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. 

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