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Yesterday, I did it again!  After a year’s hiatus, on Día de la Santa Cruz I returned for the ritual pilgrimage to the top of El Picacho, the sacred mountain that watches over Teotitlán del Valle.  To avoid hiking in the worst of May’s high temperatures, our ascent began at 5:30 in the morning.  Yes, it was dark, with not even moonlight to guide our way.  Thank goodness for the flashlight app on my smart phone.  However, by 6:30 AM dawn was breaking and our artificial lights were extinguished.  Our hardy band arrived at the summit about 7:30 AM to the ritual round of handshaking that accompanies greetings and farewells in the village.

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The three crosses mark the summit

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Pilgrims perched on the rocky outcroppings that make up the peak.

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The views were spectacular no matter which way one chose to look.

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An altar greeted pilgrims at the peak.

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At 8:30 AM, an hour-long mass was celebrated and, perhaps a first, some of it was in Zapoteco.

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As the mass began, the cicadas (cigarras or chicharras, en español) began their song — one even perched on the fabric swag festooning the crosses.

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Mass over, Procopio Contreras, the young priest (first from Teotitlán) took off his vestments and posed for photos.

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Mountain top delivery of tamales de mole amarillo followed the mass.

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Along with a cup of agua de jamaica, we took our tamales into the shade, where bromeliads clung to tree branches.

After a lazy comida filled with conversation between new friends and with our strength renewed, we (3 Teotitecos, 1 Belgian, and me) descended the mountain.

While the day may be designated Día de la Santa Cruz and a mass said on top of Picacho, this day has pre-Hispanic roots in ceremonies related to the sowing season.  In the early days of May (by our calendar), prayers and rituals were dedicated to Cosijo, the Zapotec god of lightening, thunder, and rain — later to Tláloc, the Aztec god of rain — thus fertility and water for the growing of crops.  Hmmm…  On May 2, lightening flashed and thunder roared, but Mother Nature only delivered a few drops in the village.  However, on May 3, once the daylong festivities atop the mountain concluded, three hours of a good hard rain fell in Teotitlán del Valle.  The gods must have heard the prayers.

h/t  Zeferino Mendoza

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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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I had put off making the trek down to Soriana long enough.  Supermarkets, even in Mexico, are not one of my favorite destinations and this is one of the smaller and less pleasing stores in the chain.  However, I do enjoy the quiet of the streets on Sunday mornings and besides, I was curious about the drum and bugle corps I could hear practicing.

Stop number 1:  Watching a little drummer girl and boy in the Plaza de la Danza.P1250293

Stop number 2:  Noticing a newly installed cross in the atrium of the Basílica de la Soledad.P1250298

Stop number 3:  Feeling like a queen strolling under a canopy of Royal Poinciana trees (Arbol de flamboyán) on calle Independencia.P1250311_port

A seven minute walk that took twenty seven — that’s how it is in Oaxaca.

 

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Besides a mock wedding with men dressed as women, mentioned in my previous post, Carnaval (Carnival, Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday) in San Martín Tilcajete also means young men covered in motor oil (yuck!) and paint running through the village with belts of cowbells ringing.

And, it means muchas máscaras de madera — in this village famous for its fantastical hand-painted alebrije woodcarvings and masks.

Some of my favorite masks and body paint were done by Jesus Sosa Calvo, his talented wife, Juana Vicente Ortega Fuente, and their gifted children.  (See the mask I gave to my son, carved by Apolinar, one of their sons.)  If you are in San Martín Tilcajete, be sure to see their work at Matlacihua Arte (right across from the zócalo on the main street).

The Spanish brought this pre-Lenten tradition to Mexico and, like many other seasonal celebrations, it conveniently coincided with indigenous festivals celebrating the “lost days” of the Mesoamerican calendar, “when faces were covered to repel or confuse evil.”  Apparently, it caught on “because it was one time when normal rules could be broken especially with the use of masks to hide identities from the authorities.”

Masks, motor oil, face and body paint, you name it, disguised and anonymous was the order of the day!

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Among other highlights, Carnaval/Carnival in San Martín Tilcajete features a mock wedding, quinceañera, and beautiful fabulously dressed and accessorized “women.”

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The day before Lent in San Martín Tilcajete 2017.  As they say in New Orleans, “Laissez les bons temps rouler!”

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Today, Mexico is celebrating Día de Reyes (aka, Three Kings Day and Epiphany).  It is today, not Christmas, that children wake up to find gifts brought during the night, not by Santa but by the Magi.  Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthazar still had enough stamina to stroll the Alcalá late this morning handing out presents.  Alas, gold, frankincense, and myrrh seem to have gone out of fashion.

