Inside Semana Santa, One Of The World’s Strangest Easter Celebrations

On the Sunday before Easter, many Catholic countries begin celebrating Semana Santa, or Holy Week, an elaborate religious observance that will last until the day before Easter. Among the festival’s many rituals, the solemn street processions held in the main participating cities arrest the eye with their intimidating aesthetics and aura of mystery:

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Procession Salamanca

Wikimedia CommonsIn the Roman Catholic world, Semana Santa marks the commemoration of the Passion of Christ. The week-long holiday is dedicated to the remembrance of Biblical events, from Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem to his burial following the Last Supper and the Crucifixion.

Marbella Spain Cross

FlickrThe festival takes place on the last week of Lent, just before Easter. It includes Palm Sunday, Holy Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday.

Pprocession Salamanca

Wikimedia CommonsDuring Holy Week, religious brotherhoods and fraternities perform penance processions in the streets of observing cities as a spectacular expression of popular piety.

Procession Malaga

FlickrMost of the Semana Santa traditions and brotherhoods have their origins in medieval times, although a number of them were created during the Baroque period and recent centuries.

Brotherhood Procession

FlickrAny Catholic person can become a member or “hermano,” but family tradition has a significant influence on the choice of, and acceptance into, one of the brotherhood circles.

Closeup Clothes

FlickrMost participants in the parades wear the traditional penitential robe, or nazareno.

Capirotes Valladolid

Wikimedia CommonsThe shapes and colors of the garments vary according to the fraternity and procession, although purple is favored in a number of locations.

Capirote Salamanca

FlickrThe nazareno outfits involve a tunic and a long, conical hood with a pointy tip, called capirote or capuchon.

Capirote Closeup

FlickrIn the Middle Ages, the dissimulating robes and masks allowed participants to show penance while concealing their identity.

Capirote Daimiel Spain

FlickrThe hermanos often hold large crosses to recreate Christ’s ordeal.

Semana Santa Penitents

FlickrPenitents may also occasionally walk barefoot and wear chains or shackles around their ankles.

Procession Women Guatemala City

FlickrThey are normally followed by women dressed in black who carry processional candles.

Procession Roman Soldiers

Wikimedia CommonsOther members of the processions dress up as soldiers of the Roman Legion.

Astorga

FlickrThe fraternities carry giant floats with Biblical sculptures representing scenes of the Passion, called pasos, on their shoulders.

Float Salamanca Spain

FlickrSome of the pasos have belonged to the brotherhoods for centuries, and many are artworks created by renowned Spanish artists.

Procession Malaga Spain

FlickrIn Spain, the largest and most famous Semana Santa processions are found in the cities of Cartagena, Málaga, Seville, Valladolid, Zamora, and Léon.

Capuchones

Wikimedia CommonsThe celebrations in 23 cities around Spain have been declared of international tourism interest, drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

Procession Bilbao

FlickrThe region of Andalusia is known to host more “glamorous” processions, while those of Castile and Léon generally have a more somber atmosphere.

Procession Quito Ecuador

Wikimedia CommonsOutside Spain, Semana Santa is actively celebrated in Catholic European countries such as Italy, Portugal and Malta, and in Hispanic countries around the world, including those of South and Central America (pictured above: Quito, Ecuador) and the Philippines.

Guatemala City, Semana Santa Procession

FlickrMen carrying a heavy paso float in Guatemala City.

Philippines

Boston.comIn the Philippines, the proceedings take on an altogether more extreme and sinister turn: some participants engage in deep self-flagellation and actual cross nailings, despite those practices being condemned and banned by the church.

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The Tragic Heroism Of Gisella Perl, “The Angel of Auschwitz”

Forced to work for the notorious Dr. Josef Mengele at Auschwitz, Gisella Perl risked all to save as many lives as she could. This is her incredible, heartbreaking story.

Gisella Perl

Gisella Perl with a baby. Image Source: Wikipedia

We have previously shared the story of Stanislawa Leszczyńska, a midwife at Auschwitz who delivered almost 3,000 babies while imprisoned in the concentration camp.

But while Stanislawa delivered infants, another Jewish medical professional risked her life to save the lives of other women in Auschwitz: a gynecologist named Dr. Gisella Perl. Under the watchful, evil eye of Dr. Josef Mengele, Perl realized that in order to save the lives of the women in her care, she could not safely deliver babies like Stanislawa. Instead, Perl performed abortions.

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What Are Baby Hatches?

Last month, Switzerland opened its eighth baby hatch. Here’s what it is, and why it’s so controversial.

Baby Box

A baby box in the Czech Republic. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

In the first week of February, Switzerland opened its eighth baby hatch in the city of Sion. As the name suggests, parents not ready to care for a child can leave their newborn in the hatch, knowing that the child will be safe in the care center inside and that the family will suffer no legal repercussions for doing so.

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Look Out Below: The Bloody History Of Defenestration

Defenestration Of Prague

As a method of execution, throwing someone through a window is a bizarre concept. It’s amazing there’s even a word for it, and yet there is: defenestration. We’ve witnessed it in countless movies — the thrilling opening fight scene in Watchmen, Edward Longshanks hurling his son’s lover through an open window in Braveheart, even the triumphant moment in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves when Friar Tuck pushes the money-laden bishop through the stained glass window of his chapel. But there is a very real, and very weird history behind the practice…

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