samuel Sánchez

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Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of Andalucia.com and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at korenhelbig.com.

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area perelloplus.com. @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Spain-Holiday.com. Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check: www.lookingfordrama.com.

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