Holy Thursday in Sevilla, Spain, is a special place. What is even more special is wearing a traditional mantilla, a lace or silk scarf for the head, as part of the day’s activities.
Before I explain my experience wearing la mantilla, let me provide a bit of background on Holy Thursday and Holy Week, or Semana Santa in Spanish. Semana Santa may just be the high point of the Catholic faith for the people of Sevilla, los sevillanos. Catholicism is almost inextricably linked to sevillano culture – and Spanish culture in general – so this week is the highlight of the year for many. Of course, there are sevillanos who escape the intensity of this week by heading to the beach to avoid the crowds. The entire week is filled with processions of pasos, which are gold or silver-clad floats that carry figures of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary. The streets are flooded with people day and night as everyone runs around the city to see as many pasos as possible. The pasos are paraded through the city by costaleros, the men underneath the paso who carry it for hours. This site gives a pretty accurate description of Semana Santa in Sevilla along with key vocabulary for those unfamiliar with the event like I was.
I was lucky enough to experience Semana Santa in Sevilla with sevillanos, including my boyfriend Pepe. I met this group of friends through my roommate in Madrid, who is also from Sevilla. Going with locals made the experience particularly memorable, as no one knows Semana Santa in Sevilla better than the sevillanos themselves. Pepe’s mother and sister graciously offered to help me prepare to wear la mantilla, worn as a sign of mourning on Holy Thursday because Jesus Christ died on Good Friday. Here are a few tips I learned as I got ready to don la mantilla:
The Dress. A simple black dress is necessary to wear with la mantilla. The dress should not expose your cleavage or your back. Sleeves can be long or to the elbow, and the length of the dress should come to the knee. Be mindful that you’ll be visiting churches in this outfit, so this is not the time to be Posh Spice and bust out the little Gucci dress.
La Peina. This is essentially the giant comb that is placed in your hair and on which la mantilla rests. This thing is a few inches tall, so you seem a bit taller than you actually are when you’re wearing it.
La Mantilla. La mantilla is typically made of black lace. To ensure that it remains in place for many hours (yes, many hours – Semana Santa is a marathon, not a sprint, haha), bobby pin the cloth to your shoulders. Lean your head to the right to pin the left side, then lean your head to the left to pin the right side – that will give the cloth enough slack to allow you to move your head comfortably.
Hair. Your hair should be in a low bun. Wearing your hair down is pretty much a no-no. If you took ballet classes as a girl like I did, then the hair spray and bobby pins involved in this bun hairdo will bring back funny memories, haha.
Shoes. Shoes should be black and closed-toe with a modest-sized heel. No flats.
Jewelry. It is typical to wear a simple necklace with an easily visible crucifix. It is also traditional to carry a rosary in hand. Earrings should be simple, like pearls.
Purse. Wear a simple black purse or clutch.
Makeup. The eyes can be a bit smoky, but keep makeup simple overall.
Tights. Tights are necessary. They should be black but not too opaque – the skin should be visible through the fabric.
The guidelines for wearing la mantilla may seem a bit rigid, but it’s really a tremendously worthwhile experience. Participating in such a unique cultural practice is something that I will never forget. Wearing la mantilla is actually pretty fun, and there is something about the ensemble that makes a woman look absolutely stunning. I highly recommend you find a few sevillano friends and make your way down to Sevilla for Semana Santa! You may even get interviewed like I did, haha.