Monday, April 5, 2010

Semana Santa in Seville

[El paso, GRAN PODER, courtesy of google]

Semana Santa in Seville in what you could call a big event. It sort of like the Oscars, Fourth of July and your grandparent’s 50th wedding anniversary all rolled into one giant week of processions and services.

It falls the last week of Lent and lasts until Easter and celebrates the final, Earthly week of Jesus’ life.

But in Seville, it’s a spectacle. It dates from Medieval times, so it’s both a celebration of longevity and the life of Christ. Each day, pasos (think giant floats, only instead of pipe cleaners and balloons, it’s platinum and gold) pass through the streets, and in the middle of this glittery ordeal is an image of Jesus or Mary.

People come from all over the world to witness these floats, weighing several tons, (carried by packs of men) glide down the thin streets of the city. Proceeding and following the floats are the “penitentes”, “nazarenos” and “acolytes.” These are members of the brotherhoods around Seville. There are 57 brotherhoods, which carry 116 totals floats, numbering up to nearly 60,000 men bopping around the city this past week.

The floats are quite marvelous though. The big moment of the week is Thursday night/Friday morning. At around 10pm on Thursday night a few friends and I headed over to a neighborhood to grab some churros before the floats came by. Already, there were groups, three people deep, lining one of the streets.

“Which one are you waiting for?” we asked one old man.

“La Macarena, it should be here around 4:30 am.”

I used to have a basketball coach that said, "Early is on time, and on time is late." This man wasreally on time, heck, I may even venture to say he was early.

So we got our churros and headed one street over, where we would be able to see two other pasos. The famous “El Silencio” (The Silence) and “Gran Poder” (Great Power). We sat down on the curb at around 11:30 and waited until 2am. At 2am we could see the top of the candles from El Silencio and by 2:30 Gran Poder was walking right in front of us.

With most pasos a large band walks behind, but since Thursday night/Friday morning are the pasos that depict the crucifixion of Jesus, it’s only silence. Often times, in the back streets, an old man or woman will sing a saeta — a short flamenco song, but sung with such desolate melodies that it brings people to tears.

But for Gran Poder and El Silencio, it was just the pasos and the men walking in front and behind the paso. These men are dressed in traditional Semana Santa outfits (the KKK stole their uniform from the penitentes of Semana Santa) and carry life size crosses, candles or other relics.

But there was one moment of the week that remains very poignant for me.

Since the pasos are so heavy, they often have to stop and wait a few minutes for the men under the pasos to change positions or take a rest. During one of the rests of Gran Poder I made eye contact with the penitente standing the closest to me. He may have just been staring at me because I was blonde or because he was bored or who knows. But we held eye contact for a bit and then I looked down at his hands that were gripping the cross. And he had these old man hands but they were strong. And I thought of how this old man is walking through the streets (barefoot!) for 10 hours, but how he could still grip the cross with such force.

I have no idea how old he was, who he was or why he chose to walk in the procession but it was one of those moments where you share something with someone that you’ll never see again.

I won’t lie, I’m pretty happy that I didn’t have to fight the crowds this morning or run through group of penitentes to get to a cafĂ© today. But it was one of those things that after the crowds are gone and the music has stopped, you realize the importance of what you were, inadvertently, a part of, even if you weren’t the one carrying the paso.

[I will be putting up a video of the festivities once I have enough time to sit and let one upload to the site, until Semana Santa in Seville to get an idea]

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