Semana Santa: Easter Holy Week Devotions in Larantuka, East Flores


Each year, the week before Easter Sunday, the town of Larantuka, East Flores, solemnly celebrates the Holy Week, popularly known here as “Semana Santa”. This year the series of prayers and processions will take place from 23rd to 27th March 2016.

During this special week, the small town of Larantuka will be thronged with thousands of Catholic pilgrims, coming not only from surrounding islands  in Flores but also from Java, Bali, around Indonesia, joined by many international tourists. This is because of Larantuka’s unique commemoration of Holy Week which blends Old Portuguese devotion with local tradition originating from the 16th century.

Pilgrims from around Flores and Indonesia come here to pray and participate in this one of a kind procession.

The Semana Santa will commence with the Rabu Trewa or Shackled Wednesday (or Ash Wednesday) on 23rdMarch, on the mid-Easter week. On this day, congregations gather in chapels and pray, remembering the betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot which led to Jesus’ arrest, shackling and crucifixion. This is the time when the town of Larantuka turns into the Town of Mourning; a time when it drowns into solemnity and reflection for the purification of the soul.

In the afternoon of Maundy Thursday, congregations hold the tikam turo ritual, preparing the route for the following day’s seven kilometer procession by planting candles along the route. At the Chapel of Tuan Ma (Virgin Mary) the casket that has been sealed for one year is carefully opened by the Conferia, and the statue of Tuan Ma or Virgin Mary is bathed and then dressed in mourning clothes (a piece of black or purple, or blue velvet coat).

The pinnacle of the rituals falls on Good Friday or the Sesta Vera, the day of Crucifixion of Jesus Christ, which this year falls on 25th March 2015. The door of the chapel of Tuan Ma and Tuan Ana (Jesus and the Virgin Mary) opens at ten o’clock in the morning. The Good Friday procession is highlighted by the ritual carrying the statue of the body of Jesus Christ, placing Jesus at the center of the ritual and placing Mother Mary at the center of attention, as the mourning mother (Mater Dolorosa).

The Sabtu Santo (Holy Saturday) and the Minggu Paskah (Easter Sunday), the day of Resurrection, follow the next days, marking the end of the entire Easter week procession.

Having strong Portuguese colonial influences, Larantuka is commonly known as one where Catholicism flourishes in Indonesia. For more than four centuries, this region inherited Catholicism through the role of the common people rather than through the clergy. The King of Larantuka, missionaries, the brotherhood of apostles of the common people (Confreria), the  Semana Tribe, and the Kakang (Kakang Lewo Pulo Tribe) as well as thePou (Lema Tribe) have played pivotal roles in the growth of Catholicism in this Larantuka region.

From Jakarta or Bali the town of Larantuka  is accessible by flights to the city of Ende or the Wai Oti  Airport in Maumere, Flores,  followed by about 3 hours’ overland journey to  Larantuka.

Since Larantuka has limited hotel rooms it is advisable to book your hotel early or book a tour through your travel agent.