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Posts Tagged ‘religious celebrations’

The annual convite at the beginning of July in Teotitlán del Valle has not only been an invitation to the village’s patronal festival honoring Preciosa Sangre de Cristo. For me, it has also served as an invitation to a month of non-stop celebrations and events — an excuse to set aside my daily routines and chores and, instead, revel in the color and culture on display in the streets of the city and the small towns dotting the valley of Oaxaca.

The church, Preciosa Sangre de Nuestro Señor Jesucristo, ready and waiting for the convite to begin.
Picacho, the sacred mountain envelops the community in its protective arms, as the canastas and unmarried young women and girls of the village take their place in line for the convite.
Boys clutching their mini marmotas patiently wait for the deafening sound of the cohetes (rockets) signaling the convite’s start.
Boys and their mini marmotas at the head of the convite — accompanied by a few dads, big brothers, uncles, and officials to keep them in line.
Two monos (new addition this year) and one of several gigantic marmotas follow close on the heels of the young boys.
Of course there is a band to set the tempo.
Arms raised, contingents of unmarried women and girls carry canastas decorated with religious imagery.
Most are dressed in the valley’s traditional enredos (wool wrap skirts) and colorfully embroidered white blusas from Oaxaca and Chiapas.
In this Zapotec villlage, the beauty of the faces and strength of their arms are a sight to behold — especially Beatriz (foreground), who is very dear to my heart.
A second band marks the approach of the danzantes.
Danzantes of the Danza de la Pluma Promesa 2022-2024 alternately march and dance their way along the cobblestone streets.
Picacho watches as the danzantes wend their way along the meandering streets of Teotitlán del Valle.
Villagers watch as danzantes Moctezuma, Malinche and Doña Marina, followed by another marmota, and town officials mark the last of the convite’s participants.

After almost an hour, the convite and its contingents returned to the church atrium. Their work, of extending an invitation to the festival, is finished — until next time!

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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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A much needed pause in nesting at the new Casita Colibrí was in order. Teotitán del Valle’s patronal festival of the Preciosa Sangre de Cristo beckoned. The pandemic had closed the village for many months and precluded attending any of the 2020 fiestas. However, with mask on, I returned to spend three days. First on the schedule was Monday evening’s convite (procession) inviting the community to the fiesta.

Lining up in front of Iglesia Preciosa Sangre de Cristo for the convite.
Canastas ground level before being lifted onto the heads of the young unmarried women chosen to participate.
Cohetero (aka, rocket man) mugging before lighting the fuse.
Anticipating the big bang!
Tambor player who has walked many miles.
Young percussion player with many miles yet to walk.
As the shadows lengthened, the convite wound its way through the streets of Teotitlán del Valle.
Doña Marina, Moctezuma, and La Malinche bringing up the rear.
Villagers gather at their favorite location to watch the passage of the convite.
Convite taking over the main street in Teotitlán del Valle.
Danzantes under the watchful gaze of El Picacho.
Subalterno keeping on keeping up.
The return trip to the iglesia.
After almost an hour, the convite re-entered the atrium of the iglesia.
Watching and contemplating — the end.

The last festival in Teotitlán that I attended, before Covid-19 turned the world sideways, was the Fiesta de La Virgen del Rosario in October 2019. The warm welcome I received at the convite on Monday was incredibly touching and I admit to tearing up a little as it began.

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It is a mostly quiet feast day for Oaxaca’s patron saint, La Virgen de la Soledad (the Virgin of Solitude). If you have ever been to Oaxaca you probably visited her at the Basilica built in her honor and seen images of this Reina y Patrona de Oaxaca (Queen and Patroness of Oaxaca) for sale, carried in religious processions, and tucked into niches.

Virgen de la Soledad clay sculpture by Irma García Blanco* in Barrio de Xochimilco

In non Covid-19 times, she is celebrated with anything but solitude. A cacophony of chiming bells, brass bands, crackles, pops, bangs, and whistles from fireworks, toritos, and a castillo fill the air (and severely limit sleep) in the days and nights leading up to December 18. And the aroma of Oaxaca street food from stalls set up to feed the pilgrims who often spend the night of December 17, permeates the neighborhood.

Image of the mule who refused to move located in the garden behind the Basilica de la Soledad

Since her unceremonious arrival 400 years ago on a mule who laid his burden down and refused to get back up, “In critical moments, such as earthquakes, epidemics, droughts, conflicts, social upheaval and others, she has been with us, to give us her company. Not only on her feast day, but almost every day they come to give thanks to Our Lady for continued life and good health.” — Nicolás Ramírez García, Rector de la Basílica Menor. (My translation)

Virgen de la Soledad sculpture in a niche near Jardín Conzatti

This year she has not processed through the city but instead remains behind the closed doors of her home in the Basilica de la Soledad. In order to keep her people safe from the virus, today her bejeweled figure does not preside over open air mass in the church atrium, the faithful are not able to line up to pray before her, light candles, and touch her mantle with bouquets of flowers and traditional herbs. Worshippers have been urged to maintain the faith from their homes and pray in front of their own images of La Virgen.

My Virgen de la Soledad clay sculpture by Irma García Blanco*

The Virgin of Solitude has been my neighbor for more than eleven years and I mourn the unnatural quiet, but look forward to next year — no doubt a celebration magnified in gratitude for surviving the pandemic.

*Irma García Blanco is one of the Grandes Maestros del Arte Popular de Oaxaca and is the daughter of Oaxaca’s grand matriarch of decorative pottery, Teodora Blanco Nuñez.

Update: While the doors were closed, based on photos in this article, apparently a limited number of worshippers were allowed into the Basilica for the mass celebrated by the archbishop.

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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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