Later this afternoon, at the new Polideportivo Venustiano Carranza, the children’s choir “Agnus Dai,” will perform and “Los Payasos y Domo de la Ciencia” from the Oaxaca Science and Technology Council will hold activities.  After a siesta, los tres Reyes Magos will also make their way up to the sports complex to hold contests and continue their gift giving.

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By the way, at a meeting I attended today, guess who bit into the little plastic baby Jesús hidden in the Rosca de Reyes (Three Kings cake)?  You guessed it!  Hmmm… That means I have to host a tamal and atole party on Candlemas, February 2nd, for everyone at the meeting.  That’s the tradition in Oaxaca!

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Nuestra Señora de la Soledad is the patron saint, queen, and mother of Oaxaqueños — and she is my vecina (neighbor).  Thus, I shall not want for revelry!

Inside the Basílica, Soledad -- Dec. 17, 2016

“Inside” Soledad, in the Basílica — Dec. 17, 2016

Despite her name, there is no solitude for Soledad or her neighbors on her December 18 feast day  — or the days and nights leading up to it.  Like her sister December virgin images, Juquila and Guadalupe, she seems to thrive on the cacophony that is fiesta life here — after all they are Mexican Marías.

So, bandas playing traditional music (loudly), fireworks and rockets booming and banging, church bells urgently chiming, and lively recorridos (travels) through the streets of the city, beginning early in the morning and continuing well beyond midnight, are welcomed.

The celebrations began at 5:00 AM on December 7, with a ringing of church bells and a “dawn journey” and culminated with a grand fiesta yesterday, December 18, her feast day.  She seemed to enjoy the festivities, including these guys from the Istmo performing for her, *La Danza de los Negros.

Soledad’s fiesta will end tomorrow (Dec. 20) with a concert of Christmas carols at 7:00 PM.  It’s been great fun, but I’m already looking forward to Noche de Rabanos on December 23!

Outside Soledad in the Basílica courtyard - Dec. 18, 2016

“Outside” Soledad in the Basílica courtyard – Dec. 18, 2016

*La Danza de los Negros is another of those complex and multilayered dances traditional to specific indigenous cultures in Oaxaca.  For more information, check out the article (en español), Los Negros, tradición bixhahui, ícono de Chihuitán.

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December seems to be el mes de las vírgenes (the month of the virgins) in Oaxaca.  Early this morning cohetes (rockets) and church bells announced the first of the month’s three virgin days; the feast day of la Virgen de Juquila.  And, this afternoon, on the Alameda in front of Oaxaca’s cathedral, a small procession gathered.

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According to legend, in 1633, when a fire burned the small Chatino village of Amialtepec to the ground, a small wooden statue of the Virgin Mary was rescued amidst the ashes.  She was undamaged, save for her light skin color, which was permanently darkened by the smoke, causing her to more closely resemble the Chatino people, who live in this remote mountainous region.  Local priests declared her survival a miracle and she has been venerated ever since.

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Alas, that wasn’t the end of the story; the priest in the village of Juquila convinced the “powers that be” that she should be moved to the bigger and better church in Juquila.  She, however, had other ideas and returned to Amialtepec.  This back and forth continued another three times.  Finally, in 1719, La Morenita (the dear dark one), as she had come to be known, gave up her traveling ways and agreed to call Santa Catrina Juquila her permanent home.

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The faithful make pilgrimages to both her old and new mountain homes (about four hours southeast of Oaxaca city).  They come year round on foot, on bicycle, and in all other manner of transport, to make offerings and pray for miracles, but especially during the days leading up to December 8.  October 8, 2014 marked her crowning achievement; in a grand ceremony, she received a papal coronation, joining her previously crowned (1909) Oaxaca sister, Nuestra Señora de la Soledad.

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Yesterday, a sidewalk still life seen walking home from the market…

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We are travelers on a cosmic journey, stardust, swirling and dancing in the eddies and whirlpools of infinity.  Life is eternal.  We have stopped for a moment to encounter each other, to meet, to love, to share.  This is a precious moment.  It is a little parenthesis in eternity.   — Paulo Coelho

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One of the much anticipated features of this year’s Fiesta Titlular a la Preciosa Sangre de Nuestro Señor Jesucristo in Teotitlán del Valle was the debut of the new Grupo de Danza de Pluma Promesa.

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Danzantes

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Danzantes

Unlike in many of the other villages, where the Danza de la Pluma is danced by folkloric dance troupes, in Teotitlán del Valle nineteen young men and two little girls make a promise to their god and, thus, their community to learn and perform the dance at each of the four annual major religious festivals in the village for three years.

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Moctezuma with Malinche and Doña Marina

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Danzantes woven wool leggings

This is not a commitment to be taken lightly, as there are 40+ dances that comprise this Zapotec retelling of the story of Moctezuma and the Aztecs battle with Cortes and the Conquistadors.  The entire telling of the story takes almost eight hours to perform in the church plaza — in conditions that can vary from brilliant sun with sweltering temperatures to gusty winds to drizzling rain.

