Holy Week in Antigua Guatemala

Published: February 14th 2009
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These are hand made with different materials
Holy Week in Antigua
The observance of Semana Santa and Lent adds to the importance of Antigua (La Antigua) Guatemala. The city was declared a National Monument by the Guatemalan government in 1944, a Monument of the Americas by the General Assembly of the Pan American Institute of Geography and History in 1965 and named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979 (site number 65).

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. Taking place sometime between March 22 and April 23, 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 (Quintanilla Mesa, 1989).

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.


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