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Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

The very dry rainy season continues and is the major topic of conversation among anyone who has any connection to la tierra (the land).  However, during today’s Fiesta a la Natividad de la Virgen María in Teotitlán del Valle, the Zapotec god Cosijo answered the prayers for rain.

The sky darkened over Templo de la Preciosa Sangre de Cristo

Moctezuma (Sergio Gutiérrez Bautista) danced the story of the Conquest.

Doña Marina (Elizabeth Hernández Gutiérrez) danced her part.

The rain began to seriously fall and the plastic penacho (headdress) covers came out in force, but the danzantes continued to dance.

Comida (lunch break) came just in time, the sun came out, and Malinche (Quetzali del Rayo Santiago Ruiz) graciously posed for photos.

And, Javier Gutiérrez Hernandez (dance master, choreographer, former danzante, and father of Moctezuma) posed with his son’s penacho.

A little means a lot, though probably not enough to salvage this season’s milpa (field of corn, beans, and squash).  But, when your culture dates back at least 2,500 years, you take a long view of history.

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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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Yippee!!!  After an “exhaustive” (see news report) selection process that took the Comité de Autenticidad (Committee of Authenticity) to 89 communities throughout the state of Oaxaca, they announced the delegations that will be participating in this year’s Guelaguetza.  And, drum roll please, one of the 56 delegations chosen will be Teotitlán del Valle’s Danza de La Pluma Promesa 2016-2018!

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I’m so happy for the entire group, many whom I’ve come to know, but especially for Edgar Daniel Ruiz Ruiz (above in red shirt), one of the two dancers blogger buddy Chris and I are sponsoring.  He missed out when the group performed at the Guelaguetza two years ago, as he was recovering from surgery and this is his last opportunity — their three-year “act of devotion” to dance for their community ends this year.

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The group will be performing at La Guelaguetza on the morning of July 23.  If you can’t be up on Cerro del Fortín, it is usually broadcast live on local TV and streamed on the internet.  I’ll keep you posted!

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The above photos of the Danza de la Pluma Promesa 2016-2018 are from the previously mentioned and recently concluded festival honoring La Preciosa Sangre de Nuestro Señor Jesucristo — the most important annual festival in Teotitlán del Valle.

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Late yesterday afternoon in Teotitlán del Valle — along with village officials, church committee members, 200 unmarried young women, Danza de la Pluma Promesa 2016-2018 dancers, players of the traditional teponaxtle (drum) and the chirimía (small oboe), pyrotechnicians, and two bands — children gathered.

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Boys came holding carrizo poles topped with mini marmotas (fabric globes), sheep, turkeys, giraffes, airplanes, and other images whose significance escapes me — though this year Quetzalcoatl made an appearance.

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Little girls came wearing miniature versions of the traditional red wool enredo (wrap skirt) and embroidered or crochet blouses.

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They assembled in the atrium of the church for the start of the *convite (special kind of procession) honoring the Preciosa Sangre de Nuestro Señor Jesucristo, the patron saint of the village and whose image, attributed to Oaxacan painter Miguel Cabrera, resides in Teotitlán’s church.

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The procession wound its way from the atrium, through the principal streets (mostly cobblestone) of the village, and back to the atrium — approximately two miles (3.2 km)!

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Giving a group of boys long poles has the potential for high jinx, but most was limited to clever ways to evade overhanging tree limbs.

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The littlest girls were beginning their years long conditioning in order to develop the arm strength needed to hold a canasta (basket) above their head for over an hour — SO much harder than it looks!

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And, there were boys in the band — some already affecting a cool “Blues Brothers” look.

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This was just the beginning of the festival — there will be the danzantes performing the Danza de la Pluma, fireworks (including toritos and castillos), and another convite.  So, stay tuned for more to come.

*Convite:  According to Harrap’s Spanish and English Pocket Dictionary, convite means reception.  Larousse Standard Diccionario translates convite to “invitation” or “banquet.”  And, if one turns to Google or Bing translation programs, a convite is a “treat.”

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Today is Día de la Santa Cruz (Day of the Holy Cross).  Lest anyone forget, there have been booms and bangs throughout the day to remind one and all!  And, most years, the day finds me huffing and puffing my way up to the top of Picacho, the sacred mountain that looms above Teotitlán del Valle — joining the Zapotec villagers in a Prehispanic ritual asking for rain.

