The "Seña" on Spy Wednesday

The yearly celebration of the vespers of Spy Wednesday in the cathedral of Quito, Ecuador, has become famous due to the spectacular ceremony of the Seña (banner) also called reseña or arrastre de caudas- the dragging of trains. The canons process through the Cathedral wearing 16 foot black long cappas, their heads covered by the cappa’s hood. During the chant of the Vexilla Regis they prostrate themselves while the archbishop unfurls and waves a huge black flag with a red cross.  The ceremony is rich with emotion and symbolism, with the long black trains representing the sins of man dragging behind which are washed away by the Triumph of Christ, embodied by the flag.

The ceremony originated in Seville, Spain, and was also performed during the first and second vespers of Passion and Palm Sunday.

While some claim that the roots of this ceremony can be traced back to roman era military customs, it seems much more likely that it developed during the late middle ages. The episcopal see of Seville was reestablished when, after a century of oppressive Almohad rule, the city was reconquered in 1248 by the king of Castile. By that time the Spanish kingdoms had already replaced the Hispanic rite (Mozarabic) with the Roman, including the Office of the Hours.

Canon from Quito Cathedral.
Alcide D'Orbigny, 1841

The ceremony of the display of the banner during Vespers is documented as well established in the cathedral of Seville in the 15th century with special indulgences granted to those who attended in 1469. The ceremony is also documented in other Spanish cathedrals such as Córdoba or Pamplona.

During the Spanish evangelization of the Americas, all new dioceses established in the new world were suffragans of the See of Seville until the Mexico, Santo Domingo and Lima were elevated to metropolitans.  All the cathedral of New Spain are thus spiritual heirs of Seville.

The Ceremony ceased to be customary in Spain by the end of the 19th century, and of all the New World Cathedrals inherited it, like Mexico, Lima, Buenos Aires, Córdoba etc, only a handful have retained the tradition of the Seña.

While Quito is likely the better known, it is still performed in the Cathedrals of Caracas, Maracaibo and Merida in Venezuela.

Caracas, Venezuela

Maracaibo, Venezuela 


Lima, Peru (discontinued)
Trujillo, Peru.
Codex Martinez de Hontañon

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