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Posts Tagged ‘Semana Santa’

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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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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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 at night.  A vigil is kept all night by designated villagers and parishioners are encouraged to visit.

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After spending Holy Monday in Teotitlán del Valle, I returned on Jueves Santo (Holy Thursday, Maundy Thursday) to spend the day with Juana Gutiérrez Contreras in the home she shares with her husband, Antoño Lazo Hernandez, and their family.  She and her husband are members of a talented family of Zapotec weavers.  I’ve previously blogged about her brother Porfirio and am helping in a small way with a big project he is working on — and that is how I found myself spending several days during Semana Santa in Teotitlán.

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Juana Gutiérrez Contreras and Antoño Lazo Hernandez – July 2016

However, this day, I wasn’t there for the weaving — as wonderful as it is.  As with much of life in Teoti, there are culinary customs to be followed on Holy Thursday.  After insisting I sit down for desayuno (my second of the day — I’d eaten breakfast before leaving home), we set to work preparing the traditional Jueves Santo comida of white beans.

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Juana separating dried white beans.

I was tasked with grinding garlic and herbs used to season the beans.

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Crushing garlic and herbs using a stone pestle in a clay bowl.

Halved tomatoes (another of my jobs), whole onions and whole jalapeños were added to the beans.

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Yes, this watched pot did boil — or at least, simmer!

Our attention then turned to making chiles rellenos de queso, using Oaxaca’s own chile de agua.  For this, we moved to the outside kitchen set up under the shade of fruit trees.

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Chiles roasting roasting directly on top of wood coal.

Juana used her fingers to turn the the chiles.  However, after one attempt on my part, she pointed to the tongs.  Those coals were really hot!

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Modern wire whisk meets traditional clay cazuela.

While Juana whipped egg whites to a stiff peek, before adding the yolks, I peeled and slit the chiles.

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Epazote leaves and chiles await the quesillo.

I was also entrusted with stuffing the chiles — first a leaf of epazote, followed by a heaping helping of shredded quesillo (Oaxaca string cheese).  Then Juana commenced to frying the chiles rellenos in another cazuela — gently laying each on top of a bed of egg batter and spooning more batter on top.

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Cazuela and chiles rellenos amidst the flames.

She was masterful in her ability to withstand the heat of the fire while carefully turning the chiles.

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Chiles rellenos about to be transferred to a waiting platter.

In timing known only to Juana and Antoño, comida was ready just as Antoño walked in the door from attending a reenactment of La Última Cena at the church — a Last Supper that featured the flavors of Teotitlán.  During this Semana Santa, he portrayed Andrés el Apóstol (Apostle Andrew).  So, only a few hours after we had all last eaten, we were again sitting down at the table.  Alas, the food was SO delicious and I was having so much fun, I forgot to take pictures of our bowls of delicately flavored white beans and plates of chiles rellenos.  Sometimes you just have to be “in the moment.”

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As the last couple of posts hinted, this year, instead of the city, I spent much of Semana Santa (Holy Week) in one of my favorite places — Teotitlán del Valle.

This was only the beginning.  It was a colorful, moving, and delicious experience!

 

 

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Well, actually not coats.  These are the “casitas” (temporary homes) to house Jesús and María as they make their way through the streets of Teotitlán del Valle on Lunes Santo (Holy Monday).

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The aforementioned streets include several blocks of Av. Juárez — the main street into town.  Thus, I found myself being “let off” the Teoti bus by the panteón (cemetery), instead of the mercado.

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How could I complain, when these guys (above) were so welcoming and offered this weary traveler a cup of agua de guanábana, a refreshing fresh fruit drink.

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As I mentioned in Monday’s post, there are twelve casitas in all — each with “walls” of the colorful tapetes woven in this village known for the story-telling designs and striking colors of their rugs.  Apparently, up until forty years ago, the casita walls were made of petates, the traditional woven palm mats that play a role from birth to death.  But, times change, the tapetes are more colorful, and it’s good PR for this community of weavers.

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As Jesús and María near, the ground is sprinkled with water and bougainvillea blossoms are scattered on the casita floor, copal incense is lit, and platters of food and drink await to feed the faithful and quench their thirst.  More about that to come…

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Today, Lunes Santo (Holy Monday), found me in Teotitlán del Valle, as Jesús and María were carried on palanquins in a slow moving procession through town, from one temporary tapete (rug) adorned casita to another.  They will make twelve stops in all.

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This casita was erected by the family of the Vice President of the village Church Committee, Amado Gutiérrez, father of Porfirio Gutiérrez, of whom I have previously written.

There was food and drink and so much more to this solemn expression of faith, so please stay tuned…

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Una muestra (a sample) from another sublime Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday) in San Antonino Castillo Velasco.

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Under the lavender canopy of jacaranda, Jesús (wearing his red cape) and his burro enter the church courtyard laden with the rich bounty of the village.

More to come…

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