HISTORY OF HOLY WEEK IN ZAMORA
The first documented reference to the celebration of
Holy Week in Zamora dates back to the 13th century. During the High and Late
Middle Ages, the monasteries and convents in Zamora—especially those of the
Mendicant orders—organized processions in streets near their parishes. At
that time, they were attempting to show the common people, with a marked
didactic and spiritual intention, the passages of the Passion, Death and
Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Easter was a valuable Catechism which transmitted
the Christian message in an impressively memorable way.
Despite the passage of time, the city of Zamora has wisely been able to respect and maintain the original character and intentions of its processions: austerity, silence and prayer; three characteristics which do indeed best define our Holy Week.
The consolidation of this celebration takes place in the 19th century when a series of factors converged in a way which would be decisive: the impulse of the bourgeoisie in Zamora (considered responsible for the progress of the brotherhoods); the work of the artist Ramón Álvarez and his school; and the foundation of the Junta Pro Semana Santa de Zamora by Ursicino Álvarez, mayor of the city. Thus began an incessant labor which would convert Holy Week into the “great week” of Zamora.
The antiqueness of the fraternal orders perfectly complements the quality of the religious sculptures. The Museo de Semana Santa, located in the historic old town is home to thirty-seven pasos which sequentially relate the Passion of Christ. Ramón Álvarez was the most prolific sculptor for Holy Week, combining wood and pasted fabrics in a new surprising manner. One of his disciples was Mariano Benlliure, who also provided works for Holy Week and whose work can be contemplated in this distinctive museum.
Visitors who arrive for the first time to Zamora’s Holy Week will be astounded by the contrasts of the celebration. The Penitential Confraternities process late at night; hundreds of devotees, barefoot with a simple staff, accompany extraordinarily valuable figures of Christ which are worshiped in the parochial churches around town the rest of the year. The silence and seclusion of the night contrasts sharply with the music and luminosity of the day-time processions, yet not one iota of the respectful drama of the Passion of Christ is lost.
The Holy Week of Zamora, declared of International Touristic Interest since 1986, is characterized by it conservation of ancient customs, traditions and personage, like El Barandales and El Merlú, which precede and sonorously announce the entourage coming behind them. The Silence Procession and the Oath have even legendary connotations.
The penitents who leave the humble neighborhood of Olivares and trundle up to the Cathedral to return once again in their traditional brown cloaks from the rural area of Aliste lighting their way with a hand-held antique lantern awaken primitive sentiments of antiquity.
The musical moments merit special interest: the paso of Camino del Calvario, popularly known as the “five of goblets” in reference to a card in the Spanish deck due to the distribution of its figures imitation that of the goblets on the card, when it leaves the Iglesia de San Juan de la Puerta Nueva and passes through the arch of its door, the funeral march of Sigismond Thalberg fills the air. Another remarkable moment is the penitential psalm of the Miserere in the procession of the Yacente. We must not forget the procession of la Buena Muerte formed by brothers who wear monks’ habits and carry lit torches.
The music of Holy Week in Zamora forms an integral part of the whole: choral and Gregorian anthems which overwhelm spectators, funeral marches, primitive noisemakers… an extraordinary “soundtrack” composed to exalt the splendor of the processions.
The importance of Holy Week in the capital extends in the same way to many corners of the province: Toro, Fuentesauco and Villalpando. In Bercianos de Aliste, the Procesión del Entierro (Burial Procession) is very interesting: humble servants of their savior wear shrouds that are buried at the moment of His death.