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Though it threatened to rain on the parade, hours before the Procession of Silence was scheduled to start, crowds began lining the Macedonio Alcalá to watch as procession participants prepared for the sixteen block silent journey through some of Oaxaca’s main streets.

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As Chris mentioned, in his blog post, there seemed to be many more women taking part.

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Please keep silent, the procession is about to begin…

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Last night I joined in the Oaxaca tradition of visiting seven churches (la visita de las siete casas) on Jueves Santo (Holy Thursday, Maundy Thursday).  According to Wikipedia, “The tradition of visiting seven churches on Holy Thursday probably originated in Rome, as early pilgrims visited the seven basilicas as penance.”  Last year I missed it, albeit for an excellent reason, as I spent much of Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Teotitlán del Valle with the family of Porfirio Gutierrez.

This year, my first stop was just around the corner at Templo de San José, where I bought my pan bendito from a couple of women selling small bags of the traditional blessed bread from a little table just inside the front door.  The entrance to this church is small and it was crowded with parishioners trying to get to the mass that was in progress, so I opted not to stop to take photos.  As I exited and made my way across Jardín Socrates (packed with people enjoying nieves), enroute to Basilica de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad, there were more blessed bread vendors set up in Soledad’s atrium.

The doors to the Basilica were closed and the “traveling” Soledad was standing under a giant tent in the atrium.  However, I followed the faithful to a tiny side chapel where a miniature image of Soledad appeared, behind iron bars and glass, like an apparition.

My next stop was along Calle Independencia — at Templo de San Felipe Neri, where I was met with gridlock.  I joined the crowd in practicing patience and persistence as I navigated my way to the entrance, which was also serving as the exit — for some unknown reason the side door was closed.

Less than a block away, my next destination was the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción.  It took almost ten minutes to wind my way through the masses of people (tourists, vendors, performers, and other Jueves Santo pilgrims) crowding the street and the Alameda.  A mass was in progress and the pews were packed — even in the side chapels, it was standing room only.  However, it was here, amidst thousands, I had the good fortune of running into a dear Oaxaca friend I hadn’t seen for many months.

Leaving the Cathedral, I met the same foot traffic jam when crossing the zócalo to Templo de la Compañía de Jesús.  However, once there, leave it to the Jesuits to have the entrada y salida (entrance and exit) logistics worked out!

Exiting the “salida” door, I took a side street to avoid the zócalo and Alameda.  By this time darkness had fallen, the uneven and potholed sidewalks had become even more treacherous, and so taking care not to also fall, I headed to Templo del Carmen de Abajo.  Though not crowded, it too had separate doors marked for entering and exiting.  And here, too, I ran into someone I knew — this time a new acquaintance from Palm Sunday in San Antonino Castillo Velasco.

I couldn’t even get near the doorway of Santo Domingo de Guzmán, so I gave up on that visit and turned towards Templo del Carmen Alto and, on my way there, ran into one of my neighbors!  Even when it’s filled with tens of thousands of tourists, it’s a small world in Oaxaca.  Once at Carmen Alto, I joined a throng of people walking down the main aisle, when a procession, led by an incense swinging altar boy, came up behind us asking for permission to pass — the gal behind me had a very close call with the incense burner.

I had visited seven churches in seventy minutes and, by the time I left Carmen Alto, my feet were sore and hunger and home beckoned.  However, I was left with warm feelings of having greeted friends and been out and about with the people of my adopted city.

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Semana Santa (Holy Week) is in full flower in Oaxaca, the streets are filled with tourists, both domestic and international, and the city is very helpfully distributing a schedule of the most important activities for this Easter season.  Thus, on Tuesday evening I walked down to Independencia, which had been blocked to traffic, for the Procesión de Estandartes (Procession of Banners) — leaving from the Basílica de La Soledad and arriving at the Cathedral, a few blocks away.

The banners were carried by the members of the hermandad del Santísimo Rosario (Brotherhood of the Most Holy Rosary) and numbered well over 100.

