Holy Week in Colombia and Venezuela: Semana Santa

Semana Santa - Holy Week
(c)Andreas Philipp

Holy Week in Colombia and Venezuela is one of the best times to visit these great countries. Also known as Semana Santa, it is one of the most important times as the majority of the population is Roman Catholic.

Traditions are different than those in Italy, Spain and other predominantly Catholic countries as they reflect the history and culture in South America,

Holy Week in Colombia

In Colombia, the most famous Semana Santa celebrations take place in Popayán and Mompox, where the Spanish colonial forces built six churches and a chapel, all used in the Semana Santa observations.

The events begin in Mompox the Thursday night before Palm Sunday. Here celebrants, headed by Nazarenos dressed in turquoise robes, arrive at Inmaculada Concepción Church and throw stones or kick at the doors to gain entry. Once inside, their robes are blessed in a mass, after which the participants proceed to San Francisco Church. The next morning, the events begin at 4 AM with mass at Santo Domingo. Church, followed by more rites at San Agustín and Inmaculada Concepción churches.

Palm Sunday begins with mass at several churches, blessing of the palms at Santa Bárbara, then a procession, commemorating Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem, to Inmaculada Concepción.

Monday through Thursday of Semana Santa are taken up with religious processions, retreats, sermons and other celebratory events. On Thursday, the Last Supper is reenacted, following by the Viernes Santo (Good Friday) crucifixion with masses and solemn rites.

Sábado de Gloria, or Saturday, is filled with anticipatory prayers and rites, processions and religious fervor. Domingo de Resurrección, (Easter Sunday) is a joyous day with masses, eucharistic rites and processions.

Popayán is known as The White City and has been a religious and cultural center since colonial times.

 Semana Santa is an all-out celebration. In a town known for the ratio of churches to residents, the week long events include religious processions and masses, with a number of residents playing the treasured roles of religious personages.

Held at the same time, the Festival of Sacred Music joins together orchestras and choirs of several countries.

Holy Week in Venezuela

The religious observances appear to be secondary to the holiday spirit, as people flock to the beaches for fun. Nevertheless, there are the same processions, the re-enactments of the Last Days and the triumphant joy of Domingo de Resurrección. Displaying Culture is the report of a Finnish study of the contrast between the secular and religious aspects of this week.

This festival celebrates the Christian Messiah's crucifixion and return from dead. Actors re-enact Jesus' trials and tribulations in his last week. On Holy Wednesday, or the day of the Culto del Nazareno, the sacred image of Nazarene is taken on a procession through town while devotees come to pay homage and give thanks for any blessings they have received.

The most dramatic part of the week is the Via Crucis—a hauntingly lifelike performance of Jesus on the cross that is scarily realistic.

On Holy Friday, a procession carrying a representation of Jesus' lifeless body is carried through the city to universal mourning, and the procession from Iglesia de San Francisco in Caracas is one of the most famous in all of Venezuela.

This mix of religious celebrations and holiday-making is common throughout the rest of South America, and you'll find special deals for resorts, tours and family vacations everywhere.