Quito During Holy Week: Live the Tradition to Its Fullest

What Goes on in Quito During Holy Week?

There is a lot going on in Quito during Holy Week (Semana Santa in Spanish), a holiday celebrated throughout the catholic world. This beloved time of year is highly anticipated and fanesca, the Holy Week traditional dish, is offered at restaurants as early as mid-march; even though the actual Semana Santa starts on the second Sunday of April. If you happen to be in Quito during this period, make sure you catch one of the multiple processions and immerse yourself in tradition.

Quick Overview of Holy Week

The arrival of Jesus to Jerusalem, his death and his resurrection are commemorated the week before Easter Sunday. Holy Week begins the day after Palm Sunday, the day that marks the triumphant entry of Jesus into the city. During the first three days, the faithful honour Jesus’ anointment, Jesus’ prediction of his own death, and the arrangement of the betrayal by Judas. On Holy Thursday, Catholics celebrate the Last Supper with a mass that welcomes the Triduum, followed by another period of three days that observes Maundy Thursday, Good Friday – the crucifixion of Jesus – Holy Saturday and Easter (or Resurrection Sunday). This day marks the beginning of Easter.

Holy Week Activities

  • The conclusion of Palm Sunday’s procession gives way to a lesser known but still beautiful procession in Puellaro, on the northern outskirts of Quito. On Tuesday the 11th, twelve platforms carrying saints, biblical figures, and content from Biblical passages will parade around this small Andean town. The procession starts at 19h00.
Quito during Holy Week.

Palm Sunday at downtown Quito

  • “Arrastre de Caudas” (Dragging of the Capes, in English) or “Paso de la Reseña” used to be celebrated as part of Holy Week throughout the catholic world. Nowadays, only the city of Quito observes the tradition, making it even more unique and special. It takes place at the Metropolitan Cathedral, where the Archbishop of Quito, followed by his clergy, carries a big black flag that is meant to touch the faithful as he walks around the main nave of the cathedral. The mysterious halo inside the Cathedral is enhanced by the candles carried by the group, as they drag their capes around the church’s corridors. The mass takes place on Wednesday the 12th, at the Metropolitan Cathedral at 12h00.
Arrastre de Caudas during Holy Week in Quito.

Black flag dragged at the “Arrastre de Caudas” mass

  • The “Procesión de la Luz” or Procession of Light goes through some of Quito’s downtown main streets. It is led by the Folkloric Ballet Group, Jacchigua, which will represent many of Catholicism’s most important characters: Virgin of Legarda, Virgin of Guadalupe – and other of the Virgin’s many representations – Holy Souls, Holy Men, the Veronicas, the Holy Sepulchre, among others. The faithful and curious are encouraged to bring their own candles and to participate in the procession. It starts at the Basilica on Thursday 13 April, at 18h30 and ends at the beautiful Santo Domingo Plaza.

The Main Event

  • The Jesus of Great Power Procession is the biggest and most popular event during Holy Week. Since it is also a national holiday, quiteños and visitors have the opportunity to participate in large numbers. The main streets of downtown are often filled with curious bystanders and religious faithfuls. It is an intense experience that you will be able to enjoy first-hand from the best terrace in town at Casa Gangotena, located at the upper left corner of San Francisco Plaza. It is at this same plaza that the procession will begin at 11h00, go all the way up to the Basilica and the return to the San Francisco cathedral (where mass will be celebrated later at 15h00).
Quito Procession in Plaza San Francisco during Holy Week.

Holy Week Procession seen from Casa Gangotena.


Saturday and Sunday

  • The Blessing of the Fire mass takes places in the small town of Alangasi. No artificial light is used during the mass. A cloth is set on fire to represent hell, and through the words “Glory, Glory, Glory” recited by the priest, demons are scared away into the fire where they perish. This represents the triumph of good over evil.
  • On Easter Sunday, the Pontifical Mass for the Resurrection of Christ marks the end of Holy Week and the restoration of regular religious ceremonies. You can observe this mass on 16 April at the Metropolitan Cathedral at 18h00.

La Virgen de la Dolorosa Miracle

Not directly related to the celebration of Holy Week in Ecuador, but a day observed by its mostly Catholic population is the miracle of the Virgen de la Dolorosa. Its celebration happens shortly after Holy Week every April 11. If you are one to dig deeper into the mysterious bits of history you will want to read about the story of this revered Virgin.

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