Film Easter vs Semana Santa in Spain

Revisiting the ‘Easter Parade’ on TV and the reality in Spain. My story of a stolen wedding gown during Holy Week brings back the sober, fascinating atmosphere. Hollywood can only capture so much.

One Dress, One Day

The entire story of One Dress, One Day takes place during 24 hours of Spain’s Semana Santa (Holy Week), a time of processions. Many tourists travel to Sevilla or Malaga for balcony spots and specific parade schedules. Anyone visiting Spain risks being swept up by a wave of mixed feelings. Not surprisingly, haunting sounds, nighttime processions and expectant atmosphere animate characters in this hybrid genre that combines novella and script

Unlike Christmas, few films refer to Easter. Biblical or historical classics and documentaries form the only exception. Serious viewers may, however, find more faith-based and family programs listed on line. Usually these are less know and distributed differently.

Any other movie category usually refers to the Easter Bunny or very indirectly to spring vacations (gone awry). In fact, a surprising number of B and horror films use the Easter holiday and Bunny!

Disclaimer: I have seen an inordinate number of…

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Desfile, or Procession, in Semana Santa

One Dress, One Day takes you to 1990, to Barcelona and to SEMANA SANTA (Holy Week) in Spain. 

The ancient Greek tradition stresses time over place. Aristotle prescribed 24 hours. Famous tragedies like Antigone and Electra follow this rule, more or less.  As the title suggests, One Dress, One Day divides into the components of a Spanish day: madrugada, manana, mediodia, siesta, tarde, anochecer, noche, altas horas de la madrugada, amenacer. 

The one day of this tale falls within Holy Week, the Lenten period before Easter. The Semana Santa, or Holy Week, must be experienced in Spain. The heavy, pervasive mourning resounds in the various processions of the penitents who parade their religious symbol (usually a Madonna statuette) or Paschal scene as a float.  Some bear crosses and walk barefoot in rough robes.  Many wear hoods.  It is an impressive sight for believers or non-believers.  Inma, one of the characters in One Dress, One Day, finds herself watching a late night procession.

“Theirs was an old cofradia, El Santísimo nombre de Jesús, with a well-worn white silk banner held high by the leader and hung throughout Holy Week in the plaza mayor, too. Several nazareños marched barefoot on the cold damp pavement or cobblestones; some shuffled along in shackles. The burliest brown friars bore unhewn wooden crosses on their backs. All had taken a vow of silence inside the nearby chapel before beginning their march.”

The drum often marks time for processions. Sometimes a trumpet and a small brass section complete the corps.  Mournful, haunting, the sound at night evokes the pain of the Passion. Yet, many Spanish churches hold Lenten concerts of classical music, usually religious like Stabat Mater, to prepare those awaiting the Resurrection.

Santa Eulalia and Sant Jordi


Fin de semana: Santa Eulàlia

¡Este fin de semana en Barcelona hay una gran fiesta por Santa Eulàlia, copatrona de Barcelona, la cultura popular de raíz tradicional sale a la calle para celebrar la Fiesta Mayor de Invierno. Gigantes y gigantas, dragones, diablos, bailes tradicionales, el Àliga, la ‘gegantona’ Laia, ‘castells’… El viernes por la noche tiene lugar una nueva sesión del ciclo de conciertos Las Noches de Invierno, que dan visibilidad a las propuestas emergentes más atractivas del panorama actual.

February has Saint Eulalia while April has Sant Jordi (George) so we are now in between celebrating Barcelona’s co-patron saints. 

Saint Eulalia (Aulaire, Aulazia, Olalla, Eulària) (c. 290–12 February 303), was a 13-year-old virgin who suffered martyrdom in Barcelona during the reign of Diocletian.  There is some dispute as to whether she is the same person as Saint Eulalia of Mérida whose story is similar. Of course, anyone familiar with saint’s martyrdoms will recognize similarities. Two to three saints’ stories often meld together over time, as is the case with Saint Catherine (Sienna, Alexandria)>

For refusing to recant her Christianity, the Romans subjected her to thirteen tortures including:

  • Putting her into a barrel with knives (or glass) stuck into it and rolling it down a street (according to tradition, the one now called Baixada de Santa Eulalia “Saint Eulalia’s descent”).
  • Cutting off her breasts
  • Crucifixion on an x-shaped cross. She is depicted with this cross, the instrument of her martyrdom.
  • Finally, decapitation.

A dove supposedly flew up from her neck following her decapitation. This is one point of similarity with the story of Eulalia of Mérida, in which a dove flew from the girl’s mouth at the moment of her death. In addition, Eulalia of Mérida’s tortures are sometimes enumerated among the Barcelona martyrs, and the two were similar in age and year of death.

