The Easter processions of ‘Semana Santa’ are part of the most important fiesta in the Spanish religious calendar. In virtually every town and village, huge floats called ‘pasos’ with statues depicting scenes from the life and death of Jesus are carried in solemn processions this week. Each ‘paso’ is carried by a particular group, called a ‘cofradia.’
The statues that are carried are beautifully made and are treasured and protected by the cofradias throughout the year before being dressed, covered in flowers and mounted on the pasos for the big event of the year. The processions take place throughout Holy Week (Semana Santa), starting on Palm Sunday and finishing on Easter Sunday.
Spain’s most famous sculptor of these figures was Francisco Salzillo (1707 – 1783), considered by some to have been one of the great Spanish sculptors of the 18th century and by others to be nothing more than a folk artist. He was born in the city of Murcia in southern Spain, where there is now a museum dedicated to his life and work. He always worked in polychromed wood and his first statue, of St. Ines de Montepulciano, was completed when he was just twenty. The work had been begun by his father, an Italian who had moved to Murcia to work alongside Nicolás de Bussy, but was completed by the young Francisco.
Among his most famous works are a ‘Last Supper,’ created in 1763 and depicting Jesus and his twelve apostles seated around a table and ‘The Agony in the Garden’ created in 1754 which shows an angel showing Jesus a chalice whilst three apostles sleep under a palm tree. The ‘Last Supper’ has undergone restoration recently and appears at the Easter procession on Good Friday in Murcia City. Francisco Salzillo also created a magnificent ‘Belén’ or Nativity Scene for Jesualdo Riquelme y Fontes, a Murcian Marquis, consisting of 556 pieces, many of them created from life models of workers in and around the city of Murcia at the time.
Salzillo Museum in Murcia
During the Spanish Civil War (1936- 1939) many of Salzillo’s works were destroyed but enough remain to show the mastery of the sculptor and to make the museum dedicated to his life and work well worth a visit.