In addition, the Chinas Oaxaqueñas de Casilda carried an image of Nuestra Señora del Rosario (Our Lady of the Rosary), the patron saint of the brotherhood.

Once all the banners had reached the plaza in front of the Cathedral, the way parted for Our Lady of the Rosary to enter the Cathedral.

The banners followed and were carefully positioned next to special lighting along the aisle walls on either side of the Cathedral.  It was quite stunning!

An hour-long choral concert followed — nothing like listening to sacred music under the soaring ceiling of Catedral Metropolitana de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción.  They had even installed video monitors, so all could see the orchestra and singers.

I returned to the Cathedral the next day to view the banners “up close and personal” and discovered informational labels had been placed in front of each estandarte — listing the date made, affiliated church, church festival, and the sponsor of the banner.

They will once again hit the road late tomorrow afternoon to join Good Friday’s, Procesión del Silencio (Procession of Silence).

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If it’s Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday), I must be in San Antonino Castillo Velasco.  I know there must be other villages that have colorful and moving celebrations, but the magic of San Antonino compels me to return year after year.  Who can resist the spectacle outside the village panteón of watching el Señor del Burro be piled high with a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables and festooned with garlands of peppers and pan (bread)?

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And, besides, each year there is always something a little new and different.  To wit, in previous years parishioners presented their offerings with great pride to a committee of three or four women who formally received the donations, thanked the benefactors, and priced the items (for sale later in the day to benefit the work of the church).  However, this year, in addition to offering blessings, it was the priest who interceded between the donors and the pricing committee to receive and express gratitude to each person for their contribution — be they grand or humble.

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Once the young priest finished receiving the goods, he donned his ceremonial robes, offered prayers, and blessed everything (including my camera!) and everyone with holy water.  This was the cue for palm fronds to be distributed to all and the altar boys and girls and disciples to assemble.

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With the burro fully loaded, a team of 20+ extremely strong men hoisted the litter carrying the image of San Salvador atop the burro and, followed by villagers and visitors carrying the remainder of the goods collected, the journey to the church set off — a ritual reenactment of the Biblical story of Jesus entering Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.  As the procession made its way to the church, the rhythmic sounds of the drum and horn leading the way were occasionally overpowered by shouts warning the men of topes (speed bumps) and low hanging telephone wires that must be navigated.

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The route is at least a kilometer from the panteón to San Antonino Obispo church and yesterday the sun was blazing, with not a cloud in the sky.  It is a grueling act of faith for the men who bear this massive burden.  The final hurtle was making their way up the steps and under the arch leading to the church atrium, where a platform to place el Señor del Burro awaited.

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By 1:00 PM, the bounty to be sold had been hand (head) carried or trucked to the display area set up on the opposite side of the church atrium and it was time for the outdoor mass to commence.  Thus, it was also time for us to duck out to browse the accompanying expo-venta of fabulous San Antonino embroidered blouses and dresses, flor inmortal artisan creations, the amazing and ongoing work of José García Antonio, the blind potter, and lastly find our favorite empanada vendor in the maze of food and artisan stalls set up outside the atrium walls.  Yummm…

You should also check out the Oaxaca-The Year After blog– rumor has it that Chris will be posting a video of the procession in the next day or two (or three).

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All is quiet now, but for the last few days (and nights!) there has been no solitude for Soledad, or her neighbors (of which I am one).  For several days leading up to December 18, the feast day of the Queen of Oaxaca, La Santísima Virgen de La Soledad (Virgin of Solitude), Oaxaca has been celebrating.  For those unaware of this virgencita, Soledad is adored and venerated in a manner similar to the Virgin of Guadalupe and is carried through the streets of Oaxaca (both city and state) during many religious celebrations.

Basílica de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad

She resides in the church dedicated to her, the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad.  Designed by Father Fernando Méndez, construction began in 1682, it was sanctioned by the Viceroy Tomas Aquino Manrique de la Cerda, and consecrated in 1690 by Bishop Isidro Siraña y Cuenca.

Castillo spelling out, “Viva La Virgen de la Soledad” (Long live the Virgin of Solitude) and “Nuestra Senora de Oaxaca” (Our Lady of Oaxaca).

