Origin of the Spanish Holy Week ‘Capirote’

Preparations for Holy Week begin. And with it, some questions arise. What is the origin of the Holy Week capirotes? That pointed hats of conical form? Enjoying the processions during the Holy Week, the saetas sung from the balconies and the processional marches, the smell of incense, the altars and floats is almost a ritual. However, the traditions go far back in time. This is the case with the capirotes worn by the Nazarenos. Why do the penitents wear them? We have to go back to the 15th century…

The origin of the capirotes or capuchón is in the Holy Inquisition. People who were sentenced by the Court of the Inquisition were punished with the imposition of this cardboard cone. In addition, on the capirote they were put a cloth garment that covered their chest and back. This garment was called sambenito. The expression “to hang the sambenito on someone” comes from here, as it refers to a sentence. Since the end of the 15th century, many paintings have depicted these acts of the Inquisition in their works.

Francisco de Goya painted in his pictures the shame of the condemned who carried the capirote and sambenito. They also used to place this same hood over the defendants with paintings showing the crime they had committed or the punishment that had been imposed on them.

inquisicion francisco goya
Inquisition scene painted by Francisco de Goya (1808-1812). It can be found in the San Fernando Royal Academy of Fine Arts. Capirotes and sambenitos representation at the time.

Although its origin is disturbing, the Sevillian brotherhoods rescued it during the 17th century because of its penitential connotation. In this way, its use spread to the rest of Spanish cities. This is how it has come down to us today. Nowadays, the capirote does not have to be made of cardboard. It can be somewhat uncomfortable for the Nazareno, since it is nailed to the forehead and its weight is greater. Since 2000, many penitents have been wearing more comfortable and lighter mesh capirotes.

Curiosities about the Capirote

The capirote, capuz or capuchón has different names according to the areas of Spain. For example, in Torredonjimeno it is known as caperuz and in Linares it is called cucurucho. Depending on the city the capirote is also worn differently. In Murcia it is placed without being covered with the mask. In many other places in Spain, its fabric is spread over the mask and even the cape on the back.

Also the height of its position varies. It changes depending on the brotherhood, as is the case throughout Andalusia. For example, in Zaragoza, the brotherhood of San Juan Evangelista and the brotherhood of Las Siete Palabras are the ones that carry the capirote higher. There are others that do not to use it, but they do use the cloth: mask, hood or Tercerol, as they call it in Aragon. You can wear the hood with your face uncovered or hidden. There are bean capirotes, that is to say, without a pointed end and lower.

Their shape has a tapered end for a reason. It is pointed in order to bring the penitent closer to heaven and is covered with cloth so that the identity is hidden. However, before it ended up pointed, in the 17th century some brotherhoods in Seville used the capirote with a blunt shape, such as the Brotherhood of San Juan de Letrán, which is now dissolved.

Text: María Jesús Colombo


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