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Semana Santa processions a 500-year tradition in Ronda, Spain

  • The Holy Wednesday procession of the brotherhood de Nuestro Padre Jesús en la Columna y María Santísima de la Esperanza (Our Father Jesus at the Column and Most Holy Mary of Hope) passes through the center of Ronda.
  • The image of the Blood of the Most Holy Christ and of Our Lady of Great Sorrows, Holy Wednesday, Ronda, Spain.
  • Ronda, an ancient striking hilltop city of just under 35,000 people in Andalucia, in the south of Spain, has its own tradition of Holy Week processions marking the Passion of Jesus, dating back to the mid-16th century.
  • An image of the Virgin above the Senior Center in Ronda, Spain.
  • One of the many churches in Ronda, Spain.
  • The bridge that separates the oldest part of the hilltop city of Ronda from the "new" section.
  • A view of the ancient hilltop city of Ronda, Spain, seen from near the site of an ancient Mozarabic rite church.
  • The paso of the Santisimo Cristo de la Sangre y Nuestra Señora del Mayor Dolor, in the church before the arrival of the confraternity members.
  • The paso of the Vera + Cruz, or True Cross brotherhood, which also is housed in the Saint Mary Major Church, Ronda.
  • The paso of Our Lady of Sorrows, belonging to the Vera + Cruz, or True Cross brotherhood, also is housed in the Saint Mary Major Church, Ronda.
  • Processional symbols of the brotherhood El Silencio lined up for the arrival of the brothers.
  • Members of the brotherhood El Silencio walk in silence across Ronda's famous bridge to the church where they begin and end their procession.
  • Members of the brotherhood El Silencio greeting each other and preparing in the church before the start of the prayers and procession.
  • El Silencio members gather with the image of Jesus crucified. Ronda, Spain.
  • The penitents whose feet are chained await the service in church that precedes the procession. The somewhat frightening sound of their dragged chains is a distinguishing mark of El Silencio's procession.
  • The penitents whose feet are chained await the service in church that precedes the procession. The somewhat frightening sound of their dragged chains is a distinguishing mark of El Silencio's procession.
  • Young people dress and await their roles in the procession.
  • A new member of the brotherhood El Silencio. Though open to all new members, the brotherhoods are often intergenerational.
  • The chains that drag from the ankles of some penitents are a hallmark of El Silencio's procession.
  • Penitents hoist the image of Christ and the Virgin of Sorrows to carry it out and begin the procession
  • Nazarenos, the penitents with the famous tall pointed headpieces, line the church for the start of El Silencio's Holy Week procession, Ronda, Spain.
  • St. Mary Major Church, Ronda, Spain, just before the start of Wednesday's Holy Week procession.

Ronda, an ancient striking hilltop city of just under 35,000 people in Andalucia, in the south of Spain, has its own tradition of Holy Week processions marking the Passion of Jesus, dating back to the mid-16th century, less than 100 years after the city was recaptured from Muslim control.

Though not carried out on as grand a scale as in Seville, the Holy Week processions are, given the proportionate sizes of the cities, as significant as in Seville. Ronda even has its own stylistic “school” of design for the images and pasos, the elaborate, carried platforms that bear the images. In 2016 there were 13 Holy Week processions in Ronda, including the one featured here, that of the Hermandad de Santisimo Cristo de la Sangre y Nuestra Señora del Mayor Dolor, the Brotherhood of the Blood of the Most Holy Christ and of Our Lady of Great Sorrows, commonly known as El Silencio, or the Hermandad del Silencio, the Brotherhood of Silence. The confraternity dates to the 16th century, but was refounded in 1947, at the beginning of a period of revival and growth of confraternities.

The images and videos here don’t provide a full accounting of Holy Week in Ronda but do allow a glimpse into the activities of the confraternity both inside the church, as it prepares to process, and in the streets. 1 El Silencio is headquartered in Santa Maria la Mayor (St. Mary Major) church, in the oldest part of the city. It processes on Wednesday night from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. By 9 p.m., confraternity members arrive at the chapel, having walked from their homes silently in their robes, often with family members. They gather in the chapel for a brief address by their leader and a Mass, open only to members of that confraternity and their families. Inside the chapel, the hours beforehand are a mix of ordinary, low-key preparation and devotion. Members gather and share warm greetings, prepare for their particular roles, take photos, listen to the confraternity director and celebrated Mass together. A few participants cry as they see the paso brought before them. 

Just before 11 p.m., the paso is brought outside and the processants line up. At 11, the captain knocks three times and a huge curtain is drawn to show the paso and to begin the procession. Unlike most other processions, the Hermandad del Silencio’s procession is largely silent, and is often said to be the most intense of the week. A few drums or horns launch different stages of the procession, but generally there is no musical accompaniment. The only “music” is the sound of chains, affixed to barefoot penitent’s ankles, dragging along the cobblestones, as they process from the old city over the bridge into the new, for a four-hour procession.

  • 1. The images and commentary on the Holy Week in Ronda are based on observation as and interviews conducted during Holy Week of 2016. Special thanks to the Hermandad del Silencio for providing the opportunity to witness and film the events in the church before the procession.
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Footnotes