Being that this is Mexico and Catholicism is tempered (enriched) with indigenous practice, the night of December 17, after religious rites and rituals were performed at said Basilica, there were fireworks in the church atrium, including toritos and a castillo, in honor of La Reina de Oaxaca.  Despite the late hour, I managed to leave the comfort of my rooftop and head over to the Plaza de la Danza to watch — and they were spectacular, as always.

Many of the faithful spent the night in the Basilica’s atrium.

Alas, I didn’t have any energy left to stay and hear the Universidad Autónoma Benito Juárez de Oaxaca (Benito Juárez Autonomous University of Oaxaca) Tuna band serenade Soledad with a concert inside the Basilica at midnight.  Silly me!  I was dozing off to sleep at midnight when the Basilica’s bells began chiming furiously and cohetes (rockets) sounded and I woke with a start.  Next year, I’m staying up!

Prayers before the La Virgen de la Soledad.

Sleep finally returned, only to be interrupted about 4:15 AM with more cohetes and a band and then again around 6:30 AM.  Needless to say, I gave up on sleep and got up.  All during the night La Virgen was not alone.  The faithful, coming from near and far, spent the night in the atrium of the church, food stalls set up on the stairs leading down to the church fed one and all, and live music entertained her all night long.

The ever-present vendors selling flowers to the faithful.

Like most, her story has several versions.  According to one legend, in 1620 a mule train bound for Guatemala camped outside the city of Oaxaca, discovered an extra mule which did not belong to anyone in the group.  The mule refused to move and when prodded rolled over and died.  When the pack it carried was opened, it was found to contain the statue of La Virgen de la Soledad. Taking this as a sign from heaven, the inhabitants built a shrine, later a church, and finally the imposing Basilica.

Food vendors lined the stairs down to the Basilica’s atrium.

In another story, a muleteer from Veracruz, en route to Guatemala, noticed he had one too many mules in his pack upon his arrival in Oaxaca.  Outside the San Sebastian hermitage, the mule collapsed under the burden it was carrying.  All attempts by the muleteer to get it back on its feet were futile; to avoid punishment, he notified the authorities.  When he lifted the load off the mule, it got up but then immediate died.  The burden was inspected and an image of the Virgin, accompanied by Christ, along with a sign that said, “The Virgin by the Cross.”  Faced with this momentous event, Bishop Bartolome Bohorquez ordered a sanctuary to be built in honor of the divinity.

La Santísima Virgen de La Soledad inside the Basilica wearing her gold, diamond, and pearl encrusted vestments.

Still another legend:  a heavily laden burro of mysterious origin appeared outside of town in 1534, fell to the ground, spilling its load next to a rock (still on-site) containing the beautifully carved Virgin (thought to be carved in Guatemala or the Philippines) and a chapel was built on the spot.  However, apparently there was an adobe shrine to the Virgin of Solitude atop Cerro Fortín as early as 1532 — and the rock may have even been moved from the mountain in 1617 to the current site (immediately to the right as you enter the Basilica).

La Santísima Virgen de La Soledad (body double) under the tree in the atrium of the Basilica — wearing the traveling attire.

Her vestments are encrusted with pearls and 600 diamonds — and she wears a 4-lb gold crown.  As all that bling is quite heavy and valuable, she has a body double who wears a velvet mantle and crown that aren’t quite so ostentatious.  It is she who is carried through the streets during processions and has been residing in the church atrium during the festivities in her honor.

All was not completely serious yesterday at the Basilica — there was also entertainment.  In the late afternoon, Soledad was treated to a command performance by the Cuadrilla de Mascaritas from Asunción Nochixtlán, in the Mixteca.  I had never seen nor heard of this dance before.  According to this article (in Spanish), in 1865, a year after the defeat of the Franco-Austrian army at Las Tres Cruces (between Santo Domingo Yanhuitlán and Asunción Nochixtlán) by the joint forces of the Mixtecs and General Porfirio Diáz, Mixtecos commemorated the victory with the mascaritas dance, which ridiculed the supposedly invincible enemy.  I learn something new every day!

