During Holy Week the religious images of Christ and the Virgin Mary are ceremoniously paraded around the city of San Roque on floats by the brotherhoods. In 2001, it was given the prestigious title of Events of National Andalusian Tourist Interest, setting it alongside the processions of other major cities in importance in Spain. As a matter of fact, San Roque is one of only four towns in the province of Cadiz whose Holy Week processions have been awarded this title and the only one in the Campo de Gibraltar area.
The singular history of Holy Week in San Roque
What makes Holy Week in San Roque so special? One of the most unusual things about it is the fact that many of the religious images were brought to the town from Gibraltar by the original inhabitants when the English and Dutch fleet commanded by Admiral Rooke saw the chance of taking the Rock in the Spanish War of Succession in 1704. Many of these statues date back to as early as the 15th century. These were among many of the treasures taken by the fleeing Gibraltarians, who were to found San Roque that very year, never to return to their beloved hometown. The town has been known as ever since as the official “City of Gibraltar in Exile”.
Holy Week is a popular tradition which has passed down from father to son over the centuries and surprisingly, still remains to be one of the most lasting customs in San Roque as in the rest of Andalusia. Men, and nowadays women too, bear enormously heavy floats with religious images may seem bizarre to a foreigner, but in Spain it is considered to be an honour and privilege for brotherhood members.
The effort made by the bearers is no mean feat, as they parade around the steep narrow cobbled streets of the Old Quarter of San Roque for up to eight hours on Easter Wednesday, Maundy Thursday or Good Friday. While they march behind children dressed up as Nazarenes and a band plays a solemn tune and drums beat martially; all of a sudden, somebody standing on a balcony starts singing a ”saeta”, a typical sacred song dedicated to one of the Virgins or the Lord, bringing the whole affair to a standstill until the singer has finished.
On Good Friday, the highlight of this celebration, a squadron of Romans on horseback ride along the streets and marking the beginning of the parade in which Stations of The Cross are depicted with fourteen different floats. This procession is unique in Spain and is the only one with so many statues held annually.