Ornate, Gruesome and Beautiful, This Is How The World Honors Holy Week

Published April 11, 2014
Updated March 1, 2018

Each year, the world mourns and honors the death of Jesus Christ in an event called Holy Week. We offer a glimpse at how ceremonies differ around the world.

Penitents in White

Members of the “San Gonzalo” brotherhood atone for their sins in Seville, Spain. Source: The Eye

As grocery stores are filled to the brim with Peeps, chocolate treats and bunny everything, there’s no escaping the arrival of Easter. Yet for millions of people all over the world, Easter is much more than candy, colorful eggs and friendly rabbits. April 13th marks the beginning of Holy Week 2014, an annual commemoration of the days that led up to the death of Jesus Christ. Holy Week, which encompasses Palm Sunday, Holy Saturday and Good Friday, is a period of both deep sadness and anticipation of Easter’s arrival, when Christians believe Jesus was resurrected.

Holy Week is observed by Christians around the world, though the look of these ceremonies and rituals varies greatly based on geographical region, cultures, religious sects and traditions. Even the names vary greatly, as other parts of the world refer to Holy Week as Semana Santa or Great Week.

Some regions (most notably Spain) perform penance processions, where penitents from ancient religious brotherhoods publicly repent for their sins. To prevent their identification, the penitents wear large hoods that look, to some, like the garb preferred by the reviled Ku Klux Klan (although the two sects have absolutely no relation).

Holy Week in Guatemala

In Guatemala City, people parade the Jesús Nazareno de la Merced statue throughout the city square as part of the Holy Tuesday procession. Source: The Eye

Los Picaos Procession

In northern Spain, a penitent prepares for the “Los Picaos” brotherhood procession. Source: Boston.com

Romanian Woman Grieves on Palm Sunday

To mark Palm Sunday, Orthodox believers in Frumusani, Romania meet at midnight to mourn the loss of loved ones and set fire to the graves. Source: The Sacramento Bee

Holy Week Penitents

Costaleros carry “pasos” through the streets of Seville. Source: Andrew Newey Photography

Woman Kisses Jesus' Feet

A woman kisses the feet of a representation of Jesus Christ in Panama City.

Penitent Procession

Photographer Andrew Newey captures Spanish nazarenos (penitents) during an enormous procession. Source: Andrew Newey Photography

Filipino Men Self-Flagellation During Holy Week

To atone for their sins, these Filipino men perform self-flagellation, a practice that’s denounced by most modern believers. Source: International Business Times

Child Partakes in Holy Week

A child partakes in the penitential procession in Seville, Spain in 2009. Source: Boston.com

People Carry Cross in Colombia

Crowds in Bogota, Colombia carry a gigantic cross during a Via Crucis, which is an artistic representation of Christ bearing His own cross. Source: Sulekha

Holy Week in Germany

More than 1,000 horse riders from the German Slav minority Sorbs partake in a ceremonial parade near a village northeast of Dresden on Easter Sunday. Source: NBC News

Philippines Real Crucifixion

Filipino Catholics participate in a grisly reenactment of the crucifixion, driving actual nails through a penitent’s hands and feet in a ritual that’s controversial to say the least. Source: NY Daily News

Semana Santa Madrid

In Madrid, an Easter procession takes place during Semana Santa. Source: AIL Madrid

Holy Week Worldwide

Penitents from the “Naxarenos” brotherhood walk in a procession in Zipaquira, Colombia. Source: NBC News

Portrait of Jesus

Artist Manuel Revillon makes an 10-foot statue comprised of paper, sacks and tree branches for Holy Week in the Philippines. Source: International Business Times

Stations of the Cross Procession

Women participate in the Stations of the Cross procession in Mexico on Holy Wednesday. Source: Jack Kurtz

Great Week Angels

In this Great Week procession in Masaya, Nicaragua, young girls are dressed as angels. Source: The World Through My Eyes

Palm Sunday in Philippines

Catholics in the Philippines celebrate Palm Sunday and the start of Great Week. Source: International Business Times

Holy Week Living Statues in Peru

In Peru, living statues perform as part of the ceremonies and celebrations. Source: The Eye

Holy Week Pictures

Penitents from the “Calvario” brotherhood in Spain light candles before a Holy Week processional. Source: Euro News

Kiri Picone
Bay Area transplant Kiri Picone is a writer and marketer who loves bizarre news and the color purple.