You should go to Balmaseda for the Via Crucis Vivente if you like the traditional festivals. This one is one of the rare alive Via Crucis in the world.
The actors of the traditional Via Crucis Vivente (alive Station of Cross) of Balmaseda in the Spanish Basque province of Biscaye are the inhabitants of the city.
More than 500 people participate in the organisation of the festival.
On Maundy Thursday's evening, there's a big procession around the city with the roman guards, the penitents and the statues of the church (pasos) going along the streets of the historical district. Of course, it's free.
During the Maundy Thursday's night, they play "la Cène", "the prayer in the olive trees garden" et "Jesus arrestation". You need a ticket for this representation, and it's better to understand Spanish.
On Maundy Friday, at 9 am, the drums of the roman guards resonate in the city. It's the beginning of the judgement by Ponce Pilate and the hanging of Judas. A ticket is required.
Then comes the free part, the central part of the Via Crucis, with Jesus and all the actors going to the Golgotha Mount for the crucifixion. There are several places where special events are played. The tourism information will give you a map where you'll see all these places. But as there's a lot of people, it's very difficult to see everything and it can be better to choose a good place to stay and shoot. Then move to the place of the crucifixion to secure your spot. It's certainly the most impressive moment of the two days.
In the late evening, there's the procession of Silence. I was a bit disappointed as people couldn't stay quiet!
How to organise your trip to Balmaseda during the Via Crucis
Balmaseda is situated at 35 kilometres from Bilbao.
If you need a guide speaking English, I can guide you during your visit. If you want to spend several days in the area, I can organise a special program depending on what you like and need.
An example of what you can see and do around: Urdabai natural reserve, several picturesque fishermen villages and towns, a church on the top of an island, testing the local txakoli wine, the last shooting place of Game of Thrones, hikes on the Santiago path or in the Pyrenees mountains between ocean and mountains.
Click on the "contact me" link and send me your request!
My 2015's experience of the Via Crucis Vivente.
As I don't speak Spanish, on Maundy Thursday, I only participated in the pasos procession, at 7 pm.
The next events are not free. You can buy the tickets from the tourism office or online (link above).
My hotel, Posada Calera à Valle de Villaverde, was in the valley, with a beautiful view, a private terrace for my room, a good restaurant and a welcoming staff. I don't recommend it as it was very noisy because of the Spanish guests returning and shouting in the middle of the night. I'll indicate at the end of the article a place I found on the second day (but I didn't try it).
Before the procession, I had time to visit the beautiful old town.
Procession of Maundy Thursday
Paid activities of Maundy Friday
It begins with the paid performances (the trial and Juda's suicide).
The procession starts from the same place. The first video below was shot there.
The alive Station of Cross (Via Crucis Vivente)
Tip: ask for the map of the stations at the tourism office.
The tourism office gives a free map of the places where the stations take place.
I shot the second video at the place where the women from Jerusalem meet Jesus and cry.
Listen to the change in the music to know when a station begins.
One of the most impressive time of the Via Crucis: the crucifixion
After shooting these two videos, I've been to the crucifixion's place.
I could find a quite good place to shoot. You will notice there was a lot of people but they didn't really care about the performance!
La procesion del silencio
The next and last performance is only around 10 pm. It's the procession of the silence.
As I had a few hours before, I took the time to go around the village again and check the price of a hotel I had seen before, Hotel Convento San Roque, in the centre. It's indeed close to the place of the Friday's paid performances. It was not so expensive (60€ single / 80€ double). The prices are indeed different and lower online, but when I checked at the beginning of February, there was no availability for the Holy Week. I guess the prices are higher because of the event and it's only possible to book directly. The comments online go from excellent to average. As I said, I didn't try it and can't tell you if it worth it.
For the last procession, the pasos are taken again around the village, in silence and with the light of the candles.
The next Via Crucis of Balmaseda
The next edition will be on the 29th and 30th of March in 2018.
Think about your accommodation early!
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Stephanie Langlet is a travel blogger and YouTuber since 2002.
Fond of the traditional cultures and festivals, she decided in 2012 to specialise in its promotion and in 2016 she created her two new blogs Travels France and Tribes and Minorities.
As a hospitality expert and a solo traveller in Asia, she's able to think as a foreign traveller and give the information they need to prepare their next trip to France or around.