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Posts Tagged ‘Holy Week’

An albeit belated return to Semana Santa (Holy Week). Viernes Santo (Good Friday) in Barrio de Jalatlaco began early in the morning with a Santo Viacrusis along the cobblestone streets — a recreation of the path Jesus walked to his crucifixion. Its purpose is to allow the faithful to contemplate the Passion of Christ. The images of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, accompanied by a band and neighbors, stopped at each of the fourteen Stations of the Cross, that had been created throughout the neighborhood, where prayers were recited.

Image of Jesus being carried by Penitents.
Image of Mary Magdalene.
1. Jesus is condemned to death.
2. Jesus takes up his Cross.
3. Jesus falls for the first time.
4. Jesus meets his Mother.

At the fourth station, set up across from the Templo de San Matías Jalatlaco, Mary and John the Baptist (referred to here as, Juan, el primo de Jesús/John, the cousin of Jesus) joined the procession for the farewell encounter between Jesus and his mother.

Mary, Mother of Jesus.
John, the Baptist.
5. Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the Cross.
6. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.
7. Jesus falls for the second time
8. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem.
9. Jesus falls for the third time.
10. Jesus is stripped of his garments.
11. Jesus is nailed to the Cross.
12. Jesus dies on the Cross.
13. Jesus is taken down from the Cross.
14. Jesus is laid in the tomb.

Following the procession, neighbors gathered in front of Templo de San Matías Jalatlaco for food and beverages that were available for sale at stalls set up on Aldama and Hidalgo. I came home with yummy enchiladas.

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How wonderful it was to return to San Antonino Castillo Velasco on Domingo de Ramos and once again see and experience San Salvador atop his burro being piled high with the best and most beautiful bounty.

Covid precautions had caused the 2020 and 2021 Palm Sunday celebrations to be canceled. But, at long last, this year villagers, young and old, on bikes and on foot, in carts and in trucks, once again were allowed to return to the street outside the panteón (cemetery) bearing fruit, vegetables, herbs, breads, flowers…

… and farm animals! Their offerings were received and priced by a committee — to be sold later in the day to benefit a local project. By the way, the price tag for the colt read $4000 pesos.

Once the burro was “filled to the brim,” with only his face peeking out, the priest arrived to bless the offerings and faithful with holy water. Dare I confess, it was hot under the noonday sun and the sprinkling of cold water felt good! The palm fronds, having been blessed, were distributed to all. Fireworks began exploding and the rhythmic sounds of the teponaxtles (drums) and chirimía (small oboe) began playing — announcing the start of the procession. Led by smoke from burning copal and a trail of bougainvillea bracts, the litter carrying San Salvador atop his burro set off on the kilometer long journey to the atrium of the church. They were accompanied by villagers and visitors clutching palm fronds and carrying the remainder of the goods collected.

This is a reenactment of the Biblical story of Jesus entering Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. A few spectators chose to watch from balconies, but mostly the route teemed with a growing mass of followers as 30+ hardy men bore the litter along the “hazardous” street — ducking wires above and navigating topes (speed bumps) below.

Once inside the church atrium, San Salvador and his burro were carefully maneuvered onto a stage where the priest joined them to say mass. At this point, blogger buddy Chris and I swam against the crowd and made our way to the food stalls set up just outside the atrium — San Antonino’s mouthwatering empanadas de amarillo beckoned.

(ps) Chris made a video of the procession which you can view HERE.

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Alas, another silent Viernes Santo in Oaxaca due to the pandemic. No early morning processions from churches throughout the city converging in front of the Cathedral to reenact the encuentro where Jesús meets María going towards Calvary. No worshipers praying and reciting appropriate devotions as they moved from one sidewalk Estación de la Cruz (Station of the Cross) to another. And, no rhythmic beat of a tambor, high-pitched tones of a chirimía, and the sputtering sounds of rachets punctuating the hush of the crowds gathered along the route for the early evening Procesión del Silencio (Procession of Silence).

Only silent sacred vignettes accompanied yesterday morning’s Good Friday walk through Barrio de Jalatlaco…

Unlike last year when church doors remained closed and services were broadcast remotely, the Archbishop announced that this year the churches will be open for liturgical acts on Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday, albeit with a “limited presence of the faithful.”

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The sights and sounds of Good Friday in Oaxaca have gone missing. Weeks ago, the archbishop canceled all public Semana Santa (Holy Week) celebrations. Jesús, María, San Pedro, Penitents, religious banners, and devotees are not processing through the streets to the rhythmic beat of a tambor, high-pitched tones of a chirimía, and the sputtering sounds of a rachet. While not religious, I miss it and this year last year’s photos will have to suffice.

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The streets are empty, as Viernes Santo has gone silent.

