Semana Santa Best in Malaga

“You feel like you are in a trance,” my friend noted as we watched one procession pass by us.  There is this intoxicating aroma of incense that fills the streets.  A constant beat of drums and various instruments follow behind these large statues that are paraded through the streets.  We stood in one particular corner on Palm Sunday, close to the Atarazanas Market, and saw several processions happening one after another.  It was transcendental surround sound that filled the city’s streets.  

Everyone was out.  The elite rented out hotel rooms or had prime viewing from balconies and dressed in their finest above the crowds.  Families of all ages were out.  Grandparents sat in lawn chairs, children were kept occupied with candies sold by vendors in addition to their own drums, which they could play along to the processions.  This was not a one day event, it was a week long event.  And it fascinated me. It’s the Semana Santa best in Malaga.

Semana Santa Facts

Holy Week occurs from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday.  During this time, 45 processions grace the streets of Malaga by 42 brotherhoods.  There’s a Wikipedia page just on this week in Malaga to clarify all of the brotherhoodsálaga .  Yes, it’s Semana Santa best in Malaga.  This tradition has existed for over 500 years in this city. Although you can watch it on television, people travel here from across the region, nation, and world during this week to witness it.  It’s a collective pilgrimage.  During this week, hotels’ occupancy rates are overe 90% full.  One statistic I found was that more than 20,000 people participate in the event that stretches out over 8 days.  This number is not the amount of attendees, but the number of people involved in the processions. 

I’ve visited Malaga many times before, but never during this special period.  When I moved here three months ago, everyone kept saying “wait for Semana Santa.”  Antonio Banderas is a local here, and returns annually to participate. I was curious what it entailed.  There is a Semana Santa museum in the city, and I know Malaguenos like to party.  But what would this time be like? 

There’s something captivating about this event.  After the red carpet has been taken down from the film festival that occurred in March, the city began preparing.  Audience stands had been built in Plaza de la Constitution and the center of the main road Calle Andalucia for the event.  People can pay to reserve season tickets for the week to have a view of these 45 processions.  Rumor has it they frequently sell out.  A majority of the processions follow similar paths.  It’s as if the streets are embedded with this richness of devotion and pilgrimage, that has occurred annually for decades.

Holy Week in Malaga

 Members of the brotherhood carry symbolic massive figures or scenes Jesus or Mary.  Jesus has darker skin, and appears to be more historically accurate of what he would have looked like.  Processions of the various Mary’s follow.  Generally, she is both simultaneously glamorous and sorrowful.  Crowds cheer as these religious icons pass by them. But it’s not just Mary and Jesus they are cheering. People are supportive and in awe of the humans carrying them.  The procession also includes band members of all ages, people carrying several foot candles, scenes of the cross, crosses, incense, and other religious paraphernalia.  

Semana Santa Traditions

 Most of the participants in the procession are men, but some women assist with the lifting of these gigantic statues as well.  As you watch the procession pass, you will note members dressed in robes and capirotes, which are large hoods.  If you are new to Spain, it may scare you, as it looks reminiscent of the KuKlux Klan.  But it has nothing to do with it. The cone is quite high, and I have noted various colors depending on the brotherhood.  Traditionally those who wore these capirotes were people carrying out their penance, known as the Nazarenos.   The cones’ height has to do lifting towards the heavens.

Processions last for hours, nearly 8-10 hours if not longer.  I live close to one of the main churches that participates in the events.  Last night at 2:00 am, I heard the drumming as they arrived in the square, singing and full of celebration.  My mom thought because it was Holy Week, that everyone would be wearing black clothes.  She is from the Philippines, a country once colonized by Spain.  In her homeland, they have severe traditions and re-enactments of people acting out Good Friday. This includes a select few of people who are nailed to the cross.  But here that type of suffering is not on display.

Thrones of Semana Santa

In Malaga, it is not a somber event. It is boisterous, loud, and full of tradition, pride, and connection.  At the same time, we witness the physical embodiment of Holy Week. We observe pain being shared. These thrones weigh up to 5 tons. The number of people required to lift these massive statues are between 120 to 270 people.  Training for this may begin three months prior to the event.   These individuals walk in unison, swaying left and right, and needing frequent breaks to rest.  As you watch these statutes moving through the crowds, it’s as if Jesus and Mary are dancing and swaying above us.  If you didn’t see the people underneath bearing the weight and only witnessed above, it seems effortless. 

Yesterday my stepfather and mother arrived in Malaga, tired from traveling. But we went to one of the processions.  It was my stepfather’s first day in Spain, and Spain greeted him.  His mouth opened. All three of us looked at the event with amazement.  “I’ve never seen anything like this,” he shared in wonder.  I don’t think any of us have. It’s true that Semana Santa best in Malaga. 

Semana Santa Malaga

As I write this, I find there is so much to say about this mesmerizing week that is full of pageantry.  But images, videos, and words can only express so much.  This is an event that requires a pilgrimage, even if you are not religious.  We may not be part of the participating brotherhoods, but we can bear witness to how ceremonies are carried out in the Andalucian region.  In a time of speed, we can be grateful for how the world slows down for the week here, as residents and members of the city pilgrimage through the city honoring their religion, traditions, and community.  We witness people engaging in a camino that is not far, but requires endurance, mindset, collaboration, humility, and strength. 

To find out more about the hoods worn in Semana Santa, check out these blog posts

To explore more about prepping for pilgrimage, check out this post

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