Do you want to discover an extraordinary religious Basque festival? This is Balmaseda’s Via Crucis Viviente!
The protagonists of this living Stations of the Cross in the city of Balmaseda, in the Spanish Basque province of Vizcaya, are the inhabitants of the city.
650 people are involved in the organization of these festivities.
In this article, I will briefly introduce you to Vizcaya and Balmaseda, the main points of the Via Crucis Viviente, I will give you practical information to organise your trip, I will share my experience of 2015 and I will give you the dates for 2020.
You should attend the Via Crucis Viviente in Balmaseda if you like traditional festivals. It is one of the few living Way of the Cross in the world.
But first, where exactly is the Basque province of Vizcaya located?
Vizcaya is the most westerly Spanish province along the Cantabrian Sea.
Its capital is Bilbao.
There are several magnificent seaside sites, such as Lekeitio, the Urdabai nature reserve, and especially San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, one of the two locations where Game of Thrones 7 was shot in the Basque Country (the castle of the dragons).
The commune of Balmaseda.
Balmaseda (in Basque) or Valmaseda (in Spanish) is located about 35 km southwest of Bilbao, in a mountainous environment.
It was the first village founded in the province of Vizcaya in 1199.
There are still many medieval structures and a beautiful bridge.
Process of the Via Crucis Viviente.
On Holy Thursday evening there is first a large procession in the old town with the Roman guards, penitents and statues of the church (pasos). This is of course a free activity.
On the night of Holy Thursday there is a performance of “The Last Supper”, “Prayer in the Garden of Olives” and “The Arrest of Christ”. These performances are not free and in Spanish.
On Good Friday, at 9 a.m., the drums of the Roman guard rang. Then begins the “Judgment of Pontius Pilate”, followed by the “Hanging of Judas”. Again charged and in Spanish.
Then begins the free part, the Via Crucis Viviente itself: procession throughout the city with the Stations of the Way of the Cross, up to Golgotha for the crucifixion. As it is very difficult to move with the crowd, I advise you to pick up the map of the Stations at the tourist office, choose a point or two to look, photograph and film, then go to the place of the crucifixion.
The two days end with a procession of silence late at night.
How to organize your trip to Via Crucis Viviente of Balmaseda?
Where to stay in Balmaseda?
I stayed in Valle de Villaverde, in Posada Calera. The setting is superb, you can eat there very well and copiously, my room overlooked a terrace, there are stone walls and exposed beams. The staff was adorable and even agreed to let me come with my little Westie dog (normally, it is forbidden but I had asked beforehand). Unfortunately, I was quite disturbed by the inconvenience of some Spaniards slamming doors and talking loudly in the middle of the night. Don’t forget the earplugs.
My big crush now that I have been able to visit it is Convento San Roque, in the heart of Balmaseda and in the heart of the Via Crucis.
This beautiful stone building is not only beautiful and very clean, but customer feedback is also very good and dogs are accepted.
Where to eat in Balmaseda?
You can test the Basque Country’s specialities at the Convento San Roque restaurant, rated 9/10 on The Forks website.
To book your tickets for paid performances or for more information.
Consult the official website of the association to book your tickets.
You will also find information on the history of the Via Crucis, whose origins go back to the 16th century.
My experience of the Via Crucis Viviente in 2015.
The procession of pasos on Holy Thursday.
On Thursdays, not speaking Spanish, I only participated in the pasos procession at 7pm.
The following scenes (the Last Supper, etc.) are paid performances in Spanish.
Before the procession, I took the time to discover the beautiful city of Balmaseda.
The paid performances of Good Friday.
The day begins with the paid performances (Pontius Pilate trial and then hanging of Judas).
The procession starts from the same place. This is where I shot the first video.
The Stations of the Cross (Via Crucis Viviente).
Tip: pick up the map of the Stations at the Tourist Office.
The tourist office provides a free map showing the locations of the various Stations that punctuate the Via Crucis.
I filmed the second video at the place where Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem who are crying.
Second tip: To easily identify when a scene will start, just rely on the change of music.
One of the most important moments of the Via Crucis: the crucifixion.
Then I went directly to the place of the crucifixion.
I was able to find a little higher ground before the crowd came. However, you will notice on the video that we wonder why people are there, since they turn their backs on what is happening!
The Silence Procession on Good Friday evening.
After the crucifixion, the actors went in a procession through the city.
This is the end of the Via Crucis.
It is then necessary to wait until the evening around 22h-22h30 to attend the procession of silence.
The pasos leave the church one last time for a night procession, in relative silence… We are in Spain!
The 2020 edition of Balmaseda’s Via Crucis Viviente.
The next edition will take place on April 9 and 10, 2020.
Remember to book your accommodation early!
Have you ever attended Holy Week events in Spain or a Via Crucis Viviente?
Tell us about your experience in the comments below.
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Read more: Agenda of the Basque festivals.
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