EASTER WEEK IN ÉCIJA
As can only be expected, Écija’s Easter Week is renowned for its beautiful, centuries-old Baroque sculptures, which were created by some of the most important image-makers, such as Juan de Mesa, Montes de Oca and Gaspar de Águila, among others. The town’s palaces, stately houses and beautiful historic quarter make the perfect backdrop for the fervour with which the locals celebrate this festivity.
From the Saturday before Palm Sunday, with the El Olivo procession, until Easter Sunday, one parish group and thirteen brotherhoods parade through the town’s streets. The El Cautivo brotherhood officially inaugurates the Easter Week celebrations with the La Borriquita procession on Palm Sunday morning and the Jesus the Captive and Virgin Mary of Sorrows procession in the afternoon.
The La Yedra brotherhood plays a central role on Holy Monday. The sacred Jesus Christ of the Ivy sculpture (1630), which is venerated in Santa Ana church in the popular El Puente neighbourhood, is attributed to Juan de Mesa and is one of the most esteemed sculptures in the town.
On Holy Tuesday, three of the Santiago brotherhood’s floats are paraded through the streets. Jesus the Nazarene of Mercy and Saint John the Evangelist are both eighteenth-century sculptures by Montes de Oca. The Holy Christ of Expiration is a seventeenth-century masterpiece by Pedro Roldán, the four Evangelists are by Rafael Amadeo Rojas and Our Lady of Dolours is attributed to La Roldana (1713). Her float is rectangular and is carried by float bearers who are hidden underneath, similar to the style used in Seville. There are, however, several aspects that are reminiscent of Écija’s traditional style: the float lacks a canopy, the profusion of the ornate candelabra and the sheer height of the pedestal, as well as the sculpture’s decorative crown and moon crescent.
The San Gil brotherhood undertakes its station of penance on Holy Wednesday, parading the revered Jesus Christ of Health sculpture through the streets. The image dates to 1500 and its gaunt, life-size body and tilted head depicting Jesus’s dying moment display dramatic expressionism. The sculpture is placed atop a sober Neo-Baroque sapele mahogany float (1969) illuminated by four thick candles in each of its corners from Antonio Martín’s workshop.
On Maundy Thursday, the Confalón brotherhood takes to the streets with their sixteenth-century Holy Christ of Gonfalon sculpture by an anonymous image-maker. This procession is one of few that respects the traditional Écijan style: the sculpture is placed atop a square pedestal-like float, which is carried on the shoulders of a team of brothers dressed in tunics with their faces covered by hoods, locally known as a ‘capillo’. The La Sangre brotherhood, popularly known as Los Gitanos, also undertakes its station of penance on Maundy Thursday.
Several brotherhoods can be seen in the streets during the early hours of Friday, known as the ‘Madrugá’. The El Silencio brotherhood parades with the Virgin Mary of Sorrows sculpture by Antonio Castillo Lastrucci (1964) and the San Juan brotherhood with the seventeenth-century Our Father Jesus the Nazarene by an anonymous image-maker and Our Lady of Mercies by Ricardo Comas.
Good Friday is the busiest day for processions, with three brotherhoods undertaking their stations of penance. The Jesús Sin Soga brotherhood carries a sculpture by José Montes de Oca dating to 1733, the La Merced brotherhood parades the Holy Exaltation of Jesus Christ on the Cross and Our Lady of Piety, carried in traditional Écijan style: the float bearers, hidden underneath the float, take the weight on their shoulders as opposed to their necks, which is common practice in Seville. Lastly, is the youngest brotherhood in the town, La Mortaja.
The Santo Entierro brotherhood undertakes its station of penance on Holy Saturday, parading with the Fifth Sorrow of Mary, which dates to 1500 and is attributed to Jorge Fernández Alemán. The other sculptures that formed part of this ensemble are no longer paraded in the Easter processions and are currently displayed in El Carmen church. The brotherhood also parades the Holy Entombment with the venerated sculpture of Jesus in his Holy Sepulchre and Our Lady of Solitude, a beautiful example of an eighteenth-century Écijan Virgin Mary of Sorrows, which is essentially a dressed wooden bust with natural hair, attributed to La Roldana. The Virgin Mary is surrounded by a magnificent silver ‘flash of light’ and decorated with a silver moon crescent and crown. The float is flanked by four eighteenth-century ‘estofado’ archangel sculptures, also attributed to La Roldana.
The sixteenth-century sculpture depicting the Resurrection of Jesus Christ (anon) and the Virgin Mary of Joy are paraded through the streets on Easter Sunday; the latter is the only float to be carried by female float bearers. With thirteen brotherhoods and one parish group, Écija holds the most processions in Seville province after the capital and is one of the towns with the highest number of processions in Andalusia. Moreover, Écija has more brotherhoods per inhabitant than any other Spanish town.
Before the sixteenth century, Écija held a very simple liturgical celebration but the first confraternity to represent the Passion publicly was at the start of that same century: the La Veracruz confraternity, whose headquarters were in San Francisco convent, included flagellants on the night of Maundy Thursday. In fact, a document dated 1519 was the first reference to the inclusion of penitents, which confirms that Écija was one of the first Spanish towns to celebrate Easter Week as we know it today.
Towards the middle of the century and in imitation of this confraternity, another local brotherhood started to fulfil penance: the La Piedad brotherhood in the Mercedarios Calzados convent. The rise of brotherhoods took place from 1570 onwards, coinciding with a considerable change to the town’s hospital system. Hospitals were no longer supervised by brotherhoods, which caused several brotherhoods to be founded or renew their rules.
In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, thirteen confraternities would experience their finest hour, however, some ended up dissolving. In the twentieth century, the brotherhoods contributed to the splendour of the town’s Easter Week and promoting the Christian spirit through their devotion and charitable actions. Now, after inheriting centuries of devotion, the town has thirteen brotherhoods once more, who fervently celebrate Easter Week every year.
Among the numerous processions, some are cherished for preserving a style unique to Écija: men would carry the floats, taking their weight on the beams that protrude from them, in contrast to Seville, where the bearers are hidden beneath the floats, a style that has not only influenced Écija, but much of west Andalusia. The sculptures would be positioned atop tall, square pedestals (unlike more recent, rectangular ones) and illuminated with decorative candelabra, which prove to have been extraordinarily tall as observed in historic photographs. The crowns atop the Our Lady of Sorrows sculptures were decorated with ‘flashes of light’, which can still be observed on several ‘Gloria’ Virgin Mary sculptures that are taken out in procession in current times.