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On October 21, after running errands, I made a beeline to the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción. As I had hoped, it was all dressed up and ready for Señor del Rayo’s day on October 23.

Pews had been removed from his chapel (last capilla on the left) to allow the faithful to process past his glass enclosed home. Many stopped to light a candle at a couple of tables placed outside his chapel for that purpose.

By the way, El Señor has a body double. The original, given it’s importance and value, remains protected in the chapel. His replica was standing in a place of honor on the Cathedral’s main altar.

If you are not from Oaxaca, you may be asking, who is El Señor del Rayo? He 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 legend, lightning struck the church and everything was destroyed, save for this figurine. It was a miracle so momentous that the figurine became known as El Señor del Rayo (the Lord of Lightning) and was given its own chapel in Oaxaca’s newly built Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción.

Like La Guelaguetza, Noche de Rabanós (Night of the Radishes), and Día de la Samaritana (Good Samaritan Day), this is an only in Oaxaca celebration and Oaxaqueños honor El Señor del Rayo with a special fervor, reverence, and pride. Thus, when I returned to the Cathedral at noon on October 23, it was standing room only — not an empty pew in sight, not even in the numerous side chapels.

Like most important festivities in Oaxaca, be they religious or secular, the Lord of Lightning’s celebration was heralded with a calenda (parade) on October 21 and concluded a little before midnight on October 23 with a castillo and fireworks — despite a several hour surprise downpour earlier in the evening. The show always goes on in Oaxaca!

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If it’s Sunday, it must be market day in Tlacolula de Matamoros. However, yesterday wasn’t just any Sunday. The second Sunday in October marks the community’s most important feast day — honoring El Señor de Tlacolula.

Marmota at rest in the church atrium.

As with all patronal festivals, this one lasts several days. In addition to Sunday’s masses, the highlights were a calenda through the streets on Friday featuring marmotas (giant and tiny), several bands, the image of Christ, and women carrying baskets atop their heads. On Saturday night here was a castillo and fireworks.

Order of delegations for the calenda.

In the back of my mind, I knew it would be crowded, but I was amazed at how many people had already poured into Tlacolula by 9:30 AM. It was hard to navigate one’s way to the market as, besides masses of people, a carnival had been set up along the main street and a side street or two.

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Señor de Tlacolula decorations at the entrance to Templo de la Virgen de la Asunción.

The church, Templo de la Virgen de la Asunción, was teeming with an overflow crowd of the faithful listening to mass being said from the side chapel of El Señor de Tlacolula. Legend has it that when this sculpture of Jesus, being brought south by muleteers in the sixteenth century, arrived in Tlacolula for a rest stop, overnight it gained so much weight that in the morning it could no longer be lifted. A miracle! Thus it was decided a chapel should be built to house the sculpture right on the spot.

Capilla de Señor de Tlacolula, the faithful wait to touch the image.

What a chapel it is! A feast for the eyes from floor to ceiling, filled with gold and silver gilding, carved angels and saints, paintings, and mirrors. On this day, pews had been removed so worshipers could have a personal interaction with the Lord of Tlacolula. In addition, an altar and hundreds of folding chairs had been set up in the atrium for an outdoor mass.

In the atrium, the altar on a replica of the church.

The art of the fiesta has been debased almost everywhere else, but not in Mexico. There are few places in the world where it is possible to take part in a spectacle like our great religious fiestas with their violent primary colors, their bizarre costumes and dances, their fireworks and ceremonies and their inexhaustible welter of surprises: the fruit, candy, toys and other objects sold on these days in the plazas and open-air markets. Octavio Paz, The Labyrinth of Solitude.

Mural on outside wall of the market.

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I returned to Casita Colibrí early Friday morning, weary from Aeromexico’s red eye from San Francisco.  After emptying the suitcases, bed beckoned!  No need to drag myself to the market, as neighbor and gal pal, K, welcomed me home with a delicious dinner.  Saturday, was spent putting things away, tending to the garden, and raiding the freezer for a tamal to go along with leftover salad from the night before.  However by Sunday I was recovered enough to accompany K on her weekly pilgrimage to market day in Tlacolula de Matamoros.

Doña Aurelia, cocinera at her Puesto de Barbacoa. A yummy way to begin the day!