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We couldn’t put it off any longer, non-perishables were needed! Thus, instead of another long leisurely Sunday stroll like last week, my neighbor and I walked (keeping two meters apart) down to Soriana, our local supermarket. We went early in the morning and the streets were mostly empty — making it a piece of cake crossing a particularly dicey intersection. Ready to do battle with the virus, we came armed with alcohol wipes and shopping, paying, and bagging strategies. However, Soriana also was on emergency preparedness alert. Once inside the door, hand-sanitizer was pumped into our hands and the handles of our carts were wiped down with disinfectant.

As we had hoped, there were very few other customers and most seemed very conscious of maintaining social distancing protocol, — the workers stocking the shelves, not so much. There were signs posted limiting the quantities one could purchase of certain items and there were taped lines on the floor in front of the check stands indicating how far apart to stand. Though, one guy didn’t get the message and cut in front of me. I snapped, “sana distancia” at him, he glanced back at the crazy gringa and went to a different line.

My route to Soriana, usually consists of cutting a diagonal across the Plaza de la Danza, walking down the ramp to Jardín Sócrates, and crossing the atrium of the Basilica de la Soledad before tackling the steep stairs down to Av. de la Independencia. Alas, this trip, it wasn’t to be — the atrium doors facing the Jardín were locked up tight, as were the ones at the top of the stairs on Independencia.

Signs were tacked to the massive doors indicating all masses had been suspended until further notice. It was all quiet on the church front and the realization hit me that I hadn’t heard a single church bell in days, if not a week — which sounds about right because, on March 21, the Archdiocese of Oaxaca announced the suspension of all Eucharistic celebrations, including Easter. In addition, the Archbishop has called on Catholics to stay home during Holy Week, in order to limit the spread of COVID-19 between people and communities.

Health officials have been running public service announcements on the TV telling people to stay home and advising them, if they must go out, on methods to avoiding catching and spreading the virus. And, yesterday the Mexican government declared a state of health emergency and ordered a suspension of all non-essential businesses and activities until April 30th. For businesses, the restrictions are mandatory, however for people it is an “emphatic invitation.” President Andrés Manuel López Orbrador’s gradual approach to the pandemic has been highly criticized in some quarters, though the strategy has been praised by representatives of the World Health Organization. However, most agree that stricter measures will have to be implemented once the pandemic really hits.

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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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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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If it’s Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday), I must be in San Antonino Castillo Velasco.  I know there must be other villages that have colorful and moving celebrations, but the magic of San Antonino compels me to return year after year.  Who can resist the spectacle outside the village panteón of watching el Señor del Burro be piled high with a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables and festooned with garlands of peppers and pan (bread)?

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And, besides, each year there is always something a little new and different.  To wit, in previous years parishioners presented their offerings with great pride to a committee of three or four women who formally received the donations, thanked the benefactors, and priced the items (for sale later in the day to benefit the work of the church).  However, this year, in addition to offering blessings, it was the priest who interceded between the donors and the pricing committee to receive and express gratitude to each person for their contribution — be they grand or humble.

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Once the young priest finished receiving the goods, he donned his ceremonial robes, offered prayers, and blessed everything (including my camera!) and everyone with holy water.  This was the cue for palm fronds to be distributed to all and the altar boys and girls and disciples to assemble.

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With the burro fully loaded, a team of 20+ extremely strong men hoisted the litter carrying the image of San Salvador atop the burro and, followed by villagers and visitors carrying the remainder of the goods collected, the journey to the church set off — a ritual reenactment of the Biblical story of Jesus entering Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.  As the procession made its way to the church, the rhythmic sounds of the drum and horn leading the way were occasionally overpowered by shouts warning the men of topes (speed bumps) and low hanging telephone wires that must be navigated.

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The route is at least a kilometer from the panteón to San Antonino Obispo church and yesterday the sun was blazing, with not a cloud in the sky.  It is a grueling act of faith for the men who bear this massive burden.  The final hurtle was making their way up the steps and under the arch leading to the church atrium, where a platform to place el Señor del Burro awaited.

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By 1:00 PM, the bounty to be sold had been hand (head) carried or trucked to the display area set up on the opposite side of the church atrium and it was time for the outdoor mass to commence.  Thus, it was also time for us to duck out to browse the accompanying expo-venta of fabulous San Antonino embroidered blouses and dresses, flor inmortal artisan creations, the amazing and ongoing work of José García Antonio, the blind potter, and lastly find our favorite empanada vendor in the maze of food and artisan stalls set up outside the atrium walls.  Yummm…

You should also check out the Oaxaca-The Year After blog– rumor has it that Chris will be posting a video of the procession in the next day or two (or three).

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