Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Semana Santa Pt4 - The Reality...

All in all I will say that the Week of Semana Santa and the weeks before were very interesting. During the procession themselves I was most intrigued with the diversity of the participants involved with the various events. No matter what your place in life you can find what you are looking for in these processions.

You had your folks carrying the andes (floats), they were very committed at least when they weren't talking on their cellphones. You then have the periphial folks. These are the musicians, the people picking up the flowers that weren't destroyed when the andes traveled over them, the clean up crews and vehicles immediately behind the given procession. You have the touristy bystanders watching and waiting to see if the 7,000 lbs wooden platform is going to crush the people carrying it. And just when you are in the peak of the religous experience you can satisfy your yearning for cotton candy or a balloon to have as a keep sake of this holy personal experience.

But by far the most disturbing element of these events is the fact that the Sculptures - Imágenes have become more than a tool to tell the story of Christ. These are the religious sculptures that were made during the Spanish rule and can date back to the 17th century. The faithful believe that the sculptures, or the figure, will grant the believer their request. In some places in Guatemala, the sculptures are considered to be divine religious figures. The sculptures are referred to as the religious figure not as a just a sculpture. The sculptures also played a principal role in the conversion of the Maya to Catholicism as the Maya personified the sculptures with the stories of their own deities.


This enormous religous gathering that draws as many as 500,000 people to the streets of Antigua alone is an idols on parade event. The stronghold that Satan has for this city and country is perpetuated in this event. Underneath the goodness of community involvement, benefit of economic support to the community, and the publicity this event brings to this part of the world, is a darkness that has been brewing for the better part of 400 years. A bond that only the strength of God and his forces will ever be able to break.

There is a beacon of hope that I saw this year. It is my understanding that the method of the Sunday procession was unique and had never been done in previous years. Whether that is true or not I do not know. But this year I witnessed one of the most uplifting processions that I had ever seen.

The andes with a risen Christ was being carried through a small section of Antigua. But the more significant element was that it was surrounded by a crowd of people singing and dancing and praising God that he was alive. He had Risen! The worship team with guitars and drums was playing through a sound sytem on a truck using a generator. It was refreshing to see Christ shine through the darkness.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Semana Santa Pt 3 - An Outreach Event

On Saturday Night of Semana Santa (Holy Week), the YWAM (Youth with a Mission) got busy with another outreach for the week. They had two teams in operation during the week. Each doing Street Dramas and other ministry related events.

This particular outreach was a street concert with a local Christian band out of San Lucas, dramas, testimonies, and and invitation. One of the testimonies was a friend to IDC and our home church PCC, her name is Nora Greenwald. Her professional performance name is "Molly Holly" from the WWF - Women's Wresting Federation. Her testimony was incredible. 4 people made professions of faith that evening.

At least in one part of Antigua the gospel was heard during Semana Santa. The spiritual warfare ran high.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Semana Santa Pt 2 - The Carpets - Alfombras

In addition to the artistry of the floats (andas) is the incredible Carpets or Alfombras. Aside from any of our personal thoughts on other details of this event, Nancy and I both were taken back at the community of preparing the alfombras. As we had stated earlier we did the 3am morning experience. While I am not sure, I think we were the only ones that had gone to sleep.

This photograph is one of the many streets (calles) that were full with the bustle of the activities of Semanta Santa. There is a strong sense of community in the festivity of life together. Much more so than even the purpose for which these carpets were being prepared.


There are two type of carpets (alfombras) made during Semana Santa. The carpets along the processional route are made by residents along the route who invite friends and family to assist them. The carpets in the churches are made for the holy vigils (velaciones) and are made by the brotherhoods (hermandades).

Velaciones are held in the churches that have religious activities during the holiday. These carpets are made by members of the brotherhood responsible for the sculpture. The carpets are made in front of the religious figure on display and are surrounded by fruits, vegetables and candles brought as offerings to the church the day before.
The carpets along the processional route are made during the 24 hours prior to the procession. If more than one procession goes down a street a new carpet is made for each procession. Carpets express both religious as well as contemporary messages in the designs. Preparations for the carpets begin weeks, sometimes months, ahead. Sand or sawdust is generally used to level the cobblestone roadway. Sawdust is then collected and dyed in different colors. Favorite colors are purple, green, blue, red, yellow and black. Flowers such as bougainvillea, chrysanthemums, carnations, roses and other native plants and pine needles are also used.
Carpets are started the day before the procession and the construction is timed so that the carpets are finished just before the carriers of the float arrive so that carpet looks its best. The carriers of the main float are the first ones allowed to walk over the carpet. They are followed the rest of the procession.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Semana Santa Pt 1 - The Event

Earlier this month, during the week of Easter, it is quite the celebration here. Actually there is a lot of activity and focus on the "Passion of Christ". One blog just didn't seem sufficient to properly explain this event. So we have seperated the blog into four sections. The event, and outreach, the carpets and the rest of the story.