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Tonight, the streets of Oaxaca are alive with the sound of music and cohetes (rockets) as a calenda (parade) in honor of Nuestra Señora de la Soledad (Our Lady of Solitude) celebrates the approach of the feast day of the mother, queen, and patroness of Oaxaca.

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A young Soledad making the rounds on a float.

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Accompanied by an angel.

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Monos taking a break in front of the Basilica de la Soledad.

There will be no solitude for Soledad during the next couple of days and nights.  If you don’t believe me, check out her festival schedule.

virgen de la soledad programa 2017

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Today is the culmination of the ten days of festivities celebrating El Señor del Rayo — an only-in-Oaxaca observance.  Early Saturday evening, on my way to an event at the Museo Textil, I ran into a calenda (parade) of his.  I was going in the opposite direction and felt like I was swimming upstream.  What to do?  Stop, take a few photos, and enjoy the music and dancing until it passed by, of course!

El Señor del Rayo is a wood-carved Christ on the Cross figure that was brought from Spain in the 16th century, a gift to Oaxaca from Charles V.  The image was placed in the temple of San Juan de Dios, a church with adobe walls and a straw (or possibly wood) roof.  According to religious lore, lightning struck the church and everything was destroyed, save for this figurine.  A miracle!  The statue became known as El Señor del Rayo (the Lord of Lightning), was given his own chapel (the furthest capilla from the main entrance on the left) in the newly built Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, and has been much venerated ever since.

El Señor has a body double as the original, given it’s importance and value, remains behind glass in his chapel (first photo above).  Today, the line of faithful waiting to worship him stretched into the aisle leading to his chapel.  Restoration work was done on his replica earlier this year, but it is back on the main altar and available to travel through the streets during this afternoon’s procession, along with the estandartes (religious banners) currently leaning up against the inner walls of the Cathedral.

Tonight, like all good Oaxaca celebrations, be they religious or secular, there will be pirotécnicos — fireworks and all things pyrotechnic, including a castillo.  For the uninitiated, a castillo is a multi-story erector set like structure with moving parts that is wired with colorful explosive charges.  Another noisy night in Oaxaca!

By the way, in previous years, the inside of the Cathedral was festooned from bottom to top with lilies — greeting all who enter with Divine beauty and fragrance.  However, this year there are many fewer floral decorations and no lilies.  I’m wondering if the lily-growing region was affected by the hurricanes and/or earthquakes….

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Day four of B’s Week in Oaxaca had B relying on yours truly for the day’s sights and sounds.  Where to begin?  The answer, because it was near Casita Colibrí and we had just been to Mitla and Monte Albán, was the Museo de Arte Prehispánico de México Rufino Tamayo (Rufino Tamayo Museum of Prehispanic Art).  The collection is spread over five rooms surrounding a courtyard in a 16th century colonial building.  Each room is painted a different iconic Mexican color, chosen by the late Zapotec Oaxaqueño artist Rufino Tamayo, to highlight the pieces of his extraordinary collection.

Next we walked down to and through the iron gates, designed by Francisco Toledo, and across the brick pathway of the Centro Cultural San Pablo (Cultural Center of San Pablo).  We explored the interior rooms of this ex-convent, now an academic research and cultural center, that hosts concerts, lectures, exhibitions, and houses a library.  Pausing to rest, we took advantage of the cafe in the courtyard to order a couple of aguas.

Our thirst quenched, we walked around the corner to the Museo Textil de Oaxaca (Textile Museum of Oaxaca) to explore the ground floor and upstairs exhibitions of one of this textile lover’s favorite museums.  One of the exhibits was the stunning “Almas bordadas, vestido y ornamento en el Istmo de Tehuantepec” — displaying the iconic embroidered clothing of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.  (Think, the dress of Frida Kahlo.)

Forty-five minutes later, we were certifiably hungry and, lucky for us, Origen, restaurant of Top Chef Mexico 2016 winner, Rodolfo Castellanos, and one of my oft recommended restaurants in Oaxaca, was only a block away.  As always, its relaxing interior, attentive service, and delicious food provided a perfect respite.