Eulalia is remembered with statues and street names throughout Barcelona. Originally interred in the church of Santa Maria de les Arenes (St. Mary of the Sands; now changed to ‘of the Sea’,  (St. Mary of the Sea). It was hidden in 713 when the Moors invaded. Recovered in 878, it was relocated to a sarcophagus in the crypt of the newly built cathedral dedicated to Santa Eulalia (1339).  The festival of Saint Eulalia is held in Barcelona for a week around her feast or name day on February 12.

The Christian knight, protector of Barcelona

Sant Jordi, the Catalan equivalent of Saint George, is a very popular figure in Catalonia. He is the Patron Saint of the region, and Catalonia even have a Saint George Day – El Día de Sant Jordi, on April 23rd (Saint George’s name day in the Catholic church).
If you visit the Barrio Gótico of Barcelona especially one figure dominates in paintings, sculptures, alcoves and fountains.  It is a knight with his sword high in the air fighting an enormous dragon. The knight is of course Saint George, in the Catalan version,Sant Jordi.

On this day, tradition has the girls giving a book to the boys who give roses to the girls in return.

The rose motif stems from the myth, since after Saint George killed the dragon, a rose came up where the dragon’s blood was spilled. Giving books is more modern and highlights International Book Day. (Note that  both Shakespeare and Cervantes died on April 23rd, both in 1616. This odd trivia fact was highlighted during the 400-th anniversaries of their death celebrated around the world three years ago.

Saint George, the most famous Christian dragonslayer, holds tremendous power in many European centres besides Barcelona. In fact, he is the patron saint of 15 European countries.

Lenten Acts

Lent, or Cuaresma, culminating in Semana Santa

The religious tradition of depriving one’s self of meat and possibly other favourite things (sweets, alcohol, sexual intercourse) extends across time and borders. Christians may prepare for Easter through Lent thus heightening their awareness of their faith and sacrifice.

Cuaresma is the Spanish term for the 40-day period ushered in as carnival (mardigras) ends, in other words, on Ash Wednesday, the day after ‘fat Tuesday’. 

One Dress, One Day evokes this spiritual act of preparation for Easter.

Reminder: this entire story takes place within 24 hours during Holy Week (Semana Santa) in Barcelona in 1990.

In the extract that follows, we experience the arrival of Uno, the blind lottery ticket seller, in his Asturian village farm.

“Nieves began bustling about the roomy kitchen with whatever leftovers could be found.  Plates, glasses, cutlery clattered as Nieves scurried and Mother barked orders. There was little variety in the menu because officially it was Lent; however, these were tough times, too. After the thick mustard-color cloth went down on the broad round table, Nieves laid out a crusty loaf, a ball of typical Cabrales cheese and a reheated fabada made of well-stewed fava beans.”

In terms of other appetites among other characters, there seem to be siesta changes in urban Barcelona. Inma, the pouty barmaid, notices differences in her love life with the two-timing politician Gustavo Rubio.

“The jangling phone jolted her back to reality.  It was Him, capital H.  He was coming early that afternoon.  Siestas during the Holy Week were starting earlier and growing longer.  Inma remained standing so as not to wrinkle the iridescent creation.”


If you mention gastronomía asturiana, la fabada [understood to be asturiana] will pop up. The basics required to cook a fabada follow.

Ingredients for 4 people: 400 g of fabes (French beans) 200 g of Asturian spicy sausage 200 g of Asturian black puddings (dry, smoked) 200 g of shoulder of pork 100 g of bacon or streaky bacon 6 sprigs of saffron salt.

Put the beans to soak overnight in cold water. Also place the shoulder of pork and the bacon in another container with warm water. Next day, wash the black pudding and the spicy sausage. Then place the beans in a wide-based earthenware dish with enough water to cover them by a couple of fingers. Boil uncovered on a high flame, removing any scum with a skimming spoon. Add the shoulder of pork and the bacon and simmer with the lid on for 2 hours, moving the dish around from time to time. Season and add the saffron, spicy sausage and the black pudding, leaving it all to cook together for approximately quarter of an hour.Taste the beans to check they are tender and leave to stand for half an hour before serving

Serve in the same earthenware dish. Offer with ‘compango’ (blood pudding, spicy sausage, shoulder of pork and bacon) cut into pieces in a separate dish.

It is a slow-cooking, simmering stew made from fine quality ingredients at home.  The beans need to get soft but should not break. Recipes vary from family to family, but as the Spanish proverb goes, beans cook in every household. It does sound better in the original below.

En todas partes cuecen habas.

You might see faba or fava in haba.  There is a family resemblance.

Nowadays, this expression means that something negative, perhaps an injustice is occurring. We don’t think of ourselves only but the fact that it can happen anywhere!

Another popular dish, related to the regional cider, is chorizo sliced and sautéed with a touch of  loal cider. Excellent tapa! BUEN PROVECHO.

As for expressions, a chorizo in Spanish slang is a small time crook or thief. Just like Francisco (aka Calif/Paco) in One Dress, One Day.  

