Here I am in glorious Antigua, Guatemala. I have come to Central America to learn Spanish and experience Semana Santa, Easter in this Technicolor land. It is the biggest Easter celebration in the world, begun after the Spanish overtook these lands. The procesiones (processions) and valaciones (holy vigils) have been occurring since the mid-1500s. The procesiones have 7000-pound floats that shudder and lurch through the streets with 60 men, women, or children carrying them on their shoulders for 10 to 12 hours. These devotees all wear purple robes until good Friday when they change to black. A corporeal representation of the weight of responsibility and honor necessary to properly eulogize Senor Sepultado, the crucified Christ.
These behemoth barges are glittering apparitions, surging and swaying over the cobblestone streets. They are made even more magical and elusive by the thick cloud of frankincense dutifully swung ahead of the approaching float. With its jerking movements, it seems like a drunken centipede, with the altar of the gods above attempting to win the beauty pageant for devotional glory. There are a series of Jesus and Mother Marys that leave the different churches daily throughout the holy week. Some of them are very, very graphic, with all of the blood and glory of the crucifixion horror portrayed.
The entire event is awe-inspiring, crowds of believers filling the streets lined with food and souvenir vendors adding a circus atmosphere to everything. A band follows the float, with the loud exhaust spewing from the little generators responsible for illuminating Mary or Jesus as they lunge through the streets. The droning funeral march can be heard throughout the town from morning into the night. They even blast it on televisions when the procession is not near. I have been taking both film and digital pictures, and will not see the fruits of my labor with the analog images until I return.
As I write this they are broadcasting Christ in his coffin being paraded through a church. This is a big deal here. I do not in any way mean to minimize colonialism, destruction of indigenous culture, or the violations done by organized religion, but I also wonder where true devotion and love for Jesus and Mary fit into all of the injustices. Beatrix Quntanna spoke of an astrological event over the next 8 years where we are to heal the heart of the world religions. I am holding onto that, the beauty, the sincerity, the humility of honoring something beyond ourselves, the greater grace within the Mystery.
How do we get any better than all of that? Well, there are the alfombras, the mandala-like carpets that are spread over the nubby cobblestone streets for the processions to stagger over. These rainbow carpets are made of colored sawdust, flowers, plants, candles, food, bottle caps…anything that may make a powerful statement to the beauty of Christ´s sacrifice. And they change them out every day!
I wish I could share some of my images, but I have freed myself from my laptop and do not have a secure place to load them. It will have to wait. If you search google images for ¨Easter + Antigual Guatemala or Semana Santa + Antigua¨ you can see some of the barges and carpets. I added a couple of videos so you can get the idea.