Once rested and satiated, it felt good to set feet to pavement for the short walk to the Catedral Metropolitana de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción (Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption).  The cathedral towers over the zocaló and the Alameda.  The construction of this green cantera (stone) edifice began in 1535 and was consecrated on July 12, 1733.  It is dominated by a spectacular altar and lined, on both sides, with chapels — the most important being that of Señor del Rayo.  In addition, it is home to one of the historic pipe organs of Oaxaca.

After being wowed by the Cathedral’s soaring ceiling, altar, art, chapels, and organ, we crossed Independencia for a taste of the modern — the Museo de los Pintores Oaxaqueños (Museum of Oaxacan Painters).  This, often overlooked, two-story restored colonial era mansion showcases the creativity and talent of Oaxaca’s painters.  I had been to the museum only a month before, but the exhibitions are ever-changing, and new artists were on display.

Of course, no day in Oaxaca is complete without a parade and we were not disappointed.  We departed the Museo de los Pintores Oaxaqueños to be greeted with a calenda (parade) by “Ranchu Gubiña” from Union Hidalgo in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec region — attired in clothing similar to that which we had seen earlier in the day at the textile museum.  We had come full circle!

Another long day’s journey into evening….  However, we weren’t finished yet; two more days await!

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On day three of B’s week in Oaxaca, Benito (Discover Oaxaca) returned to pick us up a little after 9:00 AM.  We wound our way up to the archeological site, Monte Albán — the imposing former capital of the Zapotecs.  Construction of this commanding site, on top of an artificially flattened mountain, began around 500 B.C.  By 350-550 A.D., it had become the economic, political, and religious center for the Zapotecs, and one of the first urban complexes in Mesoamerica.  Though we were only there for two hours, I learned more from Benito than I had on my previous five or six unguided visits.  While we were there, a specially fitted drone (archaeocopter) was being used by archaeologists — the sound was annoying, but once we figured out it was for research, it became more tolerable and rather intriguing.  There is still so much to be uncovered!

Monte Albán – looking down onto the main plaza.

Coming down off the mountain, we took the scenic route, circling around the western base of Monte Albán, often bouncing along on dirt roads as we headed south to the Ex-monastery of Santiago Apóstol in Cuilapam de Guerrero.  Construction began on this massive and elaborate Dominican complex in 1556 but was temporarily halted in the 1570s and never resumed — leaving behind a towering roofless basilica, ornate frescoes, and a magnificent Gothic cloister.  There are several theories as to why it was never finished — lack of funds due to the extravagance, a dispute over land ownership, the decimation of the local indigenous population from 43,000 in the 1520s down to 7,000 in 1600, leaving few workers to construct it and natives left to convert.  Climbing the stairs up to the second story terrace yields an impressive view and site from which to contemplate the impact of the Spanish conquest.

Murals inside the Ex-monastery of Santiago Apóstol, Cuilapam de Guerrero.

After an hour of roaming through the unfinished remains of the Ex-monastery, we returned to the van for the 4-mile drive to Villa de Zaachila.  Thursday is market day and the village was alive with shoppers.  From where we parked, we walked through the market, with B marveling at all there was for sale — from fresh fruits and vegetables to tools and kitchen ware to clothing and needlework to…. And, we never even made it to the livestock market.

Moto taxis taking people to and from the tianguis on market day in Villa de Zaachila.

Once through the market, we walked past the church and up a hill to the small archaeological site of the last capital of the Zapotecs and later conquered by the Mixtecs, not long before the Spanish arrived.  It is mostly unexcavated, but has two small tombs that can be accessed.

Tomb 1 – The Owl (Tecolote, Búho) of Zaachila.

We were about to head to lunch, when we were waylaid by Benito’s inquiry if we knew about and would like to see the Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) murals decorating the walls of Calle Coquiza — a street that connects the church with the municipal cemetery.  Of course we responded that we would love to see them!  If you are in Zaachila, they are worth checking out.  You can see more of the murals on my blog post, Muertos murals in Zaachila.

