Friday, March 2, 2018

Good Friday Procession: An Invisible Participant

Semana Santa, Holy Week, is the final week of the church's observance of Lent, the 
40 day (more or less) penitential period of the church leading up to Easter.  In Mexico and all of Latin America, Semana Santa is a major event, marked by religious processions and ritual.  The Holy Week processions of certain places are famous, particularly the world-famous processions of Antigua, Guatemala.  Please follow the links below to see previous posts and videos of some of these:

As you can see from the videos, processional figures and floats are elaborate and their imagery rich.  The major actors from the biblical accounts of the last week of Jesus' earthly life are represented in beautiful and costly images, as in this float bearing Jesus carrying his cross    

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However there is one curious exception you will see on Holy Friday in Antigua. In the photos below we see a procession forming at the magnificent early 18th century church of San Francisco el Grande.  There are the incense and standard bearers and some of the clergy in front of the church's magnificent baroque fa├žade.

Good Friday procession, San Francisco church, Antigua Guatemala
Good Friday procession, San Francisco church, Antigua Guatemala

A red velvet canopy emerges carried by four men in the traditional hoods that conceal their faces and identities.  There is no image visible under this canopy and it remains empty to our eyes throughout the long procession.  Yet, it leads the procession.

Good Friday procession, San Francisco Church, Antigua Guatemala
The Holy Spirit in procession,  Good Friday procession, Antigua Guatemala

Although the canopy looks empty, to the eyes of faithful believers it is not.
The occupant is the Holy Spirit, the spiritual force that breathed life into being and continues to support creation.  In Christian theology, the Holy Spirit, along with God the Father and Jesus, is one part of the Trinity, a concept that was the end of long theological debate centuries ago. 

In Latin American religious art, the Holy Spirit is typically represented as a bird. This can be seen in both Mexican depictions of the Trinity below.

Holy Trinity, Merida Cathedral, Merida MX
Trinity, Itzimna Church, Merida MX

Another typical Latin American representation of the Trinity is as one of three actual persons, as in this New Mexican santo.

Santo of Holy Trinity by Jose Maria Benavides, New Mexico

Yet, in the Antigua procession, there is no image.  This representation of the Holy Spirit without any image is not seen in many (if any other) Holy Week processions where the focus is on Jesus, Mary, St. John and other central participants in the biblical accounts of the final week of Jesus' earthly life.  It is something unique in the Latin American world, although perhaps there are precedents in Spain where the processions have a longer history, stemming from medieval times.