Easter Sunday falls right in the middle of our trip to Spain, and Holy Week (Semana Santa) overlapped with our stay in Granada, in the region of Andalucia known for particularly elaborate processions and intricate massive hand-carried floats called pasos during this high-point of Christian penitence, lament, and celebration.
On the train from Barcelona to Málaga that Thursday morning we happened to be seated across from a Swiss-Spanish photographer who has returned year after year to Málaga to document the processions there. Salva Magaz introduced himself and gave us a personal preview on his laptop of the solemn exertion involved in carrying these floats, dozens of men carrying often well over a ton of wood and silver and decoration for hours into the night. Beautiful photography, engaging conversation about religion and world travel, the Andalucian countryside and coast; we talked off and on for the next several hours, a warm connection made with a good human on this cross-country train ride.
Arriving in Granada after dark that night, our taxi driver initially told us it would simply not be possible to get to our apartment – a procession was moving step by step along our street all evening. Winding his car’s way through the narrow hillside cobble roads of the Albaicín neighborhood crowded with pedestrians, he got us close and we walked behind the tail of the clamor to reach our lodgings, nestled below the Alhambra.
Four other processions were making their way through town at the same time on Thursday, and onlookers lined the streets waiting for the procession’s return after 2am. Every day of the week has processions by different brotherhoods (lay Catholic organizations), and on Friday we encountered more beginning in the afternoon, some heralded by drums, others marked by lingering clouds of incense.
Our tickets for the historical highlight of this visit, the Alhambra, were scheduled for Saturday afternoon, which by luck happens to be the starting point of the only procession that day: Santa Maria de la Alhambra. Led by a marching band, then hundreds of costumed penitents in blue capes and capirotes, women in black veils, children in vestments ready to light the meter-long candles of the procession later in evening, the slowly moving march paused regularly in silence to file its way through the winding road out of the Alhambra. Nearly an hour after it began, the paso depicting Mary at the foot of the cross inched past us with a second band, with sweating men in rough cotton headbands and kneepads already trading places for a rest and water, ready to continue to march down to the Cathedral and return to the Alhambra after midnight.
A solemn walking vigil into Easter morning, a particularly spiritual time to visit this historic town.