Posts Tagged ‘Easter’

Good Friday in Oaxaca… Jesús may be the one who they say was crucified and resurrected, but María is never far from his side.









From frequent traveler to Oaxaca, Liza Bakewell’s book, Madre:  Perilous Journeys with a Spanish Noun:

One can travel all over Spain and its former viceroyalties and never see as many elaborately bedecked and bejeweled Virgins as one will see here in Mexico — neither in number, nor in glory.  Yes, in Peru there are many famously ornate ones.  In Colombia, too.  Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador have their share.  The Philippines is a runner-up.  But Mexico has all of them beat.  Marian devotion, the worship of the Virgin Mary in all her forms through song, prayer, writing painting, sculpture, and shrines, went wild in Mexico.  (p. 169)

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From the streets of Oaxaca today, wishing you happy Easter Sunday…

Palm fronds and cross against blue wall

Four Twenty Day

Caps with Bob Marley image & marijuana leaves

almost Earth Day…

T-shirt "Local food = primary care"

And, though nothing seen around the streets of the city, a happy Passover!


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Last night, fortified by tostadas, guacamole, and a little vino, a gal pal and I set out for the Jueves Santo (aka:  Holy Thursday and Maundy Thursday) tradition of visiting seven churches.  According to that fount of knowledge, Wikipedia, “The tradition of visiting seven churches on Holy Thursday is an ancient practice, probably originating in Rome.”

We purchased our bag of Pan Bendito (bread that had been blessed) and set off.  As always, the sidewalks were teeming with people in a combination of a semi-solemn pilgrimage, street festival, family night at the fair, and date night.  (Of course, there was canoodling.)  And, despite the “Entrada” and “Salida” signs on the doors of many of the churches, foot traffic was often gridlocked.  I didn’t help matters when I stopped short.  Jesus wearing a blindfold?

Blindfolded statue of Jesus

At another church, another blindfolded Jesus…

Blindfolded Jesus behind bars

And, another…

Blindfolded statue of Jesus behind bars

Holy Thursday, Batman, how could I have missed these blindfolded Jesus figures in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013???

(For those, like me, who are clueless where this blindfold business comes from:  According to the Gospels of Luke (22:64) and Mark (14:65), Jesus was blindfolded, mocked, and beaten following his trial and before his crucifixion.)




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And so, Viernes Santo began…


Processions from churches in the Historic District began at 7:00 AM.


They converged at the Alameda, on the south side of the Cathedral,


where “our Lord meets his most Holy Mother going towards Calvary.”


The faithful, now as one, then proceeded east on Independencia…

People dragging wooden crosses

along with the images of Mary and Jesus…

Statues of Mary and Jesus

stopping along the way at Stations of the Cross.

Septima Estacion - altar on outside stairs

I left at 9:30 AM — they were still going.  Early this evening, all will again gather for the Procession of Silence.  No rest for the faithful or weary bloggers!

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And so Viernes Santo (Good Friday) began…

Mass said, a Vía Crucis (Stations of the Cross) procession through the streets of my neighborhood.

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Lunes Santo (Holy Monday) in Teotitlán del Valle provided another moving and memorable experience.  For some unknown reason, the village re-enacts the 14 stations of the cross on the Monday before Easter.  Following a special early morning mass at the Templo de la Preciosa Sangre de Cristo, statues of Jesus and the Virgin Mary are hoisted on platforms and carried from the church to signal the start of the day-long pilgrimage.  They are led by a band playing a mournful and dissonant tune as they set off to wind their way through the cobblestone streets of Teotitlán.

“Stations” are set up along the route by designated families — some are decorated with the village’s famous woolen tapetes (rugs).  Tamales, non alcoholic beverages (alcohol, even the ubiquitous mezcal, is forbidden during Semana Santa), and nieves (ices) are offered at others.  At all, the appropriate prayers are read, incense of copal is burned, and offerings, including of corn and lilies, are made.  And, as always, children have important roles to play.