A stop in the Capilla del Señor de Tlacolula of the Parroquia de la Virgen de la Asunción for a reminder from Señor de la Paciencia (Lord of Patience).

The bell tower of the Parroquia de la Virgen de la Asuncón, Tlacolula de Matamoros.  It always pays to look up.

“The sense of responsibility is latent in the human being, with sensitivity we should look for it from childhood, channel it in adolescence, perfect it in the youth to understand and better serve society.”

Far from the madding crowd in search of a baño.

Aprons on and baskets in hand: Marketing on market day in Tlacolula de Matamoros.

What better way to get back into the swing of things in Oaxaca.  Chicken soup for this soul!  Gracias a mi amiga.

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Home soon and looking forward to returning to these sights…

View of Santo Domingo de Guzmán.

Metates and garlic — market day in Tlacolula de Matamoros.

Monos and marmotas waiting for a wedding at Santa Domingo de Guzmán.

Oaxaca, I love you.

 

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Late afternoon on Viernes Santo (Good Friday), images of Jesús and María gathered, blessings were offered, and all began to assemble on the Alcalá for the Procession of Silence.

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Inside Templo de la Preciosa Sangre de Cristo, as the Archbishop called upon the people to reflect on the day and improve as people.

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Nuestra Señora de la Soledad (Our Lady of Solitude) arrives to take her place on the procession route.

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Standard bearers line the Alcalá to honor the arrival of the images of María and Jesús.

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San Pedro (Saint Peter), the only apostle to arrive.

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Jesús waiting in the Templo del Carmen Alto before he ventures out to take his place in the procession.

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Another Jesús image emerges from the Templo del Carmen Alto to take his place on the Alcalá for the procession.

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El Señor de Esquipulas ventures out onto Calle García Vigil, from the atrium of Templo del Carmen Alto, for his journey to join the procession on the Alcalá.

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And now, please keep silent, the procession is approaching.

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The sounds of this morning’s Santo Viacrusis (Stations of the Cross) moving closer, brought me into the mostly deserted streets before 9:00 AM.

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A block away, I found Jesús, La Virgen María, a priest, acolytes, the faithful, and a loudspeaker on the back of a pickup truck.

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Led by the children, images of María and Jesús from churches throughout the city had taken to the streets.

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Stopping along the way to pray and sing, the solemn throng made their way to the Cathedral for a farewell encounter between Mary and Jesus.

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It will be a long day for all concerned.  Following the encuentro, they will process back to their churches for a bit of a rest before this evening’s grand Procession of Silence.

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Today, the sixth Friday of Lent, Oaxaca honors la Virgen de Dolores (Our Lady of Sorrows).  Altars dedicated to her can be found in churches, businesses, and homes.  While the altars vary in their presentation, there are several key features (besides an image of the Virgin and candles) that will be found.

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Altar to la Virgen de Dolores at Templo del Carmen Alto

Wreaths of cucharilla (aka, Dasylirion, Sotol, desert spoon) — grown in Villa de Etla and the Mixtec region of Oaxaca — represent the crown of thorns of Jesus.

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Salvia Hispanica (aka, chia) sprouting from terracotta clay animals decorate altars — seeds which had been blessed on February 2, Día de la Candelaria (Candlemas).  According to an article in MexConnect, “Growing greens remind the viewer of the resurrection and renewal of life.”  Yes, these are the original Chia Pets!

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Ceramic deer covered in chia sprouts on the altar at Templo del Carmen Alto

Bowls of water (often tinted) representing the “sweet tears of Mary” are set among violet colored drapes and flowers — violet being the color associated with Lent.

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Altar to la Virgen de Dolores at Huizache, a cooperative store selling Oaxacan crafts and clothing

Lilies, representing purity and chamomile, representing humility and the beauty of body and soul, can be found on altars.

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Lilies and chamomile on the altar at Templo del Carmen Alto

According to this article (in Spanish), altars to Our Lady of Sorrows started appearing in Oaxaca in the sixteenth century and her veneration on the sixth Friday of Lent grew from there.

