Chichicastenango and Semana Santa

Published: March 6th 2012
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Last Sunday we drove two hours to Chichicastenango. The road to Chichi, while good, is through mountains and quite windy. Thursdays and Sundays Chichi comes alive with markets in the street.

We drove almost right into the market, literally, and found a place to park. We walked down a steep hill that had several tents selling hardware, pots and pans, even soles of shoes. We weren’t sure if we were even going the right way to the church, when we were assaulted by the strong smell of incense. We turned the corner and followed the sounds to the church on the hill. On the steps of the church were several locals selling flowers and burning pine needles. There was also a stereo speaker playing religious music, quite loudly.

We had read that going up the front stairs was reserved only for church elders, so we went in the side entrance. Upon entering the church, it took a moment for our eyes to adjust to the dark. The floor was covered in pine needles; the church was lit by candles. It was quite smoky, dark, and yet ethereal. A local couple was praying on their knees in the middle of the church while a tour guide was explaining to his group what was going on, in German. Quite the juxtaposition.

We left the dimly lit church and sat for a moment outside to not only reflect what we just saw, but to figure out what to do next. The outer circles of the market sold handicrafts – masks, embroidered shirts, and purses, while the inner circles were food stalls and restaurants. The quality of the handicrafts was quite good; I almost bought a carry-on bag made of burlap and leather for $25.We walked through the market, taking in the sights, the sounds, the smells, and had a seat on the steps of a smaller church. Within minutes we were accosted by two little girls, seven and five, trying to sell us embroidered placemats. We had fun with them for quite some time before moving to another spot. We found a quiet, little restaurant to have a drink before driving the two hours home.

Because we were starving from both shopping and the long car ride, we decided to eat dinner at one of our favorite restaurants in Antigua. We noticed the roads were blocked and tons of people walking to the square. We finally got our car parked and I asked a lady where everybody was going to, to which she replied, “The Procession”. We grabbed the camera and followed the masses.

Following the crowd, we arrived at the square. There must have been about 5,000 people there! It was almost a carnival atmosphere, with people selling cotton candy, puppets, pony rides, etc. We still didn’t exactly know what “The Procession” was, so we went to one of the booths and got a pamphlet. Every Sunday during Lent, a different church group put on a procession, or a parade, through the streets of Antigua. These processions usually last about 12 hours and they stop at every Catholic Church. This procession was going to pass under the arch, go to the Catedral next to Central Park, and finish the route at Santa Ines at 11 pm.

We noticed that several men were dressed in purple robes, complete with purple hats and white gloves, started to line each side of the street. We could hear the big bass drums and a band playing what almost sounded like a funeral dirge. Within five minutes about 50 men, again dressed in purple robes, hats, and white gloves, struggling and straining to carry an immense float. On the float was a scene of Jesus carrying a cross with angels leading the way. The float carriers were swaying under the immense weight of the float. I understood now what the purpose of the men lining the street was; first - for crowd control; and second - they would switch off with the float carriers once they get to a church. It would make for a long day if you had to carry the float for 12 hours!

Next several women dressed in black, complete with black veils, lined the street. Women carried a smaller float that had a statue of Mary and three angels. Again, the stress and strain were evident on the women’s faces carrying the float.

The procession was both solemn and celebratory. Every Sunday before Lent a different church group has a procession that lasts for 12 hours. Sometimes they lay pine needles and flowers in a beautiful design on the cobblestone street, only to have the float carriers trample the design. I’m not sure what the relevance is; I do know that the procession is something not to be missed when you’re in Antigua!

I could only put a few pictures in this blog; to see more, please go to:

Additional photos below
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15th June 2015
Chichicastenango Cemetery

permission to use photo
Hi,I just got back from a mission trip in Quatemala. I could only see the cemeteries from a distance and didn't get a good picture. I will be presenting mission programs to various groups in the town I live in and would love to include your picture of the cemetery at Chichicastenango. I would not be using it for any other purpose. Thanks, Susan

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