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)


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