15 Apr, 2022 @ 12:00
1 min read

EXPLAINED: Why Spain grants pardons to selected lucky inmates at Easter

Good Monday In Malaga, Spain 11 Apr 2022
Penitents of 'Cautivo' brotherhood are seen carrying the statue of Christ as they take part in a procession during Good Monday, to mark the Holy Week celebrations. After two years without Holy Week due to the coronavirus pandemic, thousands of faithful wait to see the processions bearing the statues of Christ and the Virgin Mary on the streets as part of traditional Holy Week. In Andalusia, the Holy Week celebration congregates thousands of people from all countries, and it's considered one of the most important religious and cultural events of the year. (Photo by Jesus Merida / SOPA Images/Sipa USA) *** Local Caption *** 38675545

THIS week will see the pardoning of a handful of lucky inmates across Spain chosen for release by the Church as part of an Easter tradition dating back more than two centuries.

Spain’s government has granted 11 pardons so far this year from requests made by religious brotherhoods across Spain under a privilege granted by King Carlos III in the 18th century.

Prisoners are normally released as part of a ceremony tied in with the processions carried out by the brotherhoods on the Wednesday of Semana Santa.

Holy Monday Celebrations In Seville, Spain 11 Apr 2022
Prisoner pardons are part of the Easter tradition in Spain. Photo: Cordon Press

Legend has it that the tradition to release selected prisoners at Easter begun when 1759 a riot broke out in a Malaga prison after inmates found out Easter processions would be cancelled due to a plague outbreak.

They were so outraged that they forced their way out of jail in order to carry Jesus’ image through the streets. Then, much to everyone’s surprise they returned to their cells.

King Carlos III was so impressed that from that day on he decided to free two dozen convicts every Easter.

The tradition, that echoes the liberation of Barabbas at the expense of Christ, lives on to this day, benefiting around 15 prisoners a year across Spain.

All cases are subject to the same conditions as any other official pardon, which are described in the state bulletin publishing this year’s list of reprieved prisoners as “reasons of justice, equity or benefit for the general public”.


Jorge Hinojosa

Jorge Hinojosa Mena was born and bred in Madrid before moving to the UK to study. After an undergraduate degree in Manchester, he completed an MA in International Journalism at City. He has worked in radio and for Spain’s Efe news agency before joining the Olive Press in March 2022. Contact: [email protected]

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