Palm Sunday is past and Easter is coming up, that means bunnies and egg hunts here in the US but in Taxco it is Holy Week, something that a young man who lives there calls “a show you just have to see — at least once.” This one week of the year, people descend upon Taxco who take their Lenten penitence very seriously.
Hundreds of penitents come to town bearing the virgin statue from their parish, accompanied by an entourage of family, friends, townspeople, and all the confirmation girls of the village in their white dresses. The penitent’s intent is to show their devotion by “walking in the footsteps” of Christ (never mind that he never set foot in Mexico.)
With masks over their faces (to disguise their identity) and what I can only describe as a black sarong (I am sure they have a different name for it) tied around their waists, each chooses one of three ways to show their devotion — walk bent over with chains around their ankles holding candles or a small cross in their hands (usually women), carry a giant cross (usually adolescent boys), or carry a tree trunk sized roll of thorn stems over their shoulders forming a sort of human cross.
On the evening of Maunday (or Holy)Thursday, there is a procession of the shrines, when the main street winding through town is filled with these masked guys in black,bowing to their particular virgin, and self flagellating themselves with a fabric whip. Each penitent along with their entourages wind all the way through the main street of town from the la Garita statue to the church at the Zocolo (the park square in the center of town.) Don’t even think of trying to get anywhere downtown on that night, or the rest of the weekend for that matter, as thousands upon thousands fill the streets (the hotels, and restaurants – some of which rent and open a second seating area just for this week) to gawk and “see the show.”
Saturday morning is the solemn procession. I am not sure how far these people walk (a mile or 2) all bent over or carrying their burden, but they do it barefoot on hot cobblestones, and if you are carrying the thorns bleeding. Each penitent is watched to be sure they carry their own burden, though they have assistants to guide them along (since those with the thorns cannot see where they are going, and, if the procession stops to lift the thorn rolls off the guys shoulders, while the bent can straighten up.
Around the Zocolo people throng to watch the procession, creating an avenue between rows of live bodies snapping photos, making videos, and cheering as each penitent reaches the church and receives communion. It is pure chaos but fascinating.
As my friend, said, if you are in Taxco during Holy Week, you must “see the show.”