Zamora is a small city in the northwest of Spain which lies on a rocky hill on the banks of the Duoro River, approximately 50 kilometres downstream of the border with Portugal. The town of Zamora boasts the most 12th and 13th Century Romanesque churches in all Europe.
Zamora’s most recognisable structure is it’s Cathedral, which can be seen dominating the landscape, still surrounded by its old walls and gates. Built between 1151 and 1174, it is one of the finest examples of Spanish Romanesque architecture. The dome of Zamora Cathedral (shown as the featured image) is almost Moorish in architecture. Shown below are two images from the interior of the Cathedral. The first, a statue of Christ brought down from the cross.
The second is an area locked off from the public in the centre of the Cathedral. It holds an ancient book housed on a special stand surrounded by intricately carved wooden clergy benches on three sides.
Other churches in Zamora
Each of the 24 Romanesque churches in this town warrants a visit. Shown below is the Church of San Juan Batista which occupies the centre of Plaza Mayor, the square marking the centre of Zamora.
There are small quiet churches too, like the beautiful Church of Santa Maria de la Horta shown below.
Semana Santa in Zamora
During the Semana Santa (Easter Week), this quiet town with a population of just over sixty thousand people comes to life. The city swells with at least a quarter of a million penitents and visitors, who visit to take part in or watch the Semana Santa penance processions.
Zamora holds the oldest of all penance processions, dating back to 1179. The Holy Week in Zamora is well known for its funereal and solemn nature. The Devil’s Prayer teaser video shows the sombre nature of this procession.
Every year since the thirteenth century, during the Semana Santa, the brotherhoods have walked the streets dressed in their ancient penitential robes with conical hats, or caperuzos, used to conceal the face of the wearer. The robes had been used since medieval times for nazarenos, or penitents, to demonstrate their penance while still masking their identity.
The Holy Week in Zamora is celebrated by 17 brotherhoods and fraternities that perform 17 penance processions on the streets of the old city. At the end of each procession they display their banners at the House of the Brotherhoods.
The penitents carry processional candles, home-made wooden crosses and walked slowly ahead of a magnificent pasos, or floats. The exact colors and forms of these robes depend on the particular procession. Some penitents walk the city streets barefoot, and, in some parades some carry shackles and chains on their feet as penance.
The magnificent statues and relics which adorn the pasos were crafted from the 14th Century onwards. Most carving are made of wood and fully dressed with a fabric. Most of these incredible works which are taken in procession are usually owned by the brotherhood. Some owned by churches and parishes,which yield to the brotherhoods that worship them for their processions. Most images are guarded and shown to the public at the Museum of Easter. There these remain mounted on their respective processional steps in Zamora known as “tables”.
In Search of ‘The Devil’s Prayer’
In 2014 and 2015, I visited Zamora whilst conducting research for my book, The Devil’s Prayer.
The Semana Santa is covered in the book and I was fortunate to attend the Semana Santa in Zamora in 2014. The Iglesia of San Juan, Zamora’s ancient train station and the Semana Santa in Zamora feature in this book. During the Semana Santa, there are parades all week. The Semana Santa parade in Zamora is unique as some processions use monks robes and torch fire and not the traditional nazareno costume and candlelight. This unique procession, shown on the front cover of The Devil’s Prayer is held early in the week on Monday. (Image by Manuel Ballesteros). The Devil’s Prayer is available world-wide on amazon, ibooks, google play and kobo.
Outside the Semana Santa, Zamora is unhurried and almost deserted. The streets at night are empty.
Zamora can be reached by train from Madrid’s Charmatin station. I arrived on the last train to Zamora which reaches around 1 am. Built in the 18th Century, the white woodwork of the railway office windows look eerily like large crucifixes at night. On my second trip, I chose to hire a car and it is a two hour drive.
There is plenty to see in and around Zamora. Located some 45 minutes away is the ancient Moreruela Abbey with the neighbouring town of Villafáfila which has a wildlife sanctuary and an ancient pigeon breeding industry. It is also located close to the beautiful University city of Salamanca.
Hotels can be expensive during the Semana Santa but outside this one week, it is an incredible value for money destination. I stayed on both my visits at the AC Zamora Hotel which is part of the Marriott chain and I would recommend it. Friendly people, beautiful wood, great weather and a living museum. If you want to see Spain as it once was, Zamora is it.