The air, filled with the musky mix of flower petals and incense, carries the heaviness of sorrow. Men dressed in purple robes and hoods, carrying floats (andas) with large sculptures of Jesus on their shoulders, step in tune with the somber beat of the marching band.
Antigua, Guatemala is home to the largest Easter celebration in the world in which the Passion, the Crucifix and the Resurrection of Jesus are commemorated. The procession is rooted in Andalusian tradition and was brought over by Spanish missionaries in the 16th Century. The entire city takes part in the event, accompanied by thousands of travelers coming to experience the energy of Holy Week.
The processions begin on Palm Sunday, with images of Jesus of Nazareth and the Holy Virgin of Sorrows being carried on floats from the churches on the shoulders of devotees. These floats can weigh up to several tons and require 50-100 people to bear the weight. The carriers, or cucuruchas dress in traditional Maya costume on this day and recreate Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem. Although there is a definite level of social status involved in being a cucurucha, penance is the primary inspiration. Monday through Thursday, the streets are filled with similar events, in memory of his final days on Earth. Each evening, a funeral band plays outside of the church, and the people gather around for food, drink, and games.
On the afternoon of Good Friday, the city is dressed in black, along with its devotees. Black crepe paper is strung throughout town on the buildings and trees, and thousands of mourners clothed in black burn incense and carry lanterns. A man bearing the crucifix, followed by supporters carrying banners engraved with Jesus’ last words, leads the procession. The masses pray quietly, while some more emotional followers weep and perform penitence. The thickness of incense in the air, along with statues of a crucified Jesus creates a haunting atmosphere. The image of Christ is laid to rest in the church at 11 pm.
Holy Saturday’s funeral processions are dedicated to images of the Virgin Mary. These floats are relatively smaller and carried by women dressed in their best outfits and often in high heeled-shoes! Easter Sunday is a jubilant festival celebrating the Resurrection of Christ, and fireworks can be seen and heard throughout the city. The mood is casual and joyful on this day.
One of the most impressive aspects of the Easter Festival (Semana Santa) in Antigua are the alfombras (Arabic word for carpet) that adorn the processional route. Residents along the streets begin preparations weeks and even months in advance creating these beautifully intricate offerings. Sand is first laid to level the cobblestone, followed by sawdust that has been collected and dyed to bright shades of yellow, red, blue, green, purple and black. Pine needles, flowers and native plants are also used for decoration and fragrance.
The carpet designs reflect Maya tradition, biblical symbolism and scenes from nature. The art of carpet-making is thought of as sacrificial because of the intense detail and amount of time dedicated to their creation, only to be destroyed once the processions pass. This is a way for the people to give something of themselves in memory of Christ’s death. If there is more than one procession on a particular route, residents will make a new carpet for each following procession.
Not only are the people busy making carpets in the weeks before the Easter Festival, but also vendors are getting ready for market by preparing local products in anticipation of the large crowds. The impressive flower markets and produce markets are enticingly colorful and fragrant.
The Easter Festival is a wonderful time to travel to Guatemala to experience the fusion of Spanish and Indian culture and religion. Experience the festival yourself with our Guatemala Easter Festival tours