Holy Week in Spain. An exclusive interview
Semana Santa. Holy Week. One of Spain’s cultural jewels.
Allow me to introduce you to Domingo Orellana. He is one of the statue carriers (costaleros).
In the build up to Holy Week here in Arcos de la Frontera, I caught up with Domingo during a recent late night practice, and with my journalist’s hat firmly in place I asked him some questions about the art of the costalero.
First up, what is that thing around his neck?!
Domingo: Ah, that’s called a molía. It helps bear the weight of the statue. I am also wearing a faja (waistband) to support my lower back.
Jim: How many years have you been doing this?
Domingo: Every year since I was 18. Now I am 31.
J: How did it all begin for you?
D: At the age of 7 I would assist the priest during Mass, and the figure of Jesus simply captivated me.
J: What does Holy Week mean to you?
D: (sighs) Passion. And so much emotion. You ‘live’ the experience. You know you are carrying God above you. All these things often bring tears to the eyes. There is also a great sense of achievement.
J: Tell me about your role as one of the statue carriers.
D: Well, there are 20 of us inside at a time, that’s 4 lines with 5 men in each. In fact, there are 40 of us in total because there are 2 groups and we take turns.
J: Yes, the statue must be very heavy!
D: Each of us is carrying a weight of around 75 kilos, so if you multiply that by 20 you have the approximate weight of the statue. Actually, when we carry the statue up or down a slope then the weight can increase to 100+ kilos per man. Obviously this is tiring and physically demanding. It even leads to long term physical changes [Domingo shows me an unusual curvature on his neck].
But we work as a team, with the help of 4 capataces (stewards). Dressed in black suits, there are 2 of them with us under the statue to dictate the pace and movement (which is in time with the music played by the band behind us). And there are 2 more in front of us make sure we keep the statue travelling in the right direction.
J: What are the main challenges you face?
D: Mainly it’s the physical injuries, especially to the back, but other considerations include the weather – if it rains the statues cannot be taken out of the churches – and the nature of the streets here. The old town of Arcos de la Frontera has many steep slopes and steps which are very difficult for us to negotiate. This is one of the reasons why so many people like to come here and witness the spectacle.
Holy Week in Arcos de la Frontera is one of the highlights of Spain’s cultural year.
J: How much practice is involved leading up to Holy Week itself?
D: It varies, but typically we do 8 practice sessions, and we carry concrete girders which actually weigh more than the statue – so the real thing feels lighter when we lift it!
For those costaleros who attend fewer practice sessions, statue carrying time during the procession is more limited. Incidentally, some costaleros prefer to be ‘on duty’ when the statue is being brought out of the church; others when it is being returned. These tend to be the most emotional moments for us.
See you next time,
Jim Porter is a co-founder of Speekee, where kids learn to speak Spanish together
Jim began his Spanish learning journey in 1990. He has been a language teacher since 1994 and he lives in sunny southern Spain with his two bilingual children. Loves it! More…