Essay and photos by Nivedita Joshi
LEÓN, Spain–I had the pleasure of witnessing the processions of Semana Santa in three cities – León, Valencia and Alicante in April 2022.. With that, I had the pleasure of witnessing three levels of this centuries-old Spanish tribute to the Passion of Jesus Christ.
In León, I saw the highest degree of discipline, coordination, sincerity and band quality. Streets were jam-packed with audiences and a lot of people followed the “papones,” those carrying the images on their journeys. The two images or “pasos” I saw in León moved slowly, revealing the heaviness of the sculptures of Jesus Christ and Virgin Mary. I noticed what seemed like middle-schoolers marching in the band following the pasos, with their drums, diligently contributing to the event of the Holy Week. Delighted does not begin to describe what I felt seeing those kids in purple and white uniforms.
The neighborhood I stayed in during my time in Valencia was a suburban area, a few kilometers off of the main attractions of the southeastern Spanish city (excluding the beautiful beach). The processions there did not invite a big audience, nor were the sculptures as big as the ones in León. The band was also smaller. Here is what my phone’s camera captured. This vividly describes what I remember about Semana Santa in Valencia:
As I saw these regularly-dressed men pushing this cart with an image of Jesus Christ carrying the cross, I realized that much importance is attached to the sculpture rather than the tradition of its procession there in Valencia. “Valencia does not really celebrate Semana Santa; out by the beach, however, in the maritime district of Grau-Cabanyal, the area has its own take on the parade,” as described by a Culture Trip article. This take on the Semana Santa processions was an interesting one to see as someone who knows little about this Spanish festival but who had seen the lavish parades of León.
The grandeur of the processions in the southeastern Spanish city of Alicante was on a whole new level. The streets were decorated with banners, seating arrangements were made for the audiences to revel in this annual custom, as images of Jesus Christ on the Cross and of Virgin Mary holding the body of Jesus Christ were paraded. The swift pace of the processions made me wonder whether the sculptures were not as heavy as the ones in León because fewer people carried them.
This is another spectacular image of Virgin Mary that I saw on the streets of Alicante:
The long candles complemented and helped the detailing on Mary’s clothes glow. The regality of this holy sculpture embellished with flowers lit up the streets with a sense of belonging as all the heads on the street turned to celebrate this. As the people under the image picked the sculpture up, I could not imagine myself more impressed by a ceremony that people all over the country came together for. And the excitement and thrill assembled by the band: ¡Muy bonita!