Here in the Canaries, Easter and Holy Week is a much bigger affair than we are used to, and most villages and towns across all of the Islands will take part. As the locals are predominantly Catholic, Easter or Pasqua is a very important time.
And unlike many of the other festivities and fiestas that take place during the year, which involve music, dancing and partying, Holy Week is a much more sedate and religious affair.
Although here we celebrate Easter at the same time as we do in the UK and Ireland, there are still differences. For example, here they don’t recognise the Monday after Easter Sunday as a bank holiday as we do back in the UK. Here they recognise Maundy Thursday and Good Friday as bank holidays instead. Maundy Thursday is celebrated with a high mass, to celebrate the Eucharist and the last Supper, and Good Friday is a much more elaborate and sombre affair, which commemorates the crucifixion.
On the larger islands, the Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday parades draw massive crowds and are a spectacle for holiday makers, although for the locals they are very holy time and have a somewhat solemn and melancholic tone. The actual celebrations do vary from island to island and the grandiose processions take place in the more religious or larger populated areas, such as La Laguna in Tenerife or Las Palmas in Gran Canaria.
One of the most obvious differences you will notice is that Easter here is not all about chocolate eggs and fluffy bunnies, but is instead steeped in religious history, pageantry and religious art. For those who have never witnessed it before, it is like being whisked back into Medieval times as “Cofradias” or Religious Brotherhoods, many of which date back to Spain in the 16th century, take to the streets, complete with historical dress. Each brotherhood has their own colours, their own statues of the Virgin Mary and Jesus and their own rituals for commemorating the religious events.
Each brotherhood is made up of numerous members known as Nazarenos and Penitents. The Nazarenos often walk barefoot through the streets carrying chains and shackles and dragging large wooden crosses behind them. The Penitents wear long robes or tunics, a belt and “capirotes” which are conical-shaped, tall hoods with eye-holes, which are designed to disguise the wearers identity so that the faithful could repent in anonymity, without being recognised as self-confessed sinners. To the untrained eye, these hooded brotherhoods, do look like Klu Klux klan members, and it is believed by some that the hoods worn by the Medieval Cofradias during the Inquisition is where the they got their inspiration, although their ideals and reasons for wearing them are obviously very different and far more sinister!
There are lots of different processions that take place during Holy Week, starting with Domingo De Ramos (Palm Sunday) and ending on Easter Sunday. If you are island hopping, then one to look out for takes place late at night in Las Palmas In Gran Canaria. The celebrations date back to 1478, when the city was founded and on Holy Thursday, faithful followers make visits to seven monuments around the city, all of which have been loving prepared by various parishes, churches and convents in the area. Then at ten minutes to midnight, just before the clock signifies the beginning of Good Friday, they all join together to sing the chant of the miserere.
Procesion de Silencio
Another parade which always draws a crowd, albeit a very quiet one, takes place in La Laguna in Tenerife and is known as The Silent Procession. It takes place on the evening of Good Friday in the Iglesia de la Concepción. At around 9.30pm everything goes dark, as all the street lights are extinguished, and the followers in the procession light candles instead. The Cofradias then walk slowly through the silent streets, accompanied only by the sound of chains and crosses scraping on the ground and a hauntingly slow and very ominous drum beat.