Photographer: Pau Barrena/Bloomberg

The Passion and Tradition of Holy Week

Semana Santa, or ‘Holy Week’, is celebrated in almost every Spanish city during the last days of Lent, and commemorates the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The sacred centuries-old religious festival – led by the colorfully robed and hooded penitents whose slow processions are famous around the world – is a major draw for Catholics wishing to celebrate the Passion of Christ, as well as for tourists who flock to see the somber march of the Nazarenos. Photographs by Pau Barrena/Bloomberg

  1. Nocturnal Celebrations

    Nocturnal Celebrations

    Semana Santa is one of the most vivid expressions of religious piety in the Christian world. Each year, during the last week of Lent, the week before Easter, brotherhoods and fraternities perform penance processions on the streets of almost every Spanish city and town.

  2. Traditional Hood

    Traditional Hood

    The processions are most famous for the pointed hoods worn by  pentitents. Also known as a capirote, the hoods hide the faces of marchers and symbolize a form of public humiliation.

  3. Royal Brotherhood

    Royal Brotherhood

    Penance plays a key role in Catholic tradition, and Holy Week has been a fixture of Spanish life for hundreds of years. In the moments before an evening procession on  on Wednesday, March 23, the Royal Brotherhood of the Holy Christ of the Insults, the Silence prepare for the march with drums and candles.

  4. Red Robed

    Red Robed

    In medieval times the pointed hats were worn by clowns and jugglers. Christian penitents now wear them with a hood so that they cannot be recognized.

  5. Church Gathering

    Church Gathering

    Holy Week marks the last week of Lent, during which Christians are called on to fast and pray in the run-up to Easter.

  6. By Candlelight

    By Candlelight

    The streets of Spain are transformed during the week, with the processions attracting spectators from around the globe. In the town of Zamora, the spectacle takes place accompanied by the sound of Gregorian chanting.

  7. White Muslin

    White Muslin

    Under the hoods there are individuals, big and small, whose identity is soon consumed by the anonymity of the procession.

  8. Drum Beat

    Drum Beat

    Children take part in the festivities marching to the beat of drums. Music plays a special role in the celebrations, with choral pieces and chant reverberating through the streets.


  9. Street Parade

    Street Parade

    Religious statues and a giant cross are always carried prominently in the procession.

  10. Eyes Front

    Eyes Front

    The hood hangs over the shoulders with just a pair of holes cut for the eyes.

  11. Medieval Mood

    Medieval Mood

    The first reference to Zamora's Easter week dates back to the 13th Century. As the procession moves through the streets, candlelight adds to the distinctly medieval mood.

  12. Maundy Thursday

    Maundy Thursday

    Penitents from the Brotherhood of the Virgin of Hope carry an intricate statue of the Virgin through the streets.

  13. Veiled Women

    Veiled Women

    Traditionally women were not admitted to most brotherhoods but in more recent history this changed little by little.

  14. Sombre Penance

    Sombre Penance

    A penitent from the Brotherhood Virgin of Hope wears a traditional lace veil known as a mantilla, as she bows her head and marches in sombre line.