Training for Semana Santa in Seville

Holy week is fast approaching, and in Sevilla the devout are training hard for a demanding test of faith—carrying massive floats on their shoulders for the annual parade.


Training for Semana Santa in Seville

Getting lost in the alleys of a new city is certain to bring a surprise or two, and a recent wander through Sevilla brought me, by pure accident, face to face with two teams of costaleros training for the holy week parade.

As part of the holy week processions, these penitents, the costaleros, carry a burden on their shoulders, as Jesus is said to have carried his own cross to his own crucifixion. Over one-hundred floats depicting scenes from the passion weighing as much as 1.000kg each are borne on the shoulders of teams of men through the city. They are carried as an act of religious education, and as penance for their own sins.

It is hard work. So they train. They train every week. They train carrying rigs weighed down with sand, with cement, with steel I-beams. They train in the sun, and they train in the rain. Many of them will be carrying their sacred and delicate burden—the pasos, gilded life-sized depictions of scenes from the last days of Jesus’s life—for hours.

They train in shifts. Having arrived at the Cathedral of Sevilla from their home church elsewhere in the city, they set their burden down to rest and to change teams. Twenty-four tired men out, twenty-four fresh men in.

They are coached. In the parade, they will be invisible, hidden in the skirts of their elaborate floats, their shuffling feat the only sign that humans are the propulsion. Which means they will also be blind. Their capataz guides them, making sure they memorize the movements, flowing through the tight alleys.

On top of each rig is a llamador, a knocker, a hammer really, that the capataz uses to signal to the team when it is time to lift and begin moving.

Knock, knock, knock, everyone stand, everyone lift.

The floats are crowded, the costaleros can barely see the person ahead of them. Music is the key to remaining in sync, to keeping the float aloft and moving forward. In a parade, a marching band will provide the necessary music. But on training day, the team depends on a car stereo strapped to the back of the training rig to provide the musical cues. Beat, step, beat, step, beat, turn.

At the cathedral, they must turn to return home. They must navigate around the other floats. One more heave, one more press forward, they are only halfway done for today.


Images captured with a Fujifilm X-Pro3 with Fujinon XF 35mm F2 R WR lens.

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