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La Virgen de Dolores (Our Lady of Sorrows) at Templo del Carmen Alto

Tonight at Templo del Carmen Alto, there will be a reading of the “Vía Dolorosa” (Way of Sorrows), a concert of sacred music by the Coro de la Ciudad (City Chorus), and a tasting of regional Lenten food.  Such is the beginning of Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Oaxaca!

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On Sunday in San Juan Guelavía for the Feria del Carrizo in the municipal plaza, the sounds of a procession drew me next door to the church.

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A procession!  I’m not sure if the occasion had anything to to with patron saint, San Juan Bautista.  However, what I do know is that I love being surprised and delighted by Oaxaca — a place I am proud to now call home.

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Tomorrow is Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe.  Celebrating the Queen of Mexico, Empress of America, and patron saint of Mexico isn’t just a one day event.  In Oaxaca city, Llano Park with Templo de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe at the north end of the park, is the epicenter of activities — including clowns.

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The south half of Llano Park is taken up with a carnival and vendors selling toys, Christmas lights, and a variety of holiday decorations.  Above that, there are aisles upon aisles of food stalls, and along the side the church, Guadalupe scenes, designed and constructed by scores of professional photographers vying for pesos for portraits, have been constructed.

As I write, Guadalupe’s children, the little Juan Diegos and their peasant sisters are lined up around the block.  They have been brought by parents and grandparents to wait to enter the church to be blessed and then pose for portraits in one of the Guadalupe scenes.  Hopefully, the payasos (clowns) provide some entertainment and much-needed distraction!

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Sometimes, the sunset over the Basílica de la Soledad takes my breath away. 

What can I say?  I love the view from Casita Colibrí!

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You know you are nearing a village when you see the bell tower(s) and dome of the Catholic church.  Checking out the church is always high on the agenda.  Many were originally constructed in the sixteenth century, though damage, restoration, and decoration have occurred over intervening centuries.  And, don’t forget the details…

So, while attending the Feria del Barro Rojo in San Marcos Tlapazola in mid-July, we peeked through the locked gates, to see the Templo San Marcos.

Then off to San Miguel del Valle on a Fundación En Vía microfinance tour in early August and another church through another locked gate.

The piéce de résistance… We headed to the first food feria in Santa Ana Zegache in mid August.  Alas, we arrived hours too early for the food, but we consoled ourselves with visiting their Baroque 17th century church (no locked gate) that was fabulously restored in the 1990s by the Rodolfo Morales Foundation.

All beautiful and unique.  So, the lesson for today is, whenever you find yourself in a village in Oaxaca, be sure to check out the church.

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Late yesterday afternoon a neighbor and I taxied across town to the sweet little Templo de San Matías Jalatlaco for an organ concert presented by the Instituto de Órganos Históricos de Oaxaca in honor of La Asunción de la Virgen María (Feast of the Assumption).  Once there, we ran into a couple of friends.  The combined length of time the four of us had lived in Oaxaca totaled over 80 years (with me being the most recent, at nine years).  I point this out because none of us knew why apples accompanied the image of Mary.  Hmmm…  Could it possibly have something to do with Eve in the Garden of Eden, we wondered?

Of course, the librarian in me couldn’t resist doing a little research.  So, first stop on this morning’s grocery shopping trip to Mercado Benito Juárez, was a stop at Oaxaca’s Cathedral to see if the Virgin there also had apples to send her on her way.  After all, the full name is Catedral Metropolitana de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción (Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption).  Sure enough, Mary stood among bushels of apples.

The origin of the connection between Mary’s Assumption and apples is rather ambiguous.  In sifting through the various explanations that Google found for me, la Virgen is considered the “New Eve” or “new Mother of men.”  Wow, our speculation wasn’t too far from the mark.  It is also said that when Mary drifted off to her final sleep, the cenacle (room the Last Supper was held) began to give off the scent of flowers and apples and, thus the tradition reminds believers of the moment of La Asunción.

Then there is the pragmatic explanation — this is the time of the summer harvest and “In many Catholic countries Assumption Day marks the period for invoking blessings on vineyards, herbs and plants… [and] In the East, where the Assumption Feast originated, the day is commemorated with elaborate ceremonies for blessing fruit trees and grain.”  European colonists brought apples to the New World and they are abundant this time of year — thus Mary asleep among apples.

No matter the story behind this tradition, the aroma of apples was divine!

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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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