Suitcase and World: Semana Santa.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Semana Santa.

Holy Week is the last week of Lent and the week before Easter. It starts on Palm Sunday and includes the religious holidays of Maundy Thursday (Holy Thursday) and Good Friday.  Holy Week commemorates the last week of the earthly life of Jesus Christ and culminates in his crucifixion on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter Sunday.  When I think of where to go to celebrate Holy Week, the last place that woud come to mind is Guatemala.

Who knew that people would flock from around the world to Guatemala to spend Holy Week here but apparently, the town of Antigua hosts one of the largest and most elaborate of Semana Santa, (Holy Week in Spanish), celebrations in all of Latin America. 

Semana Santa in Antigua begins on Palm Sunday, with  floats ("andas") bearing images of the Holy Virgin of Sorrow and Jesus of Nazareth, being carried through the streets on the shoulders of purple-robed devotees. The floats weigh up to 7,000 pounds with 50-100 carriers ("curuchas") bearing the weight.

The following Monday through Thursday, similar processions parade through the streets in memory of Jesus’ final days. Devoted curcuruchas carry floats for a block, and then new carriers step in to carry them on to the next block. The ritual of carrying and transferring floats continues throughout the procession route, often lasting up to 12 hours. Standing room only crowds await each float’s church arrival at night.

On Good Friday, the participants dress in black. A float with a sculpture of Jesus carrying the crucifix leads crowds of mourners who pray silently and offer penance. In the afternoon, preparations are made for a mock trial and sentencing of Jesus Christ. Participants are dressed as Roman soldiers and even Pontius Pilate is represented. Eventually, floats covered with statues of the crucified Jesus come to rest at the church late in the night.

Holy Saturday’s processions are dedicated to images of the Virgin Mary of Sorrow.
Aside from the religious events, what makes the Holy Week celebration in Antigua so unique is that throughout the week local artists create carpets ("alfombras")" on the streets made from flowers and colored sawdust. These huge works of art are left out for the entire week for visitors to enjoy until Easter Sunday when processional floats parade over them and destroy them. The floral carpets are the devotees' way to honor Christ’s death and pay penance. 
The making of the carpets starts with sand being spread over the cobblestone streets to level the ground. Next, dyed sawdust in hues of black, red, yellow, purple, blue, and green are pressed through intricately designed cardboard stencils. Flowers, seeds, plants, vegetables, and pine needles add the final touches. The carpets’ designs reflect biblical symbols, Mayan traditions, and scenes from nature.

Like the famous Rose Bowl parade floats, preparation and work on the alfombras begin weeks and months ahead of  Holy Week.  Seeing images of these carpets makes me want to get to Antigua a few days earlier and see if  I can twist someone's arm into letting me help out.  Participating in creating an alfombra would truly memorable!

The more I read about Semana Santa, the more excited I am about being able to experience this unique event!  Can't wait!