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The procession is solemn and dignified and filled with pre-Columbian, along with Catholic, tradition and symbolism.  Like all the other ritual celebrations in Teotitlán del Valle, these are not performed for the benefit of tourists — they are some of the strands of the warp and weft that have woven this community together for thousands of years.

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It’s been a week since the end of Semana Santa and I’m still sorting through photos and videos and reflecting on impressions and feelings.  However, I’m finding that, with too much thinking, the experience slips through the fingers and the magic vanishes.

Thus, I give you the night of Pascuas (Easter) at Carmen Alto…

And then, the hisses, bangs, and brilliant explosions of a castillo…

Flaming castillo

brought Semana Santa to a spectacular close.

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Evidence of Semana Santa began days before Palm Sunday; the streets and sidewalk cafés began filling with Mexican and international tourists; street vendors began blanketing the Zócalo, the Alcalá, and any and all gathering places; and the front of the Cathedral was lined with local artisans — the dark faces and strong compact bodies of native craftsmen and women weaving palm fronds into intricate flowers and crucifixes to sell to the faithful (and tourists) for Palm Sunday rituals.

Palm Sunday – I awoke early to the sounds of construction.  From my terrace, I could see a giant awning being erected on the Plaza de la Danza next to the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad.  Following a quick shower and breakfast, I grabbed my camera and woven palm frond and headed over there.  Food stalls with hot comals, tables and benches, and a beckoning aroma spilled down the stairs next to the Plaza – squash blossoms, mushrooms, cheese, tortillas, red and green hot sauces — the fixings for empanadas – and I asked myself, “Why did I eat a boring breakfast of cereal?”  More artisans weaving and selling palm fronds lined the stairs nearer the Basílica.

Massive sculptures of Jesús, bent under the weight of the cross he is bearing, and Lady Soledad, in her deep purple mantle, gold crown and halo, were set up outside, as was a small stage.  La misa was celebrated outside (to accommodate the enormous crowd, I’m guessing); the youthful choir, accompanied by a guitar, sang folky-sounding songs, cheers were chanted to the cadence of “rah, rah, sis boom bah!” and palm fronds were raised and blessed with holy water.  I wandered through the crowd (I’ve noticed a degree of fluidity exists among worshippers here, even inside churches, so I wasn’t the only one roaming around), one of only a handful of gringos in this congregation of 600+ mostly indigenous faithful.  I had pretty much no idea what was being said but did offer my right hand when it looked like all were to greet their neighbors — and was greeted with startled but warm smiles and handshakes.

I returned home, but first peeked through the rarely open large red door of the Holy Trinity Anglican Episcopal Church  nearby; 15-20 people standing in a circle in a small courtyard.  Quite a contrast!

Religious ritual wasn’t the only event of the day; a Secc. 59, teachers’ union car caravan from Juchitán (about 150 from miles away) occupied part of the Zócalo – a peaceful reminder of the ongoing struggle between the teachers’ unions and the government.  And, in the evening, sounds of a live (and free!) rock concert blared from the massive stage (I had heard being set up before the crack of dawn) in the Plaza de la Danza.  As is routine here, a fireworks display exploded only a few hundred yards above the heads of the concert-goers (and a little above eye level from my terrace, less than 2 blocks away) – all courtesy of one of the opposition political parties – PRD, I think.  The color, community, and contrast that is Oaxaca!

Jueves Santo – After a morning spend hand-washing “delicates” and tending to my garden, followed by an afternoon of Spanish lessons and shopping for fruit, veggies, and tortillas, with my portable fan on high (it was in the 90s), I collapsed on my bed for a late afternoon siesta.  Unfortunately, that meant missing the 5 pm (give or take) mass and washing of feet apparently at all the churches in the city.  However, after a dinner of tacos made with my newly purchased tortillas, aguacate, cilantro, Queso Oaxaca, lechuga, y pollo and washed down with Valle Redondo California Vino Blanco (my new favorite cheap wine), I reluctantly put on long pants (one doesn’t wear shorts in public in the city), grabbed my camera, and emerged from the refuge of Casita Colibrí, unwashed feet and all, to join the people-moving throngs.

