“Holy Week” Traditions In Spain

Yesterday Madrid Mayor, José Luis Martínez-Almeida, was at the Almudena Cathedral for the Palm Sunday Mass and celebration marking the beginning of the Easter week.

The “Holy Week” in Madrid and the rest of Spain is deeply embedded in society and celebrated in public displays of adoration – often related to the need for people to demonstrate their faith in a public forum – and not always for the holiest of reasons!

Palm Sunday at the Almudena Cathedral, Madrid


Madrid has its own traditions, dishes and processions but every region has its own different take.
We take a look at some of the more peculiar ones from around Spain.

Drinking & bar hopping procession

There are dozens of different types of religious processions that over the years have taken on a peculiar local characteristic.
Some like the procession of the drunks in Cuenca, in the heart of Old Castille, date back to the middle ages and starts at 0600 in the morning – only after a full nights drinking which in itself follows a hearty dinner.
Other such as that of the city of León in Castilla y Leon mark a specific ( and more recent event).
A man by the name of Genaro Blanco, a town good -for- nothing “golfo” was run over in the early hours after a night out at the local brothel. His drinking buddies decided to pay tribute to him every Maundy Thursday, the anniversary of his death. In doing so they started an Easter tradition of their own.
From what started as a drinking group of guys in 1930 has snowballed over the years to become a mass event – involving a giant bar and tapas crawl and semi procession that winds its way through the old town bars and taverns attracting tens of thousands of thousands of participants.

Dance Macabre

The Catalan town of Verges in the province of Girona chooses five of its residents, including three children, dress up in skeleton costumes, carry Death’s sickle and dance around the streets to the beat of the drums.
A medieval dance macarbe that continues to this day reminding us that no matter who we are – death awaits us all.

Royal Pardon

In a documented act that took place over 250 years ago a prison riot broke out in Málaga after inmates found out Easter processions would be cancelled due to a plague outbreak. They forced their way out, carried Jesus’ image through the streets and then returned to their cells.
The reigning King Charles III was so impressed that from that he decided to free two dozen inmates every Easter. The tradition has been passed from Easter to Easter tothis day.
The province of Cuenca in the heart of Castilla La Mancha is deeply ridden with the Catholic Church – and Easter has many throughout.

Street Battle

The provincial capital sees the procession take on a hostile air as the worshipers need to take on those who wish to obstruct the ‘Road to Calvary’ procession mocking Jesus on his way to the cross.
The turbos, as they are known, are meant to represent the Jews present during Christ’s death sentence and ensuing crucifixion. For twelve hours, they jostle the nazarenos, or penitents, and prevent them from carrying Jesus’s image through the streets.

Jew Baiting

The town of Bierzo in León is better known for its excellent red wine. However during Easter its dark past comes to the fore as cries of “let’s go kill the Jews” – “salir a matar Judíos” –  as they knock back glasses of special wine-lemonade.

There are various theories as to how this came about, but the common story for how this tradition started is that back in the 14th century, a nobleman named Suero de Quiñones owed money to a Jewish lender.

But as was common, instead of paying it off, he rallied the townspeople against the Jews, saying that they had killed Jesus. Between Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, Quiñones and his supporters stormed the Jewish quarter and killed many people, including the money lender in question.

To celebrate the massacre, Quiñones and his group drank wine, beginning the start of the tradition that still exists today in the name of the Holy Week drink.

Extreme Devotion

In the town of Valverde de la Veras in Extremadura, the ‘Via Crucis’ is a celebrated way of displaying devotion.
The participants, known as empalaos, have their bodies tightly strapped to a wooden cross with rope and then walk barefoot through the town streets for hours, their faces always covered with a veil.
Their march represents the 14 stations of the cross, symbolising Christ carrying the cross to his crucifixion.
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