Thursday, March 28, 2013

Jesus of Mexican Holy Week


The middle-American Protestant Jesus is a generic image-  a nice, kind man perhaps surrounded by children or holding a lamb.  There are also images of the crucified Jesus with details spared and the resurrected Jesus clothed in light. However, the in-between Jesus- tried, beaten and tortured and then crucified is typically left to the imagination, apart from a few cinematic departures. 

The Mexican iconography of Jesus, particularly in the statues that are present in all churches, is very specific. - There are several "types" of Jesus that are related to different episodes in Holy Week, the days before Easter in which the story of the Passion unfolds.
These images are as follows:

  • Jesus Nazareno
  • Jesus whipped and tortured
  • Jesus Crucified
  • Santo Entierro 
  • Jesus waking
  • Cristo Resucitado

Jesus Nazareno, in English, Jesus of Nazareth is the living Jesus who has been arrested by the Romans, tried, beaten and later crucified.  As described in Scripture he is dressed in a purple robe with a crown of thorns on his head.  Some statues of this type have Jesus wearing a purple cape instead and show him seated after he has been scourged by the Romans.  Here are two examples:

Okutzcab, Yucatan, MX

San Bernardino de Siena Church, Xochimilco, MX

 In the figure of Jesus as the Man of Sorrows, He is portrayed in wearing a purple cape, rather than a robe:

San Bernardino de Siena Church, Xochimilco, MX

There is another variation, Christ at the Pillar, which shows him standing by a pillar during his scourging:

Mision San Francisco de la Espada, San Antonio, Texas

Campeche, MX

Jesus Crucified is the Jesus on the Cross after He has been executed:

Valladolid Cathedral, Valladolid, Yucatan, MX

Santo Entierrro, or Christ buried is present in all the Mexican churches that I have seen and is on view throughout the year, but actively used in Good Friday liturgies.  This is a representation of Christ in the Tomb that is also used in Spain in the Good Friday processions.  It is not seen in the US except in churches of Mexican heritage, such as in the missions of San Antonio and similar places.  The "tombs" are generally glass coffins of varying styles and complexity.  Here is my very favorite:

San Miguel Arcangel Church, Mani, Yucatan, MX

At 9:30 pm Good Friday night the Santo Entierro you see above is carried in procession to the cemetery in the town.  All of the Santo Entierros are carried in some sort of procession on Good Friday, although the times and routes of the processions differ. Here are a few more examples:

Cathedral, Valladolid, MX

Cathedral, Puebla, MX

There is a very interesting variant of Santo Entierro that I have seen only in New Mexico; 
this is Santo Entierro waking, as seen below.  If you look closely at this photo  (it is clickable), you can see Jesus' eyes are opening and that his hand has moved slightly. 

Santa Cruz, New Mexico

There is another representation of Jesus that will be  new for visitors from the US.
This is Cristo Resucitado, or Christ after the Resurrection.  Whereas in this country and most of Western Europe, the Risen Christ is show as a luminous human being, in Mexican iconography, there is a very specific representation of the Risen Christ that, historically, is derived from the Roman statue of the Apollo Belvedere. In the photo directly below, Cristo Resucitado is seen standing on top of his empty tomb. Notice the raised arm position of this representation of Christ.

Las Monjas, Merida, Yucatan

Itzimina Church, Merida, MX

The photo directly above was taken during a wonderful Good Friday Night service during which Christ is actually "resurrected" in a burst of light (strobe lights in this case).  This liturgy is done all over Mexico and is amazing to witness.  The Cristo Resucitado statue which you see in the lower right hand of the photo was rushed to the front altar area during the time when the church courtyard, where the service was held, went from total darkness to the burst of light which I described.  

There are other images of Jesus such as the  miracle-working Black Christs. However, these are not directly connected to Holy Week and will explored in a future post.

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