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.

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