Easter Procession in Spain and the KKK
La Semana Santa
La Semana Santa (Holy Week or Easter Week) is one of the most important holidays in Spain. If you have been lucky enough to watch one of the Easter processions in Spain, you may have spotted people dressed in robes with coned hats and hoods. For many people, the first thing that comes to mind when they see them is the Ku Klux Klan. Allow us to explain a bit about the history of each of these outfits.
Origin of the KKK Costumes
The Ku Klux Klan, also known as the KKK, was founded in 1865-66 by confederate soldiers in Tennessee following the American Civil War. The KKK is a hate group representing white supremacy. As is well documented, it has committed vile acts and murders against Black people, as well as other minority groups in America.
When the KKK was founded, the group did not have one singular costume or “uniform”. Rather, members wore various costumes including Mardi Gras masks and horns or normal hoods. By the end of the 19th century, the KKK had lost its popularity and members were sporadic.
The second “wave” in popularity of the KKK began in 1915. In this year, a William J. Simmons decided to re-establish the KKK as a fraternal organisation. He coincided the “relaunch” with a film created in Hollywood called The Birth of a Nation. This film glorified the KKK and the costumes used in this film included pointed white hats. From this image, Simmons designed and sold costumes with the coned white hats and robes that we now associate with the organisation.
People don’t know how the film makers came up with the idea to use the pointed hats in the film. However, the costumes Simmons sold became known as official KKK regalia. After Simmons hired a publicist in 1920 to popularize the KKK, membership surged and the official white coned costume became notorious as representing hate and violence.
La Semana Santa Easter Processions in Spain
Easter Sunday in Spain is preceded by an entire week of celebrations, known as La Semana Santa (“Holy Week”). During the week, processions take place, beginning at churches. The highlight of the processions are the “Pasos”. These are large sculptures depicting scenes from the Bible, which are carried on the shoulders of people throughout the city/village for hours. Here in Vejer de la Frontera, they last around 4 hours.
The processions are slow marches through the village. Large bands follow many of the “Pasos”, playing traditional Easter music. The pasos are led by the Nazarenos, the people in the robes and hats.
Who are the people in robes?
The Nazarenos wear the pointed hats (known as capirotes) and robes. Nazarenos are part of the Catholic brotherhoods. Generally, each city has multiple brotherhoods, each with their own representation and different symbols and colour of robes. Often, these brotherhoods date back to the Middle Ages.
Traditionally, only men could be in the Catholic brotherhoods but nowadays women also join in. However, the Nazarenos do not represent the evil and hate that the KKK spreads. Rather, they represent penance, due to the historical significance.
The Capirotes (the coned hoods) worn by the Nazarenos precede those worn by the KKK by several centuries. Capirotes are thought to date back to the time of the Spanish Inquisition (1478–1834). Sinners had to to wear a cone hat and walk through the streets as a form of public humiliation. The colour of the cone hat represented their type of punishment.
After the Spanish Inquisition was dissolved (1834), people continued to use the cone to do penance to absolve them of their sins. This was continued by the Catholic brotherhoods. Over time, the hoods became longer so that people could penance anonymously without being publicly humiliated.
Today, only Catholic brotherhoods wear the capirotes. While the costume still represents penitents, those wearing the costumes are not doing penance anymore. The costumes are now much more majestic than they once were, and the Catholic brotherhoods proudly lead the pasos, often carrying candles.
The connection between the costumes?
There is no known connection between the KKK costumes and the Catholic brotherhoods in Spain. The capirotes worn in Spain precede the KKK costumes by several centuries. There is also no evidence that indicates the KKK used the capirotes as inspiration. Each costume has a very different past and represents incredibly different things. While it may be shocking to see the Nazarenos walking in the Easter processions in Spain, it is not representative of the hate and violence the KKK represents.