Málaga in Andalucía, known for its vibrancy, particularly during the summer feria, also has its solemn moments. None more so than during Holy Week, when religious brotherhoods carry huge statues of Jesus and the Virgin Mary through the streets of the city.
To be in Málaga during Holy Week is very special. Declared of interest to International Tourism in 1965, it is also recognised by Andalucía as a “Fiesta of National Interest”. Visitors flock from across Spain and abroad to follow the processions through the city’s historic centre.
For many, seeing it for the first time, it is an unforgettable sight. Hooded men parade through the streets carrying enormous floats (tronos) bearing religious statues (pasos). The hooded robes are of different colours and identify the religious brotherhood (cofriadías). The beat of the drums and music create an evocative and sober atmosphere.
Every day during Holy Week (Semana Santa), there are processions as the brotherhoods leave their cofradías dotted around the city. The buildings are recognisable by the huge double-height doors required to allow access for the statues.
Each brotherhood takes a different route, but they all converge on the Alhameda, Calle Larios, Plaza de la Constitucíon and Málaga Cathedral.
On Good Friday, there is a very moving moment. The nuns of the convent of La Cruz sing to the Brotherhood of Los Dolores de San Juan in the Plaza de Arriola.
Releasing of the Prisoner
Each year on Easter Wednesday, a prisoner is released. During the ceremony, an edict of liberation is read to the prisoner. They then receive a blessing from the ‘Jesús el Rico´statue – which has an articulated arm.
This act of amnesty dates back to the reign of Charles III (reign 1759-88). During an epidemic, the Easter week processions were suspended. The prisoners broke out of the goal and carried the statue of Jesús Nazareno out into the streets. After replacing the statue back in the church, the prisoners returned to their cells. Upon hearing of this act of devotion, Charles III conferred on the image the privilege of releasing a prisoner every year.
The statue has henceforth been known as ‘Jesús el Rico’ (Christ the rich man).
Easter across Andalucía
The scenes of tronos paraded through the streets is not unique to Málaga. Every village, town and city in the region of Andalucía has processions of some form.
In Seville, you can find yourself serenaded by a Saetero. He sings the ‘Saeta’, a form of Flamenco traditionally sung at Easter – a cry of devotion to the image of Christ or the Virgin.
Vélez-Málaga, in the Axarquía region of Málaga, the narrow streets of the town are filled with as the trono parades towards the churches. On Palm Sunday, balconies are decorated with plaited palms. People also lay palm leaves in front of the float which will eventually come to rest at the church of San Juan Bautista.
If you’re unable to witness the Holy Week processions in person, the Málaga Semana Santa Museum is open all year-round, except during Easter. It displays processional robes and thrones as well as music, art and exhibitions about the traditions.