From alfombra to alfombra ... Antigua in preparation for Semana Santa


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Published: April 3rd 2013
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The whole Catholic world prepares for the biggest event in the Church calendar. In Europe believers are busy with their lenten vows, shopping for the Holy Week celebrations and attending evening mass. In Guatemala people build beautifuly decorated carpets made of saw dust, flowers and fruit and organise whole day long processions every Sunday. We were lucky to be part of one of them.

The abundance of shapes and colors

In the morning inhabitants of the Jocotenango village go out of their houses to begin their preparation. It is Sunday and this week valacion (holy procession) is passing through their streets. Everybody is busy around beautiful alfomras as if they were artists preparing for a gallery. It is going to be a very important day, as people from all over the region will arrive later to take park in the event.

Slowly the crowd gathers around the schetches of beautiful carpets. Every one of them is still in making and you can hardly see any design however our imagination is working hard and we can already spot the most beautiful ones. For them this is not a competition but a sacrifice of time and money. We move slowly alongside the alfombras that line streets of the village for kilometers. The smell mixture of flowers, pine wood and incense surrounds us as well as church music disturbed only by occasional echo of bells and drums. We are already excited and everything is yet ahead of us. It will be quite a show, of that we are certain. TV reporters and photographers take their strategic positions to catch the whole process in the making.

Finally we arrive at the epicentre of the event. Everywhere we look we see boys and men dressed in purple robes. Their heads are covered with hoods reminding those of Kuk Klux Klan. Of course any connection with this racist movement here is non existant. They only carry out a medieval tradition of the Church. Every one of them has a picture of Christs, and number of a group they belong to, attached just above their hearts. In a similar fashion senoras, who cover their heads under black or white lace scarf, wear pictures of Maria. Each of those pilgrims had to pay for this privilege of participating in a procession.

Religion vs Celebration

We are passed by the Stations of the Cross, carried only by hooded men. We can also see 'the Romans' and musicians playing marchas funebras (funeral marches). The only thing missing are real crucifictions but that is probably saved for the Great Friday celebration. Music plays a very important role here, leading all gathered into a sad, funeral like mood. Finally after 2h we can see first of the andas (platform) with Christ and other saints on top. Tired martyrs are stepping ahead ever so slightly, wobbling the platform from one side to another. They move ahead and over the beautiful carpets, destroying them totally. Hours of hard work are gone in a minute or so...such a waste..or is it a blessing?

Everybody taking part in this event has to óffer and/or sacrifice something. It is either time, money, work or sweat and pain when holding the Anda. This thing can be very heavy - some weighing even 8000lb and require 100 men to carry it. Cobbled streets, although old and beautiful, are not the easiest to navigate around when it comes to huge platforms like these. Not to mention all the fruit and veg and figurines contributing to the beauty of alfombras, which make it difficult to walk. We are mesmerised by the beauty in front of our eyes as is the audience gathered around us.

There is something quite not all right in all this and we finally figure out what. Yes, the pilgrims are very focused and you can even see pain in some of their expressions but the rest of the people just have a good time. People talk on the phone, dance and eat when watching the procession. There are food&drink stalls everywhere you look and we even see somebody selling picacolada and sex on the beach. For us it seems shocking, however we come from a place where everything that concerns the church is serious and above all very respectful. That is why we love traveling so much - if all the cultures were the same, what would be point of leaving the country?

The reality of 'after'

We have been following the celebrations for 6h now and the holy procession slowly moves towards Antigua. Chilren are fast asleap in the arms of their fathers-pilgrims and sun starts to set beyond the volcanos surrounding this beautiful place. This is not over though as the procession will carry on till the late nigh hours. The process is very organised as we can see cleaning trucks following the crowds behind, clearing the remains of alfombras and squashed fruit and veg. Some poor, shoeless villagers fight over the 'undestroyed' food gathering as much as they can in their hands. It is a shocking scene considering how cheap are these produce at the local market. Some people though live here beyond powerty so maybe that helps. Or maybe it is also a blessing, we have no idea. Colourful carpets become pile of dust and sawdust but the smell is still mesmerising. Nobody worries as the very next week another village will build more and more of them.

Apparently a visit in Antigua during lent and Semana Santa is an experience on a different level. We always welcome any foreign traditions and celebrations and we love to take part in them. However this procession was very unusual for us, combining both - the known and unknown to us traditions of the Catholic Church. This event will remain in our memory as a fusion of colours, smells, sounds as well as pictures of people who devote themselves to tradition. There is a simple beauty in all that.



PS. this blog is not in a chronological order but we thought that now is perfect timing considering that we just finished Easter period. The rest of blogs from Latin America are still to come:-)





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4th April 2013

Been there and loved reading about it again
I was in Antigua in 2006 for Semana Santa and loved every procession. They start 2 -3 weeks before Easter but really culminate in the Good Friday one that leaves La Merced church (the one with the gladiators who wears brooms on their heads). I loved it all- the smells, the bells, the drum beats, the children sleeping on their dad's shoulders, elaborate alformbras, and simple ones made out of pine needles and cut up chip bags so their shiny insides shone. I, too, marveled at how the women could walk the cobblestones wearing heels and not even looking down at their feet. I hate that everyone associates the KKK with the processional robes. You are right that they go way back to medieval times. Leave it to a hate group to steal something religious and make it their own signature - something Orwellian about that. Carolyn (I write under the name 'gunga' and my Semana Santa blogs are dated March/ April 2006 if you want to read them)
4th April 2013

Been there and loved reading about it again
I was in Antigua in 2006 for Semana Santa and loved every procession. They start 2 -3 weeks before Easter but really culminate in the Good Friday one that leaves La Merced church (the one with the gladiators who wears brooms on their heads). I loved it all- the smells, the bells, the drum beats, the children sleeping on their dad's shoulders, elaborate alformbras, and simple ones made out of pine needles and cut up chip bags so their shiny insides shone. I, too, marveled at how the women could walk the cobblestones wearing heels and not even looking down at their feet. I hate that everyone associates the KKK with the processional robes. You are right that they go way back to medieval times. Leave it to a hate group to steal something religious and make it their own signature - something Orwellian about that. Carolyn (I write under the name 'gunga' and my Semana Santa blogs are dated March/ April 2006 if you want to read them)
6th April 2013

hello
Carolyn, thank you for your comment!!! well, we always say what we thing about places we visit and the KKK came to my mind immediately when I saw the pilgrims....even though I know there is no connection it was the easiest way to describe it:-) will check your blog most definitely. Cheers, B&T
4th April 2013

Fabulous images!
Incredible photos of the colorful alfombras and processions! Reading your descriptions, I could smell the wood, flowers and incense, and I love your comment on appreciating customs so different from your own. Perfect timing in sharing this for Easter. Hope you're adjusting to life temporarily not on the road.
6th April 2013

hi Tara
thank you so much, we are glad you liked it:-) we are in Poland with our families so we have not yet come back to our standard lives....you can say we are on holiday now haha I like that you said 'temporarily not on the road' as we already made a decision to do it again haha maybe in a few years but definitely we will give it another try:-) Where are you now? cheers, B
5th April 2013

Love to see these rituals
Amazingly intricate work and dedication to complete. Artist in the making. Really like this photo [photo=7455795]
6th April 2013

thank you
you are so very kind with your comments about photos - always:-) B&T

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