Ritual called for visiting 7 churches, though pretty sure I wasn’t going to make it to 7, I figured I’d give it the good old college try.  My first stop was San Felipe Neri where, at the entrance, I purchased a bag of Pan Bendito (5 buns for 10 pesos) and the followed the faithful down the aisle toward the altar and out a side door (I didn’t stop to get my Pan Bendito blessed), a traffic pattern that was repeated at the other churches, some with entrance and exit signs tacked on the doors, all in the interest of preventing gridlock that threatened.  Clutching my bag of pan, my next stop was at Carmen Abajo, followed by the Cathedral, and Sangre de Cristo.

My plan was to end the evening minutes from my apartment, at the Basílica de La Soledad, where I could reward myself with a “Nieves Oaxaqueñas” (Oaxacan ice cream) of leche quemada (burnt milk) and tuna (not fish! fruit from nopal cactus) at El Jardín de Socrates, next to the church.  The Basílica was closed, but some sort of mass was being celebrated in the plaza outside.  So my question was, does that count as one of the seven?  I pondered this deep theological question as I tried to eat my nieve slowly enough so as not to get the inevitable brain freeze.  Last stop was at San José a small church across the Plaza de la Danza from Soledad, and even closer to home.

I’ve come to see Oaxaca as a city of contradictions, and the evening’s ritual was no different — sidewalks jammed with people in a combination of a semi-solemn pilgrimage, street festival, family night at the fair, and date night.  A balmy evening; streets teeming with young, old, and everyone in between; loud music blaring from clubs; lively conversations flowing from the open windows of restaurants; every kind of street vendor seemingly doing a booming business; and lots of young April-love canoodling going on!

Viernes Santo – I slept later than usual and slowly went about my morning routine, knowing tonight was THE major event of Semana Santa – the Procesion del Silencio.  However, as I was showering, from the open window I heard a slow, solemn drumbeat coming up the street — the unmistakable sound of a somber procession.  I rinsed, dried, dressed, brushed my hair, was out the door, and onto Morelos in less than 10 minutes, to see the the backs of the slow moving multitude.  Figuring they were headed to the Basílica, I ran down through the Plaza de la Danza and El Jardín de Socrates to the top of the retaining wall beside the stairway leading up from Independencia below, to the church above.  Good move!

After about a half an hour, I had a ringside view as the statues of Jesús and Nuestra Señora de la Soledad made their way up the stairs right in front of me.

About 6 PM, I re-emerged from Casita Colibrí and headed up the Alcalá to La Preciosa Sangre de Cristo for the beginning of the Procesion del Silencio.  Crowds had already gathered in front of the church, yellow caution tape roped off the street for participants to assemble, and banners were leaning against a nearby building.  I joined the tourists (But, hey, I live here!) jockeying for good camera position to snap some pics, then retreated to the curb to sit and wait.

The procession began not long after sunset, but immediately took a left turn – ooops a change in route!  The sidewalk populace immediately dispersed and I, pulling out my Spanish teacher’s route instructions (mil gracias!), ran over to 5 de Mayo where, in the darkness, I watched a grim, strangely moving, yet mystifying cortège.  Night photos, punctuated by bright white, energy efficient street lights were equally obscure, but Flip video turned out better and I hope, eventually, to edit it into a short video vignette.  We shall see…

By Saturday, I was “Semana Santa-ed” out!  Perhaps next year I’ll make it to Sabado Santo, the celebration of fire and water.   However, though I didn’t leave my rooftop refuge on Domingo de Resurreccion, the sound system of Nuestra Señora de la Soledad afforded me a bedside seat at the morning’s 6 AM outdoor Easter mass — the early hour more egregious because we had “sprung ahead” the previous night!  And, no sooner had I finally been lulled back to sleep by the priest’s sonorous sound, than the flinchers (rocket explosions) began and I bolted upright.  Bells followed and I gave up on trying to sleep.  La misa lasted 2-1/2 hours; a mile high in the Sierra Madre, “He” has risen…

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