History is an intrinsic part of Tarragona, not just because of the huge tourist attraction of the archaeological legacy of the Roman city of Tarraco, but also because of its traditions. This is borne out by written documents such as those that show that Easter Week has been celebrated since the Middle Ages, in the mid-sixteenth century, thanks to the efforts of local associations and brotherhoods.
Today, almost five centuries later, Tarragona continues to enthusiastically relive the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ thanks to the dedication of the Agrupació d’Associacions de Setmana Santa de Tarragona (Group of Holy Week Associations of Tarragona) which was set up in 1928 and comprises twelve entities, including brotherhoods, fraternities, associations and guilds. The Group’s tireless work has been a major factor in the declaration of Easter Week in Tarragona as a Festival of Tourist Interest by the Government of Catalonia in 2019, and it attracts the biggest crowds of all the Easter Week celebrations held in Catalonia.
There are a number of events during the lead-up to the main Easter holy days, such as the processions of the Gremi de Marejants, an ancient maritime guild, on 6 April, which takes place in the Serrallo, Tarragona’s maritime district; and the procession on Friday 12 April, Friday of Sorrows, of the Farmers’ Association, which leaves from the church of Sant Llorenç, the only entirely Gothic church still intact in Tarragona, which has a pas, or replica, of the Holy Sepulchre, whose urn and plinth were designed by the renowned Modernist architect from Tarragona, Josep Maria Jujol.
The first of the main Easter days is Palm Sunday on 14 April which features the traditional blessing of palms and olive branches on Carrer de les Coques, followed by a procession. The Cathedral will then hold a pontifical mass, while the church of Natzaret is the gathering place for the Way of the Cross procession that runs through the Part Alta (Old Town) and the Archaeological Walk.
On Maundy Thursday, 18 April, the maritime district of Serrallo plays a leading role again, specifically the church of Sant Pere, which will be the epicentre of the Procession of Light and the Changing of the Guard. Maundy Thursday will be rounded off with the Way of the Cross procession of the Brotherhood of Sant Ecce-Homo, which runs from Avinguda de Maria Cristina to the chapel of Llorito.
The Holy Burial Procession – the high point of Easter Week
There is absolutely no doubt that the most hotly-anticipated event of Easter Week in Tarragona falls on Good Friday, 19 April, with the Procession of the Holy Burial, in which more than 5,000 confreres parade before the transfixed eyes of some 30,000 visitors, leading this event to be declared a Traditional Festival of National Interest in 2000 by the Government of Catalonia.
The day begins at dawn with the Sermon of the Passion, also known as La Bufetada, in the Cathedral, followed by the Sermon of the Seven Words in the chapel of Sant Magí. In the afternoon, the Armats de la Sang (Guardians of the Blood) go to escort the twenty passos of the twelve brotherhoods, fraternities, associations and guilds that take part in the procession. The procession starts at 7.30 pm from the church of Natzaret and the route, lined with crowds of fervent supporters, passes along the main streets and squares of the Part Alta of Tarragona, finishing at midnight back at the church in the Plaça del Rei.
During Easter weekend, Holy Saturday marks the turn of the procession of the Mare de Déu de la Soledat association, and the Easter Vigil in the Cathedral, rounded off with the traditional singing of caramelles (traditional Easter songs) in the Canons’ Hall. Finally, at 11.00 am on Sunday 21 April, the Cathedral will host the Easter Mass of Resurrection.