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Semana Santa in Ecuador: Traditions that Paint the Portrait of a Country

Semana Santa in Ecuador: Traditions that Paint the Portrait of a Country

In Ecuador, approximately 95% of the entire population identifies as Roman Catholic. One need no greater evidence of this percentage than experiencing the liveliness of the events during Holy Week (or Semana Santa in Ecuador) in April.

Despite the different perspectives (evolution and religion) presented when on a Galapagos cruise and on the mainland during holy week, the month of April may very well provide the perfect opportunity to contrast religious traditions with evolutionary theories, if one is keen on doing so. So consider putting the two experiences back to back with a Galapagos tour of your choice!

Semana Santa in Ecuador: What’s the Deal?

Holy Week occurs a week before Easter Sunday and deals with the commemoration of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The first three days following Palm Sunday (which serves as the beginning of Holy Week) have followers observing several different moments leading up to Jesus’ death, such as: his anointment, the prediction of his own death and his betrayal by Judas. Following these three days, Holy Thursday celebrates the Last Supper. Good Friday commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus and, lastly, Holy Saturday lasts until Resurrection Sunday – at which point Easter begins.

Worth noting is that, due to Ecuador’s indigenous history, the traditions observed throughout Semana Santa are a fusion of Spanish traditions and local, indigenous customs – a blend that creates religious festivities that are filled with Andean music, folklore and lots of colour.

Perhaps the biggest event throughout the entire week is the Jesus of Great Power procession in Quito, which packs in a quarter million spectators that come to see the penitents (dressed in purple robes with tall, pointed hats) known as cucuruchos carry their life-size crosses through the streets of Old Town. The procession can even turn dramatic, with some of the penitents flagellating themselves with stinging nettle branches.

semana santa in Ecuador

Cucuruchos stand waiting outside Iglesia San Francisco with their cross

The rituals and ceremonies seen during this week form a substantial part of Ecuador’s identity and the traditions are often seen as an element that helps reaffirm the identity of Ecuadorians

Be Praised: You Are What You Eat

Traditionally, Holy Thursday was dedicated to serving one of Ecuador’s most anticipated dishes during the whole year – fanesca. Nowadays, demand for the dish has gone up so much that you can find restaurants throughout the city serving fanesca nearly a month before Holy Thursday.

semana santa in ecuador

Fanesca in all its glory. Photo by: Visita Quito

Fanesca is a soup prepared to commemorate the Last Supper. It consists of 12 different grains (meant to represent the 12 apostles), salt cod fish (symbolizing the Jesus fish), and is prepared with milk. Considered as a heavy, heart meal by some, the soup is also served alongside hardboiled eggs and miniature pasty’s.

The dish is a labour of love and takes quite some time and patience to prepare, bringing families together during the week to partake in the preparation and enjoyment of fanesca during Semana Santa in Ecuador.

Note that on Friday of this week, we will be serving fanesca aboard our Santa Cruz II Galapagos cruise.

Nathalie Moeller

Nathalie Moeller is of Ecuadorian and German descent. As a child she spent her summers in the Galapagos Islands, where her mother grew up, and from a very young age learned to love the beauty and uniqueness of the archipelago. She studied Journalism and Humanities in Barcelona, after living in Madrid and Germany for a couple of years. This gave her a culturally broader view of the world, which is reflected in everything she does. Blogging gives her the opportunity to combine her passion for travelling and writing.

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