Semana Santa, or Holy Week, is a hugely important festival for Veleños. For a week the whole town is taken over by processions, and the streets fill with incense and music. Whether you’re religious or not from start to finish, it’s an unmissable experience…
Introduction to Easter in Velez-Malaga
Semana Santa is a big deal in Velez-Malaga. After the big cities it is recognised as one of the most impressive in the whole of Spain. If you haven’t experienced Easter week in Spain before, it’s truly a sight to behold.
Along with the usual accompaniments to a fiesta (including lots of amazing food and drink), Velez’s Semana Santa sees phenomenal processions that build in complexity and grandeur throughout the week. The highlight is the processions themselves: huge floats weighing up to 5,000kg depict different scenes from the events in the week leading to Christ’s death and then resurrection. It sounds sombre, and occasionally can be, but it’s also incredibly beautiful and moving.
19 individual ‘brotherhoods’ will prepare for these parades for an entire year, each designing a parade route and floats depicting an image of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary and associated saints.
The Week Leading Up to Easter Sunday
Processions start on Palm Sunday, which is on the last Sunday of Lent (a changeable date). On this day the floats and processions will depict Jesus’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Balconies are decorated with plaited palms and expect people to lay palm leaves in front of the float which will eventually come to rest at the church of San Juan Bautista. The congregation will worship here and also pay homage to the carving of the Virgen del Rocio statue that resides in the church*.
Best viewing is at the church at the end of the procession. Get there early and see the first lighting of the Virgen de la Candelaria’s candles.
* San Juan Church is under renovation during 2017 and as such this will not be the focus during Semana Santa 2017.
Processions today feature the oldest of the brotherhoods and oldest of the floats to feature in Velez’s Semana Santa; the depiction of the Sweet Name of Jesus. The best place to watch this is near the start of the parade on Calle de la Carrera where a float depicting the Virgin lies in wait to escort the Sweet Name of Jesus at the entrance to the Paso del Ecce-Homo before continuing on amidst a throng of thrones and live marching bands.
The ‘Brotherhood of Our Father Jesus and Holy Mary of Love’ begin a procession from the Church of San Jose. Their float, which has four fire pits burning in each corner, is one of the grandest at the parade. See this float at the corner of Calle de la Carrera.
The catchily named ‘Brotherhood of Our Father Jesus of Judgement & the Virgin of Grace’ begins its parade from the Church of Santa Maria. The floats are a highlight of today and depict the judgement of Pontius Pilate on Jesus Christ. This parade is best seen along the passage for Tribuna de los Pobres on Calle Felix Lomas.
The last brotherhood to parade gives us a depiction of Jesus captive and helpless, and of Mary Magdalene and other devotees going to see him. The best place to see this float is during its descent from Calle Juan Bautista Hurtado.
In keeping with the themes of Christ’s last week of life, the atmosphere throughout Maundy Thursday and Good Friday can be very sombre. These are the days when worship and prayer will be most prevalent and celebrations slightly more subdued. Not that this is bad thing, however, as the setting can provide a truly unique experience for both religious and non-religious people.
Floats on Thursday depict Jesus being tied to the column and the Virgin of the Rosary. Drums and hymn-like songs accompany the parades today. The best viewing is by the Cuesta del Carmen for the ‘rise of the throne’ section of the parade, or on Calle de las Tiendas.
The culmination of the week’s celebration is on Good Friday, when the floats depict the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the sombre atmosphere of the crowd is palpable. Other floats include Christ’s body being taken down from the cross and of it being placed in the tomb. The atmosphere takes on a more religious feel today as people dress in mourning and a large number of penitents accompany the floats. Onlookers can be heard repenting their sins and making promises to be kept over the coming year.
The atmosphere on Easter Sunday is joyous. A very different affair from the parades of Thursday and Friday, expect people on the street to be celebrating. The main float is a sculpture of ‘glorious and triumphant Jesus in his resurrection’. The best place to watch proceedings today is at the end – the Church of San Juan where white doves are released into the sky and the party begins.
Things to Look Out For During Semana Santa in Velez
There are three things a visitor to Velez during Semana Santa should try to experience.
- Firstly, listen out or a saeta during the processions. A saeta is an acoustic religious song (often in a Flamenco style – incorporating elements of the seguiriya) frequently sung from a balcony. The crowd are usually brought to a silence and the procession is often paused while the saeta is sung. The best places to hear saetas in Velez-Malaga are Hospital San Juan de Dios, Calle Poeta Joaquin Lobato and Calle San Francisco.
- The second rather special experience is rose petals being thrown from the balconies over the float carrying the Virgin. This is a beautiful display in homage to the Virgin Mary and makes for a fantastic photo opportunity. The day this happens changes every year but it usually take place on Calle Poeta Joaquin Lobato.
- The third thing to do while experiencing a veleño Semana Santa is eat the typical dishes – torrijas and ajobacalao, a salt cod and garlic paste served with bread. There’s a competition each year in Velez for the best ajobacalao – look out for the trophy in bars and shops. Not to be taken at the same time as ajobacalao but delicious as a dessert or afternoon pick-me-up are torrijas. These are bread soaked in milk or wine and covered with sugar or syrup.
*All photo credits to Gonzalo De Quinta.