Much of the content that you will be reading in the Event and Carpet sections I nabbed from a tourist site. It does a pretty good job in the telling the story from a factual perspective. The photos while they don't line up exactly with the events described, they are mine as I did the deed of attending a few of the events.

Holy Week in Antigua The observance of Semana Santa and Lent adds to the importance of Antigua (La Antigua) Guatemala. Antigua is famous for its Catholic celebration of Holy Week, which commemorates the Passion, Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The entire city participates in the event, and thousands of national and international visitors flock to Antigua to witness the dramatic happenings. The entire week is full of solemn activities that replicate the Passion and Crucifixion of Christ, culminating in jubilation on Easter. The special flavor of this event arrived with Spanish missionaries from Seville, who brought Andalusian flavor to the religious phenomenon during colonial times.

The event begins on Palm Sunday, during which the venerated images of Jesus of Nazareth (Jesus Nazareno) and the Holy Virgin of Sorrow (Santisima Virgen de Dolores) are carried from their churches through the city on the shoulders of devoted followers who carry lanterns while dressed in purple robes with white waistbands. Similar processions that venerate images from various churches also occur on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, replicating the final days of Christ on the earth.

On Good Friday the streets of Antigua are covered with natural, aromatic carpets (alfombras) of flowers, pines, clover and fruits, which the residents put together and place in front of their homes. There are all kinds and shapes. Some are very long, even up to a kilometer, with colonial, Mayan, Roman or other original designs. At 3:00 A.M., preparations begin for the mock trial and sentencing of Christ. Participants dress as Roman soldiers, Pontius Pilate and other participants in the drama.

At 7:00 A.M., the sculpture of Christ carrying his crucifix is moved through the carpeted main streets of Antigua on the shoulders of his worshipers until early afternoon, when the image is replaced by another of Christ being laid to rest.

At 4:30 P.M., Antigua becomes adorned with black crepe paper as thousands of people, burning incense and dressed in black, crowd the plazas and streets. A spectacular procession (procesione) is led by the man bearing the crucifix, with hundreds of followers (cucuruchos) carrying black banners and standards engraved with the final words of Christ and the pronouncements of God. Life-like images representing the archangels, the Stations of the Cross, the Cavalry, the apostles and many others are part of the silent procession through the streets, where multitudes pray quietly. The image of Christ is laid to rest in a church at 11:00 P.M.

Holy Saturday continues with other funeral processions led by the Image of a sorrowful Virgin Mary (virgen dolorosa), followed by numerous women dressed in black who commemorate her moments of sorrow at the side of Christ. Easter Sunday is a time of rejoicing, with early processions through the streets of a festive Antigua celebrating the Resurrection of Christ. Firecrackers are heard throughout the city, and masses are held in all the churches. The week-long ceremonies end that day, and residents return to their daily lives.

Holy Vigils - Velaciónes
There is a velacióne before each procession. The Holy Vigils generally take place at the church the day before that Church's procession. The vigils are organized by a brotherhood, and there are different brotherhoods for each sculpture that will appear in the processions.


The sculpture is moved near the church altar in front of a huge decorative paper backdrop. A carpet is constructed in front of the sculpture. Around the carpet is a garden scene or huerto that includes fruit and vegetables, bread, candles, flowers and the native seed pod - the corozo.

In the evening a funeral march band plays and outside the church a carnival atmosphere develops. Traditional foods and drinks and even games are available.
Processions - Procesiones
The religious processions are organized and carried out by the brotherhoods. The brotherhoods (los hermandades) were originally called cofradías and are religious organizations. The brotherhoods are either men or women, not both. It is thought that the carriers (cucuruchos) participated solely as a form of penance. Today there is some degree of social status involved but the principal motivation is still a show of devotion by the carriers.
Each procession leaves from its church and follows a route through the streets of Antigua before returning to the church several hours later. Purple is the color of the robes worn by the carriers up to Good Friday, then the robes are black to signify mourning.

Thousands of processional carriers participate in the processions. They are all members of the brotherhood that cares for the particular sculpture. Some have participated in processions all their lives.

Processions generally begin with incense carriers and the brotherhood's banner, followed by the carriers and the float (anda). Carriers will carry the float for a block and then a new group will take their turn. Each turn is determined by the carriers' shoulder height to ensure that the float is balanced. This is very important as the floats can weigh as much as 7,000 pounds (3,150 kilograms.)
A block behind the main float, the women carry a smaller float (size is relative here) with the figure of the Virgin Mary. The women wear white in their procession before Good Friday. Following behind is a funeral march band and two additional floats carrying the sculptures of San Juan and Maria Magdelena.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

It seemed like a good idea...