“Francisco bore the name of the patron saint of his mother’s village, but he related more to the US West Coast city and tried to get everyone to use his alias California.  It never stuck. A few people called him by the nickname Paco, though. His parents, a Moroccan mechanic and a pure-blood Spanish cleaning lady, teased him as a toddler calling him feo, or ugly. He never truly outgrew that one. Skinny with acne-pocked skin, Francisco possessed wit, charm and street smarts.  His overly gummy smile somehow endeared him to policemen and older women. They all saw something salvageable in him.  Perhaps even a hint of honor.  In fact, by squealing on lowlife acquaintances and pleasantly providing small knock-off luxe items, he had earned the trust of undercover cops and other players in the barrio. His universe was the inner core of Barcelona…”

5 Easy Tips to Outsmart Pick-pockets

PERHAPS THIS IMPORTED POST WOULD HAVE HELPED ME IN BARCELONA (1990).  Of course, after the wedding gown was stolen, a police officer quite officiously warned me about how to carry my purse. Here is a modern reminder for travellers by another author.

I was on the metro in Barcelona and had my wallet stolen because I wasn’t paying attention to my surroundings beforehand. Don’t be the next pickpocket victim.

Source: 5 Easy Tips to Outsmart Pickpockets

Quod natura non dat Salmantica non praestat

This old Latin adage refers to the Spanish Universidad de Salamanca’s ability to teach anyone anything! Expressed almost literally: if you don’t have the natural capacity, Salamanca cannot give it to you. Booklearning is not everything. This actually applies to One Dress, One Day. Where a street smart thief triggers the whole 24-hour tale based on actual events.

Yet Salamanca does embody much of the spirit of Old Spain. The feeling of traditional Catholic Spain infuses certain cities during Holy Week. Malaga, Sevilla, Zamora, and, of course, Barcelona, an urban port city in Catalonia. [Image above]

Salamanca is the capital of the Province of Salamanca in Castile and Leon. (Remember that Spain used to comprise various small kingdoms.) The city lies on several hills by the Tormes River.  Approximately 200 kilometres (120 miles) west of the Spanish capital and 80 km (50 mi) east of the Portuguese border, Salamanca retains its historical character and importance through its university, founded in 1218.  The oldest university in Spain, it is the fourth oldest western university.

One of the most important moments in the city’s history was the year 1218 when the university received granted a royal charter.

A foreigner, I was fortunate to attend classes there. Many foreigners flock to the University to improve my Spanish (castellano), notably in the spring and summer. The high standards and serious adult students from around the globe made my time there memorable. The DELE (diploma de español lengua extranjera) international examination is administrated from Salamanca. I took my DELE superior later at an old convent school in Montréal, Canada. It felt like the Spanish Inquisition or a Reconquista!

Although One Dress, One Day takes place in Barcelona, parts of Asturias and the Basque Country, my memories of the food and the spirit of Holy Week in Salamanca found their way into the story. The nightly processions, the Lenten concerts in damp churches, the rites and rituals of hooded penitents carrying relics, statues or crosses … Once experienced, these moments cannot be forgotten.  

During the 16th century, the city reached its height (around 6,500 students and a total population of 24,000). The juridical doctrine of the School of Salamanca represented the end of medieval concepts of law and founded the fundamental body of the ulterior European law and morality concepts, including rights as a corporeal being (right to life), economic rights (right to own property) and spiritual rights (rights to freedom of thought and rights related to intrinsic human dignity). In 1551, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V ordered an inquiry to find out if the science of Vesalius, physician and anatomist, was in line with Catholic doctrine. Vesalius came to Salamanca that same year to appear before the board and was acquitted.

Salamanca suffered the downturns of the Kingdom of Castile during the 17th century but experienced a rebirth in the 18th century when the new baroque Cathedral and main square (Plaza Mayor) were finished. Salamanca’s Plaza Mayor is one of Spain’s most famous main squares.

English people generally have heard about Salamance and Napoleon!  Wellington decisively defeated the French army of Marmont there in the Battle of Salamanca fought on 22 July 1812.

During the Spanish Civil War (1936–39) the city quickly went over to the Nationalist side and was used as the de facto capital. Franco was named Generalissimo in September 1937 while in Salamanca, where the official party that ruled Spain until the end of the Francoist regime would be formed. The Nationalists soon moved most of the administrative departments to the more central city of Burgos. Historically, however, Franco’s headquarters (located at the Palacio Episcopal, next to the Old Cathedral) and the military commands remained in Salamanca, along with the German and Italian fascist delegations, making it the de facto capital and centre of power during the entire civil war. Like much of fervently Catholic and largely rural Leon and Castile regions, Salamanca was a staunch supporter of the Nationalist side and Franco’s regime.

In 1988, the old city was rightly declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.