Semana Santa fiesta in Malaga

Religious or not, Malaga is a city that knows how to celebrate Semana Santa (the Passion Week). The celebration is almost every day with parades that are impressively organised and practiced all year long. As Easter Sunday approaches, the parades become more frequent starting from noon till the early hours of the next morning. I had the pleasure of attending one this year, Holy Wednesday.
The parade included four different processional thrones, representing three different stages of the Passion of Christ and one of Virgin Mary. The thrones are massive in size (3000 kilos each) and are carried by 200 people (each bearing around 15 kilos on his/her shoulder). They’re adorned in gold and candles and paraded around the city for almost 8 hours.
Every throne is carried by a specific religious order, that is distinguished by the colour of their robes. Some participants would blind fold their eyes or walk barefoot, fulfilling personal oaths. Each procession has a leader with a bell, that organises the advance and the halt of the thrones. This helps to give the carriers a few minutes of rest. The movement is sway like giving the impression of waves, a sign of Malaga being a coastal city. This can’t be seen in parades of inland cities such as Sevilla or Granada.
It was fascinating to see the long pointy cone-shaped masks worn by the Nazarenos, that only showed their eyes. This tradition comes from the times of the inquisitions, when sinners were obliged to wear these masks and walk bow headed. Nowadays, the Nazarenos are of all ages and sexes: children with parents holding their hands or adults carrying incense burners and long candles. The kids attending the parade collect the melting wax from the candles of the Nazerenos. They’d create a ball out of it and keep adding more on every Semana Santa.
The smell of burning incense fills the air and the sound of the sombre music played by the band, goes hand in hand with the gruesome images displayed on the thrones. If you are lucky enough, someone from the many balconies would start singing a Saeta, a flamenco sacred song that describes the sad procession.
But being in Malaga the city of festivals, this solemn atmosphere is cut off abruptly by someone shouting: “Viva Maria!” Or “How handsome!” “How pretty!”.
Eventually, everyone else starts clapping and people are on the move again. Holy Wednesday is marked by setting a convict free (charged with a minor crime such as drug trafficking or theft). This happens at the passing of the throne of Jesus the Rich. In the past, the grand statue of Jesus had one arm moving. Based on who the statue’s hand points to, a convict is set free. This tradition, goes back to the 18th century at the reign of king Carlos the third.
At that time, plague had wiped out most Spanish cities and there was no one left to carry the thrones of Semana Santa. The task was given to prisoners who did it gladly. After the celebrations were over- surprisingly enough, the prisoners returned back to their cells willingly instead of escaping. Since that day onwards, a convict of minor crime is set free. I also had the pleasure of trying torrijas, a fried French toast, that is sprinkled with sugar or caramel. This is one of many traditional Spanish Easter dishes. Also, I missed seeing Antonio Banderas who participates yearly in these processions, in his hometown Malaga. Maybe next time!
Rasha al Raisi is a certified skills trainer and the author of:
The World According to Bahja. rashabooks@yahoo.com