Muertos mural along Calle Coquiza, Villa de Zaachila.

We were starving by the time we had walked the length and back of Calle Coquiza, so we made a beeline for the van that would take us to Restaurante La Capilla de Zaachila.  It felt so good to sit, relax, and eat!

Tortilla Zachileña de guisado al horno.

It was a fairly quiet return to the city — we were satiated by food, sights, and information.  However, following a few hours of rest, B and I met up again to stroll down to the zócalo, sip mezcal on rooftop terrace of Casa Crespo  — though the music was a bit loud, the mezcal was good and the view of Santo Domingo couldn’t be beat.

By the way, this day’s travels took us to many of the major sites where the legend of Donaji takes place.

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On day 2 of introducing B to the sights, sounds, and flavors of Oaxaca, I turned to the professionals at Discover Oaxaca for assistance.  I had met the owners Suzanne Barbezat (author of Frida At Home) and her Oaxaqueño husband, Benito  Hernández, several years ago through friends and knew they were licensed guides.  And, as coincidence would have it, they were good friends of B’s god-daughter and her Oaxaquaño husband in California.  The choice was easy and the rave reviews on TripAdvisor were icing on the cake.

Thus, Wednesday began with Benito picking us up in a comfortable, spacious, and air-conditioned van.  Our day’s first destination was Mitla, the second most important archeological site in Oaxaca and home to amazingly intricate grecas (fretwork).  However, as we headed east on Mexican highway 190, Benito was a fountain of knowledge — much of which was new to me.  This was going to be good!

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Grecas (fretwork)on the outside of the Palace at the archaeological site at Mitla.

For almost an hour and a half, Benito led us through the site — always explaining, answering our questions, and letting us marvel at what was before us.  We could have stayed for at least another hour, but we headed back west on 190, to Yagul, an archeological site I had previously never visited.  Several friends told me they experienced a deeply spiritual sense and that it was a must see.  We barely skimmed the surface (definitely a place to return to), but the sun was hot, archeological overload was setting in, and hunger beckoned.

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Ballcourt at Yagul — the biggest in the valley of Oaxaca.

Next stop, Restaurante Tlamanalli in Teotitlán del Valle — the renown restaurant of Zapotec cooks, Abigail Mendoza and her sisters.  Using time honored methods and recipes refined over generations, the Mendoza sisters have elevated and brought worldwide recognition and respect for their traditional cuisine.  It was a delicious and tranquil interlude.

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Metates used at Restaurante Tlamanalli to grind ingredients for mole and more.

Tearing ourselves away, Benito, B, and I climbed back into the van and drove to the center of the village to see Templo de la Preciosa Sangre de Cristo, another of the countless churches throughout Mexico built on top of a sacred indigenous site.

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Templo de la Preciosa Sangre de Cristo, sits atop Zapotec ruins at the base of Picacho, the sacred mountain in Teotitlán del Valle.

My intent, during our visit to this village, known for its weaving with wool, had been to visit several of the weavers I know — including Fidel Cruz Lazo, Antonio Ruiz Gonzalez, his brother Sergio Ruiz Gonzalez, and the family of Samuel Bautista Lazo.  However, we were running short of time, and B had been following my adventures with the family of Juana and Porfirio Gutierrez Contreras and had poured over the family’s website, so stopping at their home and workshop was a priority for him.  Porfirio was back in the USA, but Juana and her husband Antoño gave their always excellent explanation and demonstration of their work with natural dyes.  And, yes, B couldn’t resist purchasing a wonderful rug (though not the one pictured below)!

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Woven wool tapete (rug) by Porfirio Gutiérrez Contreras.

On the way back to Oaxaca city, our last stop for the day was at Santa María del Tule to see the world famous Árbol del Tule.  This Montezuma cypress (Taxodium mucronatum; Ahuehuete in Nahuatl) has the largest trunk of any tree in the world, is thought to be between 1,200 and 3,000 years old, and is home to hundreds, if not thousands, of birds.  It is quite a sight to hear, let alone see.

