Holy Week in Astorga is a religious celebration of great cultural and tourist importance. It has been declared a Fiesta of National Tourist Interest in Spain, and it attracts more and more visitors from other countries every year. This small Spanish city has eight brotherhoods and fraternities which organise all the processions and events. Around 5,000 people take part in them, a very high number for a city of around 10,000 inhabitants. Easter Week in Astorga is a celebration that has its roots in the Middle Ages and is very popular among the local people.
How is Holy Week celebrated in Spain? For eight days, the most famous episodes of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are commemorated. These scenes, represented in wooden sculptures, are carried through the streets of the cities on the shoulders of the faithful, a tradition that has been maintained since the Middle Ages. At that time, the re-enactment of New Testament passages by means of sculptures brought the Gospel closer to the population who could not read and also served as a public display of faith and devotion. The real protagonists of Holy Week are the thousands of anonymous members of the brotherhoods who, with their silent work, make this celebration that takes us back in time possible.
Holy Week gastronomy is also very important, given that Catholic tradition imposed fasts and prohibitions on eating meat on special dates. That is why cod is one of the protagonists of Holy Week gastronomy: cod stew, cod with ajoarriero or cod croquettes are some of the most traditional dishes. Garlic soups, made with stale bread, water and paprika, are also very popular. As for desserts, torrijas are common at this time of year. In Astorga and other areas of León, bars serve wine lemonade, made with wine, lemons, sugar and cinnamon.
History of Holy Week in Astorga
The Spanish confraternities arose around the 11th century. Originally they were associations of mutual help that took the name of a saint of their devotion. One of their aims was to carry out works of charity or piety. In Astorga there were numerous confraternities devoted to helping pilgrims to Santiago; the city had as many as 22 pilgrims’ hospitals. They also took part in the most important religious festivals, which is why they were linked to the first Holy Week celebrations. From the 16th century onwards, the Church regulated them in view of their proliferation.
The first written references to Holy Week in Astorga date back to the 15th century. These writings lead us to believe that this festival was celebrated much earlier in our city. Some of the traditions of Holy Week in Astorga, such as the distribution of a small bread roll (bolla) to the participating members of the brotherhoods, have been documented since the 13th century.
During the Peninsular War, French troops destroyed some of Astorga’s oldest and most venerated statues. All the documentation of one of the oldest brotherhoods in the city was also destroyed. Despite this setback, Holy Week continued to be celebrated and new sculptures have been incorporated. There are currently eight brotherhoods and fraternities that partake in Holy Week.
Processions ordered by day
Fifteen different processions can be seen during Holy Week in Astorga. Two of them serve to bring two of the most venerated sculptures in the region to the city. The processions complement the liturgical acts, which are held in the different churches of the city and in Astorga Cathedral.
- Friday of Sorrows: Processional Stations of the Cross.
- Saturday of Passion: Processional transfer of the “Ecce Homo” from the hermitage of Valdeviejas.
- Palm Sunday: Procession of the Palms. Procession of Our Lady of Sorrows. Processional transfer of “Jesus tied to the column” from Piedralba.
- Holy Monday: Procession of The Mercy.
- Holy Tuesday: Procession of the Stations of the Cross.
- Holy Wednesday: Procession of the Holy Supper.
- Maundy Thursday: Procession of Silence. Penitential Procession.
- Good Friday: Procession of the Encounter. Procession of the Blessed Christ of the Afflicted. Procession of the Holy Burial. Procession of the Solitude.
- Holy Saturday.
- Easter Sunday: Procession of the Resurrected Christ.
Confraternities and brotherhoods
- Confraternity of Holy True Cross and Gonfalon (Cofradía de la Santa Vera Cruz y Confalón).
- Royal Confraternity of Our Father Jesus Nazarene and Holy Mary of Solitude (Real Cofradía de Nuestro Padre Jesús Nazareno y María Santísima de la Soledad).
- Archconfraternity of Our Lady of Sorrows (Archicofradía de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores).
- Brotherhood of Knights of the Silence of Our Father Jesus Nazarene (Hermandad de Caballeros del Silencio de Nuestro Padre Jesús Nazareno).
- Confraternity of the Blessed Christ of the Afflicted (Cofradía del Bendito Cristo de los Afligidos).
- Confraternity of the Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem (Cofradía de la Entrada de Jesús en Jerusalén).
- Brotherhood of the Holy Supper (Hermandad de la Santa Cena).
- Confraternity of the Ladies of the Virgin of Mercy (Cofradía de las Damas de la Virgen de la Piedad).