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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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At the crossroads.

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Morning walk in Teotitlán del Valle.

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Yesterday, Teotitlán del Valle’s new Grupo de Promesa de la Danza de la Pluma 2019-2021 did battle, not only with Cortes, but also with the wind — which grabbed their penachos/coronas/headdresses like sails, challenging their balance, intricate footwork, and Busby Berkeley-like choreography.

Moctezuma holding on to his penacho/corona/headdress

Danzantes holding on to their penachos/coronas/headdress

Danzante appealing to the gods to stop the wind?

Throughout the day, wind continued to challenge the danzantes

Grasping their penachos/coronas/headdresses, Moctezuma, his warriors, and allied kings kept to their feet

The danzantes of Teotitlán del Valle didn’t miss a step at this most important festival day honoring the patron saint of their village, La Preciosa Sangre de Nuestro Señor Jesucristo.  Alas, the wind didn’t bring much needed rain to this agricultural community.

Stay tuned, the festivities continue for another three days.

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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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It takes 30+ men, doing some heavy lifting, to carry San Salvador, his burro, and Palm Sunday bounty the kilometer between San Antonino Castillo Velasco’s cemetery and village church.

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The strength of their devotion.

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Yesterday was another special Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday) in San Antonino Castillo Velasco.  This is a Zapotec village famous for the cultivation of flowers and exquisitely embroidered blouses and dresses, inspired by said flowers.  Returning year-after-year, I never cease to be uplifted by the warmth of the people and the bounty they bring to the image of San Salvador sitting atop his little burro outside the panteón.  The best of their fruits, vegetables, herbs, livestock, clothing, flowers, and much more are gratefully received by a committee, priced, and later-in-the-day, sold to raise money for a designated project.

A little after noon, San Salvador (his burro now filled to the brim), offerings, and the faithful were blessed by the priest.  Fireworks exploded, rhythmic sounds of the traditional teponaxtles (drums) and chirimía (small oboe) sounded, and led by a trail of bougainvillea bracts and the smoke of copal, the litter of San Salvador atop the burro and carried by 30+ men, set off on a journey to the atrium of the church.  They were followed by villagers and visitors carrying the remainder of the goods collected — a ritual reenactment of the Biblical story of Jesus entering Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.

The procession successfully navigated overhead wires above and heeded warnings of “topes” (speed bumps) below.  A kilometer down this perilous route, San Salvador and the faithful, young and old, approached the atrium of the church, San Salvador was set on the stage where an outdoor mass was to be said, and on the opposite side, the hand-and-head-carried offerings were to be sold.  I cannot begin to express how warm and welcoming the people of San Antonino Castillo Velasco were.  Wearing a blusa from San Antonino, that I purchased several years ago, I was smiled upon and, as I was taking photos, officials and other villagers ushered me to the front.  Again, I ask, how many magical moments can one person have?

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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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Even leftover decorations from a Día de la Samaritana agua station in front of an abandoned building are beautiful in their own way.

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Seen on García Vigil at the corner of Jesús Carranza.

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If you are in Oaxaca and it’s the fourth Friday of Lent, it must be Día de la Samaritana, an “only in Oaxaca” celebration.  This Day of the Good Samaritan was inspired by the Gospel of John story in the New Testament where a tired and thirsty Jesus, on his way to Galilee, asks a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well in Sychar for some water.

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Decorating a well outside the Cathedral

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Sign proclaiming the day, seen on the Alcalá

His request was highly unusual because, according to the Old Testament, “Jews regarded the Samaritans as foreigners and their attitude was often hostile.”  The woman complied with his request and the rest is history.

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Scene at the well outside Templo de San José

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Live actors waiting to reenact the scene

Celebrating the Good Samaritan in Oaxaca began in the atriums of churches at the end of the 19th century and is a popular and much-loved tradition.  Thus I joined thousands of Oaxaqueños and visitors, clutching cups, and wandering from one decorated agua station to another sampling their offerings.

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Samaritana station serving nieve at the Municipal Palace

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One of scores of agua stations on the Alcalá

People of all ages, from small children to grandparents, lined up at bougainvillea and palm decorated booths in front of churches, restaurants, businesses, schools, and even the city’s municipal office building for the traditional Día de la Samaritana free aguas.

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Hand painted ollas in front of Templo de Sangre de Cristo

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Hand painted jicara gourds waiting to be filled with tejate

These “water stations” are often decorated in a violet shade of purple, the color of Lent, symbolizing penance and royalty.  And, the ollas (pots) holding the aguas seem to get more decorative every year.

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Agua stations along the Alcalá

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Watermelon and mint agua station on García Vigil

We are not talking plain water, these are divinely flavored aguas frescas made with fresh fruits, herbs, flowers, and more — jamaica (hibiscus), horchata, chilacayote (squash), tamarindo, sandia (watermelon), tejate, and nieve (sorbet).  Even taxi drivers played the role of Good Samaritans.

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Nieve station in doorway of lingerie store on Independencia

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Taxi drivers host agua station on the Alameda

In previous years, the aftermath hath wrought mountains of garbage — cans overflowing with plastic and styrofoam.  However, this year, in the name of the environment, an appeal was made for people to bring their own cups.  And, I think a majority complied!

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On the Alcalá above Santo Domingo

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An olla with Agua de chilacayote (type of squash)

And me?  After almost two hours, three aguas (watermelon with mint, cucumber with mint, and chilacayote), a nieve of leche quemada and tuna, and being surrounded by smiling people enjoying this celebration of generosity, I returned home with my heart full of love and gratitude for the traditions of Oaxaca.

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Scenes from the streets of San Martín Tilcajete during yesterday’s Carnaval craziness.

Jacobo Ángeles

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“Color is descriptive. Black and white is interpretive.” – Eliott Erwitt

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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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The booms and bells began yesterday morning announcing the faithful en route by bus, bicycle, motorcycle, and on foot to visit the image of la Virgen de Juquila high in the mountains between Oaxaca city and the Pacific coast.

Copy of the image of la Virgen de Juquila

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.

“Buscando la paz hastati. Virgencita de Juquila” by José Michael Méndez Miranda — Noche de Rabanos, 2017

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 Catarina Juquila her permanent home.

Home altar, 2016 — Santa Catarina Minas, Oaxaca

The faithful make pilgrimages to both her old and new mountain homes (about four hours southwest of Oaxaca city).  They come year round to make offerings and pray for miracles, but especially during the days leading up to December 8.

Bus parked in Oaxaca city, December 7, 2018

She “is a symbol of love, of protection, of justice, of peace, of respect for human dignity.”  And, because of her indigenous roots, “the homage to the Virgin of Juquila is similar to that rendered to the Virgin of Guadalupe, not only in Oaxaca, but also in Puebla, Tlaxcala, State of Mexico, Veracruz and Chiapas, as well as in the United States, for the religiosity of migrants.”

Altar with image of la Virgen de Juquila — Encuentro de Cocineras Tradicionales de Oaxaca 2018

On October 8, 2014, Juquila received a papal coronation, joining her previously crowned (1909) Oaxaca sister, Nuestra Señora de la Soledad.  And, as I write on the night of December 8, 2018, Soledad celebrates her hermana’s day with fireworks.

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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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