Published: April 18th 2012April 18th 2012
A Procession: Jesus carrying the cross.
The men carrying the float are dressed in purple robes.
I arrived at my home stay in Antigua, Gautemala late on Saturday evening after 30 + hours of travel time and reliving a total of 12 hours on March 31/12 so that I could return to the same time zone as my family/friends back in Canada. Needless to say, I was exhausted and went straight to bed. I arranged to come to Antigua to take Spanish classes and to live with a host family but I never paid particular attention to what time of year I would be in Antigua and could never have imagined how perfect my timing would be. I had booked my trip to Guatemala on the most popular and celebrated week of the year, arriving just on time for what is called Semana Santa (Holy week). The city was overflowing with thousands of national and international visitors and if I had arrived with no plan in place it would have been impossible to find accommodation on such short notice (thank goodness the school had prearranged a family for me to live with).
My house brother, Alex, invited me to attend church with him early on Sunday morning (5:30 a.m). I could not understand why church was
so early but appreciated the invite and couldn’t sleep any longer (since it would be late afternoon if I was still in India), so I agreed to go along. We walked for a few blocks before joining a growing crowd of people in the street waving flowers and palm leaves and shouting Hosanna! Oh! It took a moment to set in…. it must be Palm Sunday! Is it almost Easter already? I had totally lost track of time. I suddenly became sad and missed home as I realized that I would not get to spend the Easter holiday with my family this year. However, I had no idea what I would have the privilege of witnessing over the course of the next few days and could only appreciate the magnitude of this event as the week progressed. If I could not be with my family on Easter, then there is not likely a better place to be besides Antigua, Guatemala. The entire week of Semana Santa is dedicated to commemorating Jesus’ life, crucifixion, and resurrection.
Following the church service (obviously spoken in Spanish), I wandered the streets of Antigua with another student named Mimi. We saw a crowd forming
around some actors that were portraying “Jesus” and his followers. The crowd followed Jesus as he walked from one location to another, stopping long enough to act out stories from the bible. We followed for nearly an hour and then decided to return to the main square to see what else was happening. Approximately five hours later, we passed the same group of actors still reenacting scenes from the bible. "What a long day for these actors! How were they able to memorize all their lines? It's so hot out! They must be exhausted!"
The events of Semana Santa are surrounding the many processions occurring throughout the day and into the late hours of the night over the course of the entire week. These processions consist of hundreds of men dressed in purple robes (on Good Friday the men wear black robes) carrying, on their shoulders, elaborately decorated floats (andas) that weigh up to 7000 lbs. These floats bear revered statues of Christ carrying the cross. Each float has a different sculpture of Christ from different churches all over the country, some of which are hundreds of years old. Each group of men (approximately 80) carry the float for
the length of one block before switching with the next group. The groups are categorized according to shoulder height to ensure that the weight of the float is distributed evenly. Women dressed in black carry smaller floats with statues of the Virgin Mary. Following each of the floats there is a band that plays sombre funeral marches. It is a great honor for the men and women that participate in the processions.
Those in the community that are not participating in the processions are busy showing their support by preparing elaborate Alfombras (carpets) on the cobblestone streets. These Alfombras are made of colored saw dust, sand, flowers, fruit, and vegetables laid out in intricate designs. I had the opportunity to participate in the making of four Alfombras over the course of the week. The Alfombras can take anywhere from 2-6 hours depending on the materials being used and the design on the carpet. The Alfombras are completed just in time for (care to take a guess?) the procession passing by to walk over it.Crazy! What a lot of work! What a huge commitment by the entire community to show their faith to God. Once destroyed, the families and friends start planning the next Alfombra to be made. Processions occur every Sunday of Lent and everyday during Semana Santa. It was a privilege to see the faith in this city and the communities strong sense of committment to God.
****FYI I have added photos to previous entries so feel free to take a peek!