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Looking up at the Árbol de Tule in Santa María del Tule, Oaxaca.

We left Oaxaca city at 9:15 AM and didn’t return until almost 6:00 PM.  It was a full, informative, and terrific day.  Next up, day 3 —  another delightful day out of the city with Benito.

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Recently, as previously mentioned, a friend came to visit for a week.  It was B’s first time in Oaxaca and we packed a lot of sightseeing and delicious dining into just six days.  B is an architect and, among other things, is an archeology buff, so those interests helped shape our itinerary (as in, not a shopping expedition).  Naturally, the six days sailed by, but the sailing was so smooth and flowed so well that it occurred to me a blog post chronicling our adventures might be helpful to future visitors and hosts.

B arrived on a Monday night, so Day 1 began the next morning, when we rendezvoused on my terrace so he could begin to get his bearings as I pointed out landmarks.  Our first stop was to gaze at the gold and gilt interior and up at the impressive family tree that decorates much of the ceiling of Santo Domingo de Guzmán.

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Santo Domingo de Guzmán and its former monastery.

After being thoroughly wowed, we went next door to the former monastery, now the Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca.  Arranged in historical epochs, the 20+ rooms are an historical treasure trove that include treasures excavated from Tomb 7 at Monte Albán.  Also on the extensive grounds is the glorious Jardín Etnobotánico, an impressive ethnobotanic garden of plants native to the state of Oaxaca.  While we had no time to take a tour of the garden (the only way to visit), the views from the museum are spectacular.

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Looking down on the Jardín Etnobotánico from the Museo de las Cultures de Oaxaca

Leaving the museum, we strolled down Oaxaca’s walking street, Macedonio Alcalá (aka, Andador Turistico), across the zocaló, past the Palacio de Gobierno, to the Mercado Benito Juárez.  Besides the fact that I was almost out of coffee beans and needed stop by El Grano de Oro to replenish my supply, in my humble opinion, the mercado is a “must see” for any visitor.  Feeling a bit parched and ready for a break, we pulled up stools at Casilda Aguas Regionales and had to choose from their dazzling selection of fresh aguas. Refreshed, we resumed exploring the aisles of fruits and vegetables, fish and meats, clothing and jewelry, fresh flowers and souvenirs, mezcal and quesillo, and more.

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Aguas lined up on the counter of Casilda Aguas Regionales

Hungry, tired, and on sensory overload, we walked back up the Alcalá to the tranquility, innovative architectural design, and savory flavors of Los Danzantes — the complementary mezcalito was an added bonus!  Our late afternoon comida was a leisurely affair, as we reviewed the day and made plans for the next.  B worried that we might be lingering too long, but I assured him, unlike the USA, restaurants in Mexico don’t rush diners.

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Retractable ceiling and modern take on adobe walls at Oaxaca’s Los Danzantes restaurant

It was a lovely and delicious way to end the day.  Stay tuned for Day 2, as we headed out of the city….

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This morning, sun and blue sky welcomed the Solsticio de verano in Oaxaca — a beautiful way to begin the longest day of the year.

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View from the terrace:  Templo de San José, founded by the Jesuits in 1559, on the left; Basílica de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad (Basilica of Our Lady of Solitude), constructed between 1682 and 1690, on the right; and the green mountain in the far distance between the two is Monte Albán.

Happy Summer Solstice to all!

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When I left off, it was early evening on Jueves Santo (Holy Thursday) in Teotitlán del Valle and the church doors were to be left open all night.  Sometime after dark, the statue of Jesus was removed from the church and incarcerated behind a petate (woven palm) mat.

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All during the night, the faithful waited their turn to visit the incarcerated Jesus.

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On Viernes Santo (Good Friday) morning, as the last of the villagers had paid their respects, the petate mat was removed.

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At the same time, in the esplanade in front of the rug market, a pulpit was constructed and decorated with tapetes — on loan from the nearby vendors.

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At 10:30 AM, a procession of Mary, Mary Magdalene, and St. John left the church, enroute to the esplanade.

