I experienced it. Purple hoods, sawdust soldiers, roman carpets and all. Initially it did not make sense to me, but no matter, Semana Santa provided an immensely rich visual feast for my eyes and an opportunity to open my mind.
Living in Antigua for several months leading up to the Holy Week, provided much insight to the deep connection the people of Antigua have with this tradition. I witnessed first-hand, anticipation build as the city’s residents began to transform every corner of Antigua for this special event. Symbolic purple banners popped up on every store front and strange purple robes with hoods became available in many shops throughout the city. I couldn’t help thinking of how much they resembled a purple version of KKK robes but alas, I committed to maintain an open mind.
The weekends of March attracted many visitors, each week, more and more seemed to flock to the quaint city of Antigua. We witnessed this city transform from a cozy Colonial town of cobblestone streets lined with pastel painted homes and bougainvillea-covered walls into a surreal atmosphere blending a festive circus quality with a somber funeral march, sights and sounds worthy of a Fellini film.
The last week leading into Easter was was the most festive, each day having it’s own theme, filled with symbolic processions symbolizing Jesus’ final days on earth. Celebrations surrounding Easter were new to me, as I have no formal introduction to the traditions, being raised in a Jewish family. As I learned, Semana Santa starts on Palm Sunday and runs through Easter Sunday. The largest of the city’s celebrations occur on Good Friday, two days before Easter. I approached the experience with eyes wide open, as an observer of culture, and newbie to everything Semana Santa.
The city’s most crowded procession (and presumable important) leading up to Easter, was the Friday before a day called “Good Friday”. On this day, the streets seemed to fill up with thousands of people dressed in their finest black garments. Groups alternated between women shrouded in black lace, and men in black suits at they bore the weight of the giant floats upon their shoulders. These floats were serious effigies of Jesus dragging his cross in which he was to be crucified. The mourners marched up and down the streets of Antigua as if they were mourning at funeral, many on the verge of tears. Penance felt heavy in the air and those lining the streets to witness the funeral procession were often misty eyed as well. There was no lack of full commitment the events this day.
We were told of another event that took place on this special day, although we did not witness it. The mock trial of Jesus took place in the standing room only Cathedral off the main square, many witnessing the reenactment of Jesus’ sentence to be crucified. Immediately after, costumed Roman soldiers descended upon the streets and the townspeople symbolized the witnesses of that time. The group toured the cobblestone streets once more, tramping over the freshly made floral and sawdust carpets with horses and soldiers lead by Gladiator-clad Pontius Pilate. Might I say, “Quite a surreal sight, indeed”.
The next day, the Holy processions were dedicated to images of the Virgin Mary of Sorrow. (What mother wouldn’t be upset her son was just sentenced to die?) A combination of women dressed in dark dresses and heels with white lace handkerchiefs adorning their heads and devout women wearing indigenous costumes took shifts carrying the floats of a sculpture of Mary. To make the scene yet a bit more surreal, young children walked under the heavy floats while their mothers bore the weight of the floats upon their shoulders.
Antigua Guatemala is famous for its vibrant, elaborate religious festivities during the Antigua Semana Santa, or Holy Week, leading up to Easter. Thousands of national and international visitors crowd the cobblestoned streets to watch the costumed processions, reenactments of the crucifixion, and other ceremonies.
The most awe-inspiring part of Antigua’s Semana Santa, however, are the brilliant carpets, or “alfombras”. Sand or sawdust is used to level the cobblestones, and is dyed different colors and interwoven with bright flowers, other plants, and pine needles. The result is designs so intricate, it seems tragic when the processions pass over and trample them!
Excerpted from here.
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