We had planned for a long time to make León our Semana Santa destination. A 10 day extravaganza of stunning processions. Everywhere celebrates, we’ve seen reference to the Paso’s, brotherhoods, colourful statues and imagery everywhere we’ve been, from the smallest of towns to the big cities. León is up there as one of the most dynamic, colourful and popular celebratory weeks. Having seen night time processions in Sorrento a few years ago, the darkening of the streets and highly atmospheric solemnity, León was to be a different affair, primarily it’s all during the day, for a start. We know we’ll head back there someday, to explore without the crowds that deluge the place, so that we can see it with a different face on.
Mi Spanish improving, I was able to converse a bit more and understand! Religion in Spain, I was told, isn’t the force that it once was, especially among the young, but Semana Santa (Holy Week) is still highly popular and respected across all generations. It isn’t seen as being a sorrowful procession of solemnity as it’s easily viewed, but a celebration and a coming together of friends and families under an umbrella of a serious message about love, forgiveness and understanding. It’s easy and frankly lazy to see it with “Oh my goodness” comments when first viewing the clothing, the pointed hats and gowns and covered faces. We own up to that comment ourselves, before adjusting our thinking and realising our own ignorance. These are just traditional costumes going back to the C17th that have sadly been negatively appropriated by as certain US group. It is the same as the appropriation of the Swastika symbol. When seeing the parades for the reasons they are intended it induces quite an emotion, not of sorrow but of amazement and joy at the togetherness of the Paso carrying Costaleros, Penitents, musicians etc and the pleasure they all take in the involvement.
The processions vary in scale, some have thousands of people and up to 13 floats. We counted several floats each needing 92 people to carry them. They are all incredibly different but symbolic and the Costaleros have different carrying and walking styles. At times they kind of ‘dance’, the rocking and swaying garnering applause from the crowds. We think this may be to do with a celebration of sorts as it happened when there was a tempo shift in the music. We could see that every procession was telling a story, some quite graphically such as Procesión de las Siete Palabras (Procession of the & Words) Our favourite however was the spectacle that was the coming together of all the floats in the main square from Procesión de la Despedida and the “Act of Farewell” between the two Paso’s of Jesus and Mary. Both Paso’s bowing in acknowledgement to each other. Just incredible to watch.
León Semana Santa has 16 Hermandades (fraternities and penitential brotherhoods) They all have their own colours and symbolism. Between them they organise 30 processions through the week, a mighty task! Anyhow, we did our best to select photo’s that indicate the processions we saw before we fell off our very weary feet! We are still giggling about the fun window displays, the one below was in a pharmacy with an unusual use of the syringe!
In between processions we visited León Cathedral and one of Gaudi’s properties, Casa Botines, one of only 4 not in Barcelona and a very much played down version of anything we’ve seen of his elsewhere. There was none of the multicoloured mosaic detailing but there was the smart use of light and tiling and creativity of design. Originally the building was for a warehouse and retail outlet for fabric importers with living accommodation above. Well worth the visit.
León Cathedral was an immense structure, Gothic exterior, beautiful stonework and amazing stained glass windows, not seen before on this scale anywhere else on this trip. Being very wide with traditional naves it really was a glorious place to sit in for a while. The complex of cloisters built to one side were intricately carved, vaulted ceilings and complex, delicate detailing.
All in all we had a great time, educating ourselves and enjoying being part of the wider events and soaking it all up, thankfully in the sun. Bumping into a couple of Belgian pals from last year and sharing a couple of drinks with them and having 121 Spanish tuition from Carlos, our Paso carrying host where we parked up was a bonus. In return we offered to help where we could, his son who was off to Galway for two years to learn English…. 🙂
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To be honest, I’ve not been up to much. I was thankful that my hearing failed me and it wasn’t a Lion we were going to see. In Leon they stayed in a big car park but I can sleep anywhere I feel like it. I did have some fun though as there was a big dog in a cage that I could torment and I found enough to keep me occupied while they spent hours looking at lions!