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Then Jesus, bearing the cross, began his journey to the esplanade.

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Accompanied by throngs of faithful and the Roman Centurion, he wound his way through the streets along a different route from Mary.

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Jesus entered the plaza between the Municipal Building and the new Cultural Center.

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While Mary entered the plaza from the opposite direction — between the museum and the rug vendor stalls.

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Mary and Jesus stood facing one another.  They inched closer, as the priest continued his recitation, and at a designated moment, the statues were tilted so they could touch in farewell — this was the encuentro (encounter).

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Everyone joined together in a single procession back to the church.

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The Centurion returned to the church, as well, and couldn’t stop smiling.

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Jesus, Mary, Mary Magdalene, and St. John made their way back to the village church, Templo de la Preciosa Sangre de Cristo.

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Following several hours spent under the unrelenting brilliant sun, most villagers made their way across the street to the mercado for a refreshing nieve (water or milk based ice cream).  Maybe that was why the Centurion was smiling.

Townspeople returned home for a traditional meal of salted fish and white beans — sustenance for what was to come — an evening Mass of the Crucifixion, followed by a second parallel procession to the cemetery, where another encuentro took place, and culminated in another joint procession back to the church.  Alas, I was exhausted, and chose bed over the evening’s events.

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Now that the Cocineras event is over (yes, I went back for day two), I am returning, as promised, to Semana Santa spent in Teotitlán del Valle.  When I left off, I had spent Holy Thursday in the kitchen with Juana and we had just sat down to eat.  However the day did not end there.  Following our comida, we cleared the plates, while Antoño went out into the courtyard to vigorously scrub his feet.  He soon left and Juana disappeared.

After about twenty minutes, she and her 3 1/2 year old granddaughter emerged dressed in what appeared to be their “Sunday best.”  She quickly piled fruit (at least a foot high) onto a platter, covered her creation with cellophane and tied it with a bow — it was to be an offering.  A flower arrangement was also picked up from a table by the door and then our little procession of three set off to navigate the steep dirt street down to the atrium of the church, where an altar and hundreds of chairs had been placed.  I guess I was going to mass!

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Later on in the mass, it became clear why Antoño had scrubbed his feet so diligently — the ritual of washing the Disciples’ feet.  Antoño was portraying Andrés el Apóstol (those are the Apostles with the laurel wreaths, above) and the Apostle to his left washed his feet and he, in turn, washed the feet of the Apostle to his right.  After the mass, a procession around the church courtyard began.

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The Apostles preceded the priest, who was sheltered under a golden canopy.  Yes, that’s Antoño, below.

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This was the procession of the Holy Monstrance — the shiny sunburst-shaped item carried by the priest containing a consecrated Host (below).

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Everyone followed at a slow solemn pace.

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Once a full circumnavigation of the courtyard had been completed, the procession led into the church and up to the altar.

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According to the book, Oaxaca Celebration: Family, Food, and Fiestas in Teotitlán, this is the only time the monstrance is set out and the church doors are left open atl night.  A vigil is kept all night by designated villagers and parishioners are encouraged to visit.

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Tomorrow is Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday) and the start of Semana Santa (Holy Week).  In preparation, the palm weavers from the pueblitos of the Mixteca have come down to the city to work their magic and sell their wares under the watchful eye of the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción.

Ladders have been hauled out onto the sidewalks, so windows and doorways can be decorated in purple and white.  Why those colors? You might well ask.

According to The Color Symbolism of Lent and Easter, purple “is a deep, almost night-like color that focuses our attention on the fasting and repentance associated with the Lenten season…. As an act of derision toward Our Lord, Pilate placed a purple robe on Jesus, whom he called “‘King of the Jews’” and white “symbolizes both the bright light of the moment of Resurrection and the purity of God’s love for His People.”

However, the above mentioned website also states that the color of Palm Sunday, itself, is red, “even though this Mass commemorates Christ entering Jerusalem in triumph, this color foreshadows His death on the cross on Friday.”  I will take note tomorrow when I return to San Antonino Castillo Velasco for their very special way of celebrating Palm Sunday.

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