Málaga's traditional Easter processions were first held when the Catholic Monarchs entered the city in 1487. The conversion of the city's inhabitants to Catholicism and the arrival of new settlers, mostly from Castile, after centuries of Muslim influence, meant a new dimension in religious expression for the people of Málaga. However, the Council of Trent (16th century) and the subsequent Counter Reformation had the most influence on the way the Passion and Death of Christ was portrayed in Málaga.
The Church, in a clear attempt to combat heresy, encouraged the worship of images. This sign of identity had a twin purpose: while serving as a distinguishing feature of the Catholic faith, it was also used to catechise the people. Many of Málaga's fraternities, brotherhoods and sisterhoods were born in this period. Naturally, Holy Week in this period was totally different from today's celebrations. All the thrones left from inside their respective temples and the images were borne on rudimentary platforms carried by 8 or 10 throne bearers. The cortège comprised the “Hermanos de Luz” (loosely translated as the Brothers of the Light and corresponding to today's “Nazarenes”), and the “Hermanos de Sangre” (loosely translated as the Brothers of the Blood), penitents who flagellated themselves during the whole procession, much to the fascinated horror of the public who gathered to watch this dismal display.
Most of the people who joined the Brotherhoods were also moved by the desire to obtain a place in holy ground where their mortal remains could rest eternally as well as membership of an entity that would say the obligatory masses to ensure their souls would obtain eternal rest as soon as possible.
Upon reaching the Enlightenment (18thcentury) we find a changing society. The erudite elite considered the brotherhoods to be the heirs of obscurantism and religious superstition. This new approach to popular religiousness led the Authorities to take steps and dictate regulations designed to promote public order and composure with no excessive displays during the processions. As if that were not enough, the 19th century did not start well for the Brotherhoods in Málaga. With the Napoleonic invasions came the continued sacking of the Brotherhoods’ heritage, and a large part of what they had treasured disappeared into the hands of foreigners.
But, after the War of Independence, a new event would affect the brotherhoods. The Mendizabal's ecclesiastical property divestment policy of 1835 dissolved many convents and forced the Brotherhoods to find new temples in which to house their images from where they could start their processions during Holy Week. Burials in churches were also prohibited at this time, greatly weakening the role of burial with added benefits (i.e. having masses said for you, etc.).
The economic crisis of the early 20th century in Málaga (with the failure of the local iron and steelwork industry and the phylloxera plague that destroyed the vines) logically affected the Brotherhoods and especially their revenue. The delicate financial situation, which made it impossible for a good number of Brotherhoods to carry out their annual processions, prompted the creation, in 1921, of the Agrupación de Cofradías de Semana Santa de Málaga (Málaga Holy Week Brotherhoods' Association). From then on, our Easter Week grew in importance. Together with the return of the old brotherhoods after centuries of being in decline, new brotherhoods were founded. There was also an incentive to promote winter tourism, which even then was present in Málaga. The processions were an attraction for tourists of the time and became (as is currently the case) a major source of revenue for the city.
This golden age was unfortunately cut short by political and social circumstances. On the night of the 11-12 May 1931, shortly after the inauguration of the Second Republic, rioting groups of anarchists ransacked the temples of the city, destroying everything they contained. The ignorance and intolerance of a few destroyed the devotional heritage of our city that had been accumulated over centuries. Following these events, the processions were suspended, although in 1935 some Brotherhoods (known since then as "the brave") were able to take to the streets, risking the little heritage they had managed to gather. In 1936, the Spanish Civil War brought another wave of destruction, which more or less destroyed everything that had been saved during the previous periods of destruction.
The post-war period was hard for everyone, including, of course, the processional Brotherhoods. Recovery of their heritage would also be affected by the social and political circumstances of the conflict. The winners, clearly “national-catholic” in spirit, fostered the processions as a triumph over the enemies of the Catholic faith, magnifying and unashamedly politicising, especially during the first years, something that was so dear to the people's hearts. As a result, the presence of military forces increased notably, although it had already been significant in previous centuries. On the other hand, however, the relations between the Brotherhoods were not always smooth, and the clergy made an Episcopal decree prohibiting the assembly of the thrones within the temples, saying it interfered with the celebrations of religious services. Because the thrones were no longer limited by having to pass through doors, they were free to grow in size. The thrones of Málaga increased in size, which lead to them acquired one of their most notable features.
The arrival of democracy in the 1970s also saw the birth of young brotherhood members who overcame generational disagreements by creating new brotherhoods, with their own view of Easter. Now the importance lay not so much on the sumptuousness of the processions, but on being able to leave from inside the Brotherhood's temple and perform a penitential rite in the Cathedral, an option that was made available to all the Málaga Brotherhoods by the Diocese in 1988. (Until then only the Viñeros and Pasión Brotherhoods had held this privilege.)
The two forms of Easter processions now live peaceably side by side in Málaga. Together with the school of thought developed in the post-war period (huge thrones, sumptuousness and luxury in the processional cortège), another way of thinking began to appear at the end of the 1970s with the appearance of the new Brotherhoods (penitential spirit, greater austerity and putting greater weight on performing the penitential rite). In any case, variety is something that defines the very essence of our Holy Week, an important reason to visit our city and enjoy this celebration that, for the people of Málaga, unquestionably marks the beginning of spring.