Zamora, Holy Week, and the Beauty of Silence

Only the thunder of drums and trumpets break the profound silence that invades Castilla y León every spring during Holy Week, the most sacred week in Christendom. This region, along with others, becomes a gathering place where the faithful can experience the passion and resurrection of Christ, as well as enjoy the cultural and gastronomic delights each has to offer. To succinctly describe Holy Week in Zamora is to take on an impossible task, but one could start with three words: passion, ardor, and—yes— …



Parades are not known for being silent. They are cacophonous affairs, rife with clashing cymbals, the blasts of trumpets, and the cheers of the bystanders.

Not here, not these procesiones (processions).

During the day, yes, the silence is indeed broken—by music, and choirs, Gregorian chants, even funeral marches compose an extraordinary soundtrack for the most splendid of processions—but soon night falls, and silence once again reigns. Here, silence is a symbol of religious devotion and austerity.


Photo from All Posters

La Procesión del Silencio

The Procession of Silence. Even the name inspires awe. Keeping silent is not customary; keeping silent is not easy.

Kneeling in the cathedral atrium, surrounding the image of Cristo de las Injurias, the brothers wait for their oath. The mayor says a short prayer, and the bishop goes on to take the brothers’ oaths, saying:

“Hermanos de la Cofradía del Santísimo Cristo de las Injurias, ¿juráis guardar silencio durante todo el recorrido de esta santa procesión?”

The brothers swear this oath together, vowing to keep silent for the entire route. Some walk barefoot throughout the cobblestoned city streets, but all maintain silence. They march together—slowly, solemnly, dolefully through the streets of Zamora, a town which at times seems to have been transformed into the13th-century, back to a time where Spain did not yet exist. The first documented reference to the celebration of Holy Week goes back to this century, when Zamora’s monasteries and convents organized processions around their cloisters and streets. It was meant to teach the common people, in a powerful way, about the passion, death, and eventual resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Throughout the centuries, Zamora’s Holy Week has maintained its sobriety and solemnity. (In other regions, the festival has been transformed into a rather glamorous affair.) But like Catholicism in Spain, Holy Week is full of contrasts: noise and silence, day and night, joy and sobriety … but this does not take away from the beauty and drama of Holy Week in Zamora.

Still, for many, the most moving experience of the whole week is the singing of Miserere mei Deus. After a two-hour-long procession through the streets of the casco histórico, the street lights are turned off and the only light comes from the red candles the penitents carry. And then the choir begins to sing, the words ringing out into the cold night:

Miserere mei Deus, secundum magnam, misericordiam tuam …

Miserere mei Deus


For an enchanting contrast to other Holy Week celebrations, make your way to Zamora for a singular look at the power Catholic traditions still hold in an increasingly secular country.

Gearing Up for Holy Week—Let’s Eat

You don’t often hear about Zamora, even within Spain. But Zamora has a lot to offer. Zamora is full of rolling plains, plains that appear quite arid, but they are rich in substance. A land of wine and cheese. A land with a rich gastronomy, kind people, and traditions that run deep. A lot of these traditions are—not surprisingly— related to food. And if they don’t center around food, food certainly plays a starring role. There is no wedding without a banquet, baptism without a four-hour lunch, or festival without the typical food and drink (and merriment!). Thus is Spain; thus is Zamora.IMG_0748

Zamora’s garlic festival is real! No need to eat it right then and there, though.

Many signs make me aware of Semana Santa, Holy Week, imminent approach: beautiful pink flowers on trees, increasing temperatures, children playing in the parks, sunlight that lasts until almost 8 p.m. … I could go on.

But wait—do you hear it, those drums beating far off in the distance? That’s the sound of Semana Santa approaching. In much of Spain, Holy Week is an occasion for solemn (and at times joyful) processions, cofradías, candlelit silent streets, family, and—yes—food, especially sweets.

Garrapiñadas. Almendras garrapiñadas 016


So, in Zamora, it’s time to think about aceitadas, the typical Semana Santa sweet along with sugared almonds (almendras garrapiñadas). My mother-in-law surely has hers made already, just waiting to be dunked into milk, tea, or coffee.aceitadas


Want to make your own? My suegra’s recipe is top secret, but here’s a good one nonetheless:

Get Your Aceitada On!

Translated and adapted from Cocido de Sopa:


  • 8 oz. (~240 mL) of olive oil
  • 4 1/4 cups (500 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup + 2 tbsp. (220 g) granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 2 eggs
  • 20 drops of anise essence or 3 tbsp. of ground anise
  • 1 egg for egg wash


In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, and cinnamon (also anise if you are using ground). Add the olive oil, egg, and anise if using the essence. The dough will be a bit grainy, so you need to knead it to form a compact ball. Let it sit in the refrigerator for a couple of hours or overnight. After sitting, there may be a bit of excess oil. Let the excess drain off in a colander if necessary.

Preheat oven to 320°F (160°C). Prepare a baking sheet with oven-safe wax paper. Form balls with the dough of approximately 2 inches (5 centimeters) diameter. Place them on the baking sheet, leaving about 1.5 inches between each of the balls. Beat the egg in a small bowl, and brush it on the dough balls.

Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake for 25–30 minutes or until browned on the outside. Take them out, wait 2 minutes, and place the aceitadas on a baking rack to cool.

What are the typical Semana Santa treats where you live in Spain? If you don’t live in Spain, which would you like to try?

Semana Santa Zamorana

Hey all,

My life has been in a kind of upheaval these past few days, but I wanted to share something with you guys! Zamora was featured on the front cover of the April 6 edition of the Wall Street Journal.


If you don’t speak English that well, it says: “La adorada más pequeña celebra la época más santa de de la cristianidad.”

I asked Mario if he knew who the little girl was. He didn’t! Darn! I would love to be able to send her parents a copy of this. It was actually difficult to obtain the WSJ in my town. My dad was out and about and couldn’t find it in several different stores. He finally asked the local bank to give us a copy, so I have it in my possession.

Holy Week in Zamora is a big deal. I know, I know, Sevilla and all the other places in Andalucía get all the press. A lot of Mario’s friends get very pumped for this week. If they work in other cities, they come home, of course. There are many traditions associated with it, but I remember the food the most. (What a surprise!) Here are some traditional foods:

  • almendras garrapiñadas—almonds sweetened with sugar. So good your teeth’ll hurt!
  • aceitadas—a type of cookie made with anis. Mario’s mom makes these. Sometimes they get quite hard, but that means they’re good for dipping in your beverage of choice! (Unfortunately, they don’t go well with whiskey.)
  • dos y pingada—this is an almuerzo (mid-morning snack) that’s served on Resurrection Sunday after a procession, La Cofradía de la Santísima Resurreción. It consists of two fried eggs, ham, and bread. Eat up!
  • There are more, but those are the ones I’m familiar with!

I am excited because Zamora doesn’t really get that much publicity. (Isn’t it obvious?) Other places in Spain get all the glory. But I love Zamora! As I saw daily on my walk to school on billboards, I am orgullosa de ser [media] zamorana. 


These two are real zamoranos. Photo taken in 2011.