Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Holy Week Processions (with video)

It is one thing to read about Antigua Guatemala's incredible Holy Week processions and another to actually see one.  Here is a link to a recent video of mine, which shows a Holy Week procession in a Guatemalan village just outside of Antigua. Being there was a unique experience and because the village procession was less crowded than those in the city, it was easier to get a closer look.   (It's better to read the information in this post before viewing the video).

 In Mexico, Holy Week Processions are, for the most part, found largely on Good Friday.  In Spain, in many locales, there are processions every day of Holy Week beginning with Palm Sunday and even before.  Guatemala, Mexico'a neighbor to the south,  has followed this path and expanded upon it with processions every day during Holy Week and before, throughout the period of Lent.  In fact, this year Antigua Guatemala surpassed Seville, known for having the most elaborate Holy Week processions in Spain, in terms of overall number of processions.

Virgen de Dolores,  start of procession in San Felipe Church, Antigua, Guatemala

Jesus Nazareno, San Francisco Church, Antigua, Guatemala

Virgen de Delores, La Merced procession, Antigua Guatemala

The history of these processions is complex, having both to do with the Catholic Counter-reformation and the Reconquista in Spain, the defeat of the Muslim rulers by the Catholic monarchs in the 15th century.  These public religious processions, in part, were proclamations that the country was once again in the hands of Christian rulers and not the Muslims who had ruled the area for centuries.  The Catholic Counter-reformation, which stemmed from the Council of Trent (1545-63), was motivated by the church's desire to combat the growing power of the Protestant movements.  The Catholic Church needed to keep people interested so that they would not be attracted to the new movements.  The heightened elaboration and emotionalism of the Baroque in the Church- in its art, music and ritual- was motivated by this. The veneration of sacred images was also encouraged and elaborate religious processions were a place where all of this came together.  Initially, these processions and the floats in them were simpler and on a small-scale, but in the 20th century the processions grew into the spectacle that they are now.

Antigua is a very Spanish city with less of the indigenous religious/cultural admixture seen in places like Chiapas and elsewhere in Mexico.   In colonial times, its rulers were very conservative and strove to keep the city's religious proceedings free of local influences. The processions in Antigua are large and elaborate and hugely popular and crowds of people from all over the world come to view these very Spanish-style processions.  

The structure of all processions is the same: incense bearers censing before the floats 
(called andas in Spanish), banner-carriers, a float with Jesus carried by men in purple known as cucuruchos, followed by a funeral band, a second float with a statue of the grieving Mary (Virgen de Dolores) carried by female carriers known as cargadoras followed by another funeral band and then the faithful followers who will walk behind the procession for its hours-long route.  I hope you enjoy the video. 

(An excellent book on Holy Week celebrations in Antigua is "Lent and Holy Week in La Antigua Guatemala" by Elizabeth Bell)


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Jesus in Jail: Holy Thursday in Antigua, Guatemala

Guatemala is Mexico's neighbor to the south.  In colonial times, when boundaries were not so clearly outlined, large parts of present-day Mexico were governed from Antigua which was then Guatemala's capital.   Holy Week in Antigua is a huge event and rivals that  of the Seville, Spain which has the world's largest Holy Week Celebration.  

In Spain and Latin America, Holy Week, the time during which the Passion of Christ unfolds, is observed with the kind of detail that is foreign and exotic to visitors from the U.S. and much of Europe.  Holy Week in Antigua is fascinating and tremendous religious imagination and creativity are at work in its famous Holy Week events.   You can see it in the incredible colored-sawdust carpets  that line its streets before processions and in the incredible processions themselves. The huge floats (andas), the biggest of which are carried by over 100 people, bear holy images from the churches through the streets of the city. There will be much more about all this in future posts.

Yet, there is one very simple tradition I have not seen anywhere but Antigua-  the jailing of Jesus.  On Holy Thursday afternoon, you will find Jesus behind bars on the side of the Cathedral of San Jose.  In terms of the Bible this is inaccurate, since the gospels say that Jesus was arrested by Roman authorities in the Garden of Gethsemane after the Thursday Last Supper which would have been later in the day.  But no one in Antigua is arguing about scriptural accuracy.  

Cathedral of San Jose, Antigua, Guatemala, Jesus Jailed

The Cathedral of San Jose has more than one statue of Jesus and the one that you see in the jail is the figure in the photo below.  Members of one of the Cathedral's hermandades, the specific brotherhood designated to care for this statue, take the statue down from the Cathedral interior, change the clothing, bring him outside and put him in the jail.

Jesus Nazareno, Cathedral of San Jose, Antigua, Guatemala

Cathedral of San Jose, Antigua Guatemala,  Jesus in Jail Cell

Cathedral of San Jose, Antigua Guatemala, Jesus in Jail Cell

You can see the people in the photos reaching through the bars towards Jesus. This image and other religious statues, in the eyes of believers, are more like revered, beloved and spiritually powerful people than statues. The relationships they have with these images are very important and very real and they dedicate much time, energy and money to their upkeep and celebrations that involve them.