So this past week Nancy & I were in Guatemala City. We had to get our passports stamped for reasons of immigration. The good news is that we will be here for at least another 90 days or so. :) We hadn't plan to stay all day but we were given the option to return late in the day and pick up our passports. A single day would be spent getting "stamped". It seemed like a good idea at the time.

We were feeling encouraged that the day didn't take as long as it could have. It was about 3:30 - 4:00pm and we were headed back to Antigua. The traffic was thick so we looked for alternate methods to get through the city. We found ourselves on San Juan. The road that runs sort of parallel with Roosevelt, which is the main road returning to Antigua. I kept looking for the turn that would take us over to Roosevelt but, with the traffic, the turn became elusive. I saw this one turn that looked like it might be the one, but I wasn't sure until we had passed it. Oops. The return traffic to that street was beyond reasonable so in my wisdom it made sense that we would find yet another turn just up a little farther. This was the critical error in my thinking.

The road we were on took us into familiar surroundings. In that it looked like Guatemala. I thought this is great we should come into the North side of San Lucas, slightly out of the way but still in the general direction of Antigua. In about 60 minutes we find ourselves in the community of San Juan. I was telling Nancy that I thought this was just north of where we wanted to be. The turn we were looking for was probably just ahead. We "knew" the traffic returning the other way was still very difficult. We only needed to continue a little farther to get to where we needed to be.

The view was amazing. These roads winding through these little communities were faintly familiar. But everything we saw was new and different; still having fun we pressed on to explore the new way home. I remember thinking to myself that this just might be the road that will save us hours of travel time in the future. An alternate way to get to the city from Antigua and back again.

We came to a valley with a big river at the bottom. Overwhelmed by the grandeur of the view we pursued our destination of home. At the bottom of the valley we came to a bridge and crossed it. We saw a road sign for the next town. It was here I realized we had missed the intended shortcut and were now way north of Chimaltenango. A community just north of Antigua. Not to be discouraged CA-1, the road back into Chimaltenango, in our wisdom had to just a little farther. I realized that I had made a mistake but figured it would still be best to continue on because "the next road to home was just ahead by a couple of kilometers or so."

Over another ridge and the road was now mountainous ups and downs. The next river had a bridge that defied a certain degree of logic of whether or not we should even drive across. But "Hey the road home to safety is just a little farther ahead". Stay the course, don't turn back, the return trip on the road we have traveled will be very difficult. We are already in the middle of our mistake. We just needed to go a little farther to find the resolve.

Now, the sun is going down. The only evidence that it was still shining was the glimmer of the sunbeam rays we would see as we crested a few more mountain peaks. But in the valleys it was dark, gloomy, and not very inspiring.

For both of us at this point we had lost that adventurous spirit. We were seeing signs to Coban, Quiche, and other cities advertising hotels that didn't exist. We had no map. We had little gas, the cell phone connectivity was intermittent. We were lost. But even in the back of my mind I was thinking, "I know where I am, I am only disoriented of how to get to where I want to be. But I know where I am." My belief system and my reality were clearly out of sync and even that didn't stop us. We continued forward.

We came across a gas station/tienda (The Guatemalan Version of "RaceTrac") in the middle of nowhere. We were fortunate. The attendant spoke something that wasn't Spanish (at least Spanish was not his first language) and English, he spent 5 years in New Jersey. Go figure. But even then his English was in the realm of my Spanish. It was a brief but definitive conversation.

I found out that they only accepted cash for the gas, they had respectable bathrooms, and the road we were on did not go near Antigua. In fact, the road would eventually run out. Any other roads that might connect with another road that might connect to a road to Antigua, were all very bad roads. Had we not stopped the direction we were headed, we would have gone from bad to worse and beyond in a downward spiral direction.

We had been on the road for about 2 hours. Now it was dark. The only way home was the way we had come. We both had the thought well at least it is not raining... God has a great sense of humor. So now we are in the rain along with what seemed to be every other person in the region headed back to the Guatemala City on the same road that we were traveling, moving very slowly. It took us longer to return that it did to get there. Did I mention that fog had moved in.

We eventually arrived safely home 5 hrs from when we first left the city. We had driven an extra 140 kilometers in the wrong direction through the mountains. Both of us were numb after this experience. And I went to bed that night thanking God for saving us from all of the things that could have gone worse in this adventure.

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This was the intro to my sermon this past Easter Sunday. This map displays the intended route in green and the erroneous Route in red. Oops.