Boom, Boom, Boom Boom, Boom, BoomBoomBoom
That is the sound of Semana Santa, “holy week,” in Taxco de Alarcon, Guerrero, Mexico — a spectacle like no other. Probably one of the most revered of all celebrations in Mexico, Semana Santa, like many Mexican celebrations incorporates elements of pre-Hispanic cultures with Catholic traditions.
Starting on Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter, with the traditional blessing of the palms, most houses, shops, taxis, and combis are adorned with woven palm frond crosses and other designs. For days ahead of time, indigenous people sit in the shade of church domes and on the side of the calles, weaving simple and intricate patterns in the stiff grass.
The streets, especially the main cobblestone calle that winds through town and past my house, are filled with the devout, proudly parading their church icons to the zocolo downtown. With its 1500s colonial period whitewashed walls, red tile roofs, and cobblestone streets, Taxco has the atmosphere of a medieval fair, minus the castle walls, with makeshift silver shops, souvenir and food stands popping up everywhere there is an empty room or a few feet of space.
Every night there is a procession or more than one. Don’t even think of heading downtown unless you are willing to walk the miles jostled by the crowd — no vehicles of any kind are allowed, not even taxis or combis.
On Monday, it is the procession of the virgins. Every church for miles, and there are a lot of them, bring their statutes to town and hand carry them on a bier, the mile or so from the edge of town to the center. The icon bearers are surrounded by candle holders, incense bearers, little children dressed as angels, girls dressed in white (think communion outfits), and a host of other helpers. And let’s not forget those drummers and the occasional fiddler playing a tune that sounds oddly Celtic. The groups seem to be spaced out about every 30-40 minutes, so with my bedroom facing the action, just about the time I think it is safe to go to sleep, down the street another group comes with its boom, boom, boom cadence.
Tuesday, the observances that have been happening throughout the Lenten period, take on special significance. The street is quiet, but the churches are alive with people and their traditions of the season.
Wednesday, there is a special mass representing the disciples abandonment of Jesus and a procession of “lesser saints” — Cecelia, Joseph, and others are paraded through town.
Then, Maunday Thursday arrives and it is chaos everywhere, in preparation for the biggest procession of all. Starting about 1 pm the contingents from out of town arrive. Cars, open pickup trucks, and huge dump trucks, filled with parishioners hooting and hollering, roll into town honking that same solemn cadence. There was even a group on motorcycles and sometimes groups come on horseback or bicycle.
People line the streets and throw buckets of water on the people in the trucks. The opposite of an American parade where the people in the vehicles throw candy to the spectators.
The night culminates with the most solemn procession of all — that of the penitents. Dressed in black robes, a horse hair belt, and their faces covered by a hood to conceal their identity, they gather along with their own entourage of young children dressed as angels, older girls barefoot and dressed in white dresses and veils, and an assortment of assistants. Of course, their patron saint is carried along for blessing.
Taxco appears to be one of the last remaining places where the three brotherhoods, the Animas (or Bent Ones), the Encruzados (the crossed), and the Flagelantes (Flagellants) reenact events from Jesus’ last day on earth in such a strict fashion.
The Bent Ones, walk bent over with chains around their ankles and candles or small crosses in their hands. This being the only group that accepts women, you will often see a nunnery of penitents walking as a group.
The Flagelantes carry a rosary and a 6-7 foot wooden cross, representative of Jesus’ final walk to Gogotha. When the procession stops, they hand off their cross, kneel, and whip their bare backs causing blood to flow. Most gruesome.
Then, there are the Encruzados who carry rolls of blackberry thorns, weighing up to 100 pounds, across their back and shoulders on outstretched arms (some sort of variation of the crown of thorns?) they might also carry a cross, rosary or candles in their hands.
On Good Friday,in the gold adorned Santa Prisca church, the praying statue of Jesus is mock captured, jailed, and crucified before the penitents. This is followed by another procession.
Saturday night they hold a candlelight vigil until midnight when it is announced that Christ has risen and then all is quiet.
A native told me, the first year I was here, that I had to “see the show” at least once. I have to say this much, it is an interesting show even if it keeps me awake all night most of the week.
Since I have a little computer issue I am going to link you to slide show from last year.
Thank you for sharing your insights of the Mexican holidays and culture! It is like PBS Rick Steves in Europe only it’s Deborah in Mexico! Your blogs have been most beneficial in helping me understand my neighbors! I live in Texas and as in Ca, Az, NM, Fl and Nv the population of these states are becoming predominately Hispanic. Your blogs have really helped me understand what I am seeing in my own neighborhood and State. Understanding breaks down prejudices and barriers!
Thank you for that comparison. Glad to hear.