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Subalterno offering water

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Subalterno imitating the danzantes

It’s been almost six months since we first saw the new group at one of their early practice sessions.  In jeans, t-shirts, and gym shoes, the guys were at the beginning stages of learning the steps.

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Moctezuma, a danzante, and Doña Marina

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Moctezuma and the danzantes

They have learned well and it’s going to be an outstanding three years!

 

 

 

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Late yesterday afternoon, under a dark and threatening sky, we gathered in front of Teotitlán del Valle’s church for the first *convite of the Fiesta Titular a la Preciosa Sangre de Nuestro Señor Jesucristo, the village’s patron saint festival.

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Templo de la Preciosa Sangre de Cristo

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Peeking out from the canastas

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Danzante and daughter

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Subalterno entertaining the crowd

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Kids in the ‘hood patiently waiting and posing

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Leaving the church

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Through the streets with one of several marmotas

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Hundreds of unmarried girls and women parade through the streets

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Balancing canastas with dignity and pride

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The debut of the new Grupo de Danza de Pluma Promesa (2016-18)

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The rain held off, as the procession returned to the church

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And, the banda played on…

Major festivities of the Fiesta Titular a la Preciosa Sangre de Nuestro Señor Jesucristo continue through Sunday.  We shall return!

* Convite:  According to Harrap’s Spanish and English Pocket Dictionary, convite means reception.  However, if I drag my weighty Larousse Standard Diccionario down from the shelf, convite translates to “invitation” or “banquet.”  And, if one turns to Google or Bing translation programs, a convite is a “treat.”  To me, it is all of the above!

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Back to Havana… and the colorful and captivating Callejón de Hamel, in Barrio Cayo Hueso.  (For a more in depth and fascinating history of this neighborhood, see Neighborhood as Refuge: Community Reconstruction, Place Remaking, and Environmental Justice in the City  by Isabelle Anguelovski.)

It was our first full day and serendipity and synchronicity brought us Dayan, an enthusiastic guide with boundless energy and pride.

Without hesitation, Dayan immediately made a beeline to this alley  — the creation of self-taught artist, Salvador González Escalona.  It is a living, breathing gallery and studio, where artists were welding and painting as we stopped to watch and wonder at their creations.

The cultural character of this community cannot be separated from its religious traditions and practices — a syncretism of African religions brought by slaves and Catholicism brought by the Spanish conquerors.  Salvador Gonzáles Escalona explains, “I am talking about the religion known as Santería, which comes from the Yorubas; Palo Monte, which comes from the Congo; Abakuá, which has to do with Calabar [the Cross River Delta in Nigeria]; and maybe some manifestations of spiritism, a cultural expression of working class people, the ordinary folks in our country.”

Callejón de Hamel is also home to a vibrant musical scene.  “In this alley many years ago, in the 40’s, a cuban musical movement was born, known as ‘filin,’ songs of feeling, with our friend Angelito Díaz and his now deceased father, Tirso Díaz. There were figures such as Elena Burque, the late Moraima Secada, aunt of Jon Secada, Omara Portuondo [featured in Buena Vista Social Club], César Portillo de la Luz, and many others.” — Salvador Gonzáles

On Sundays, around noon, the street comes alive with musicians, dancers, and the sights and sounds of Cuban rumba.  Alas, around that time, we were in the midst of changing hotels.  Next time, for sure!

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This morning, I awoke to the familiar, if startling, sounds of cohetes (rockets).  Oh right, it’s Día de la Santa Cruz (Day of the Holy Cross).  Alas, no pilgrimage hike up Cerro Picacho for us this year; we are still in recovery from our island adventure AND, more importantly, even at 7:30 AM, it is too darn hot!  Have I mentioned Oaxaca has been experiencing 90º – 96º F temperatures for the past month?  That’s 10º F above average.  Exhausting it is and sweltering we are.

However, before the sun was directly overhead, I returned to Benito Juárez mercado hoping my coffee guy would be there.  He wasn’t, but many of the stalls had beautifully decorated alters, fragrant with the sweet scent of flor de mayo (plumeria) blossoms.

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In Mexico, it is also Día del Albañil, the feast day of the stonemason/bricklayer/builder because, according to this article (en español):

Before the Conquest, the indigenous Mesoamerican related to the cross with the cardinal directions of the Indian cosmography north, south, east, west and central graphically formed the cross.

With the arrival of the Spaniards, this evocation was eradicated and replaced by religious symbolism of the Holy Cross.

Since then the celebration of this feast with the construction of houses, churches, monasteries, and other buildings with Indian labor was established.

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However, Sebastián and Leonardo continued working on my new counter.  And, yes, there will be tile!

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