Penitence and Sensible Shoes

It’s Semana Santa (Holy Week), one of the most important celebrations in Sevilla for perhaps as far back as the 14th century.

All the Catholic brotherhoods process through the streets of Sevilla for eight days beginning on Palm Sunday. I mentioned in an earlier post that there are 61 different processions this year. Most brotherhoods carry two floats (one with a version of Christ in one of the stages of “the Passion,” and another with a “Dolorosa” (the Virgin Mary in pain) under a canopy. Some brotherhoods have three floats and a few have only one.

People march in penitence, anonymously. It’s a very strange thing for our American-trained eyes to see, since they are garbed in conical hats (capirotes) that make them look like members of the Ku Klux Klan. It would appear that the Klan stole this costume for their own loathsome purposes, but no one knows for certain (especially since Catholics are among all the others the Klan is hatefully against).

Each brotherhood has some kind of identifier. Some robes are white and the cones are purple. Some are entirely white. Some are black. Some red. Last night I saw a very tall penitent all in black walking down the street holding hands with two small children who ran happily beside him dressed in their Easter best. Very curious.


I haven’t yet seen one of the processions, which carry their floats from their churches to the Cathedral and back taking the shortest possible route based on “the rule of ordinances” from the 17th century. Even the shortest possible route takes hours. It was pouring down rain yesterday when they were supposed to walk by our plaza; that walk was canceled. Jerry read this morning that one of the groups covered everything in plastic but still had to take shelter in a nearby church (fortunately, the old churches have huge doors just for that purpose). I may break my vow and go out on the streets today (with an umbrella) rather than wait for them to come to me.


Author: Moving with Mitchell

From Brooklyn, New York; to North Massapequa; back to Brooklyn; Brockport, New York; back to Brooklyn... To Boston, Massachusetts, where I met Jerry... To Marina del Rey, California; Washington, DC; New Haven and Guilford, Connecticut; San Diego, San Francisco, Palm Springs, and Santa Barbara, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; Irvine, California; Sevilla, Spain. And Fuengirola, Málaga..

34 thoughts on “Penitence and Sensible Shoes”

  1. All I could think of while looking at these pictures, was the Lily Tomlin line, said about Jane Fonda's first day at work, in 9 to 5:
    "We'll have to find a special locker for that hat."

  2. I find that look very disturbing, intimidating, even. My eye was caught by the rainbow of colours on the girls shoe rack – but would I dare to browse? Probably not!

    1. Elaine:
      I was just walking around town and penitents are heading in all directions to reach their groups. It becomes less unsettling the more I see them. And I've seen a variety of colors today (more pics to come). As for the shoes: Those are all out in preparation for "Feria" which begins after Semana Santa. The ones pictured are tame!

  3. It's sure a strange thing to see for someone from the United States. We are lead to believe that people who dress that way are bad and dangerous. If I were visiting Seville for the first time and saw this it would certainly startle me and I've traveled all over the world. But the thing for people to remember is that OUR culture is not the culture of the World. That every country has their own culture and history, we shouldn't judge what we see without asking what it is and learning about the culture. My two cents.


  4. It's almost halloweenish wouldn't you say?! Obviously deep-rooted customs that have meaning to a lot of people. A photographer's dream!

    1. Chris:
      I don't know if there's any special reason for it, but I've only seen those displays in some shoe stores — not in other stores. And you can get miniature penitents, in all colors and all qualities. And bakeries even have penitent cake toppers. It is certainly a new way of looking at things.

  5. Those masked coned robed figures look sinister even to my Antipodean eyes. How do they get though doorways in those things??
    The shoeshop photo made me look twice. What an incongruous sight.

    1. Judith:
      At first, the KKK linkage made this for me very unsettling. But I have gotten used to it and understand there's no relation. I haven't seen anyway walk through a doorway, but I did see a woman walking down the street today wearing her robe, but carrying the conical hat. So much for anonymity.

  6. Maybe the creepy manikin is to advertise Easter shoes? Personally, I much prefer bunnies and baby chicks. Do they sell Peeps in Sevilla?

    1. Ms. Sparrow:
      You always bringing a breath of the Midwest! Jerry's mother used to send us an Easter goodie box every year. It was filled with candy and chocolate Easter eggs, chocolate Easter bunnies, and marshmallow Peeps. I haven't seen one single Peep here in Sevilla!

  7. I've got to let my nerd flag fly here. The ones in black pictured above look like Death Eaters (Voldemort's minions) from the Harry Potter series.

    I'd never seen penitents dressed this way until a few years ago, when I saw a photo in a book, and it certainly was startling to my American eyes! It's really amazing how feelings about the klan are so strongly attached to that look. It's hard not to have those feelings well up at the sight of this attire, even when the meaning is different, they have been wearing it for centuries longer, and indeed they are targets of the klan's hatefulness.

    Visual symbols and attachments are powerful things. So interesting!

    1. Michelle:
      You're right; it really is interesting. I'll share more pictures I took today of penitents in other colors, as well. It's no longer a unpleasant image for me… still a curiosity, but not unsettling. (And in-person, they really look nothing like Death Eaters — especially the three I saw together today who all wore matching white socks and tan suede Birkenstock sandals!

  8. In my many years of travel, I have learned to be accepting of traditions, knowing that I am the foreigner or outsider.
    None the less, my years in retail tells me that anyone disguising who they are, is only there to cause harm. In a friendly world, there is never a need to hide your face. Halloween scares me a great deal.
    I'm sure anyone that's ever had a loaded gun pointed at their head would agree with me.

    1. Stew:
      I can't imagine having a loaded gun (or even an unloaded one) pointed at my head!

      I haven't had the chance yet to talk to friends here to better understand the marching penitents in modern times.

  9. Weird! Have to agree with Stew's view – when these ceremonies were fresh and in their prime the only possible motivation can have been intimidation, making the uneducated population toe the line. If the church's public relations wallahs weren't such numpties they'd have slowly changed the costumes over the past few decades!

    That said – more photos please! Lots more…

    1. The Owl Wood:
      Since this is my new home, I'm very careful to reserve judgment (although I think I've been pretty clear on how I feel about the history of Catholicism and, well, organized religion in general). So, I'll just keep focusing on my fascination and I'll keep taking pictures. If I learn anything more I will be sure to share it!

  10. I just found your blog and I'm looking forward to reading about your journeys in my most favorite city in the world! The rain adds a certain charm to Sevilla in that the streets glisten and the oranges fall from the trees, but I'm ready for the sun!

    1. bos:
      Thanks so much for finding me. I love the rain; just bad timing during Semana Santa. We are also in love with Sevilla. I hope you enjoy what I share (and have shared). Be sure to let me know if there's anything special I've missed!

    2. Will definitely let you know! I currently live in Madrid, but I spend every weekend (and break I get) in Sevilla. I'm hoping to be living here come July! Keep living the good life! 🙂

    3. Thanks for checking out my blog! I really don't write frequently (as you can see) and I tend to share tons of details that likely bore people who don't (and do) know me. I mainly keep up with it so I can remember those details. That's awesome that you live in that plaza! It has a nice atmosphere!

  11. I was thinking "Why does this look so menacing to me?" and then you mentioned the Klan and I was like "That's it." Such a shame that it was ruined in this way. I love love love the shoe store photo.

  12. Hmm, maybe after a Penitence completed their penance he or she has to buy new shoes in order to walk a new path in life. Very interesting post.

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