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It is also the Día del Abañil (Day of the mason/stonemason/bricklayer) and it is tradition for workers to erect crosses festooned with flowers at the highest point on construction sites.  According to Mexconnect, in 1960, Pope John XXIII removed Día de la Santa Cruz from the liturgical calendar, but Mexico being Mexico and construction workers being construction workers, they ignored the Pope.  Eventually, understanding the relationship of forces, he gave Mexico a special dispensation to celebrate this day.

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For me, today the city brought a much welcomed surprise.  As anyone who has traversed the first block of Garcia Vigil (between Independencia and Morelos) during the past nine months can attest, it has been a challenge not to slip, trip, or fall thanks to the warped “temporary” plywood laid down over what used to be a solid, if not smooth, sidewalk.  However, on this day celebrating abañiles, they were hard at work on a new “real” sidewalk!

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No cross on the worksite, but definitely a Día de la Santa Cruz/Día del Albañil miracle!

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As darkness fell and a hush stilled the spectators, the Procession of Silence proceeded along the prescribed route.

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Blindfolded Jesus and banner

Image of Señor de La Columna

Purple hooded penitents carrying crosses

Jesus image carrying cross

Virgen de los Dolores standing above prone Jesus images

Virgen de la Soledad image carried by women

Good Friday in Oaxaca.

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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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Though Santa Claus is making inroads into Mexico, it is today’s early morning visit by Los Reyes Magos (Three Kings, Wise Men) that children anxiously await, as it is Gaspar, Melchor, and Baltazar who bring gifts on January 6 — Día de los Reyes Magos (aka, Epiphany).

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Yesterday, the municipal DIF (Desarrollo Integral de la Familia) agency and radio station “La Zeta Noticias,” sponsored a kilometer of toys — an annual toy drive for Oaxaca’s disadvantaged children.  More than 3000 toys were collected to be distributed in a number of city and surrounding area neighborhoods. (Alas, only a fraction of the one million plus, 0 – 17 year olds, living in poverty in the state of Oaxaca.)

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Today, the Alameda and zócalo were filled with activities and freebies for kids.  At the booth below, each child received a toy and a carton of milk.

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San Antonio Arrazola and San Martín Tilcajete, the wood carving villages known for their fantastical alebrije, distributed paints, brushes, and paper for the artistically inclined.

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There were chess boards set up to play this most serious of games.

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And, the nacimiento (nativity scene) in the zócalo provided a popular “posing with the Tres Reyes” point.

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In addition to kings bringing kids gifts, January 6 also calls for a special cake — Rosca de Reyes (Three Kings bread).  Bakeries have been working overtime and temporary stalls were set up on a block of Calle Flores Magón — closing it to auto and truck traffic (though motorcycles were a different story).

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Of course, I bought one — though not the large family-size above!  The tradition is to eat and dunk in hot chocolate, but I opted to dunk in my usual half coffee/half chocolate morning beverage.

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By the way, there is a plastic Niño Dios figurine hidden in each Rosca de Reyes, remembering Mary and Joseph concealing baby Jesus from King Herod.  If you are the “lucky” person to bite into it, you must host a tamales and atole party on Candelaria (Candlemas), February 2nd.

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Three Kings Day is drawing to a close and the kings are returning to from whence they came.  I think Melchor is driving — hopefully he has GPS.

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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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In Teotitlán del Valle, waiting for last Sunday’s convite, honoring the Virgen de Guadalupe, to begin.

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Watching and waiting from the best seat in the house!

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Waiting to process in the traditional red wool skirt and embroidered blouse.

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Little boys waiting to lead off the procession.

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Even a couple of little Juan Diego’s were ready and waiting.

The patience of the people of Oaxaca, even the kids, never ceases to amaze me.

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In Oaxaca, the sound of rockets and music in the streets means there must be a calenda — and early last evening, one seemed to be only a few blocks away.

It was the ideal excuse for putting off emptying my massive wooden kitchen counter for the termite extermination crew’s arrival the next morning.

To what, or who, did I owe this timely interruption?  Saint Cecilia!  November 22 is her feast day and, at least in Mexico, festivals to the saints aren’t just one day events — hence  yesterday’s mass at Iglesia de San Felipe Neri, followed by the calenda.

And, by the way, Santa Cecilia isn’t just any saint, she is the patrona de los músicos (patron of musicians) and so, of course, there were two bands playing in the church atrium.

Alas, though the party was only just getting started, given the chore that awaited me at home, I forced myself to leave after a half and hour.  However there is more on Santa Cecilia’s dance card today and tomorrow…

 

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