Posts Tagged ‘Templo del Carmen Alto’

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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As promised, the fireworks on Sunday night at Templo del Carmen Alto celebrating Señor de Esquipulas were, indeed, espectacular!  But, you may be asking, “Who is he and why does he deserve such celebration and veneration?”

Esquipulas refers to a town in Guatemala where, prior to the arrival of the Spanish, the peoples of Mesoamerica worshiped the god Ek Chua.  After the Conquest, in 1594, Quirio Cataño was commissioned to carve a sculpture of Jesus on the cross for Esquipulas.  Legend has it that Cataño used dark wood so that it looked more like the indigenous residents of the area.  Another version of the story has the sculpture turning dark overnight to “please the children from the village of Esquipulas.”  However, during a recent restoration of the image it was determined that it was centuries of smoke from candles and being touched by the faithful that turned the original light wood, dark.

Señor de Esquipulas during the Procession of Silence, Good Friday 2013

Señor de Esquipulas from Templo Carmen Alto, Oaxaca — Procession of Silence, Good Friday 2013

Various miracles have been attributed to Señor de Esquipulas and pilgrims descend on the small Guatemalan village from Central America and Mexico to venerate the Black Christ.  He has a long reach and replicas have been commissioned in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Mexico, Nicaragua, and even as far away as Venezuela for the faithful to worship.

I’m not sure how Carmen Alto in Oaxaca came to house a Señor de Esquipulas, but it does and they go all out celebrating.  Processions and special masses have been held during the week.  However, the big festival day is January 19 and it began with early morning rockets at 6 AM — Alegres mañanitas in honor of the Señor de Esquipulas.   The eucharist was celebrated at 7 AM, 8 AM, and 12 PM — the latter “For the peace of the world and for all the infirmed.”  Cultural events were held during the day and there was another eucharist at 7 PM.  Following the evening eucharist, Señor de Esquipulas was carried through the streets of the parish, accompanied by a band, monos, and believers.

Once they returned to Carmen Alto’s courtyard, it was “torito” time.  The little bull holding up part of the castillo-under-construction in my last blog post, was ready to take center stage.  Encircled by a brave crowd, for twenty to thirty minutes he danced and ran around the plaza spewing sparks at those in the line of fire.

Next up was two castillos, multi-story structures wired for a major sensory experience — light, sound, and much welcome heat, on a chilly night.  Peace seemed to be a theme this year, with wheel appendages spelling out, “Violence no more” and “All united for peace.”  This year there was even a prerecorded soundtrack.  A young couple, on a cycling trip from Vancouver to Argentina, recognized it as music from a movie that I hadn’t heard of — however, they seemed quite surprised and delighted.

The flaming tops of each castillo eventually spun off into the night, as a fabulous fireworks display lit up the sky.

The show put on for Señor de Esquipulas was spectacular!

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Beware, anyone in the vicinity of Carmen Alto church tonight…

There’s going to be some major fireworks!!!

Oaxaca is celebrating the Black Christ, Señor de Esquipulas.

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Walking home today…

Besides walls of street art (which will no doubt appear here when inspiration hits or I can’t think of anything else to post), I came across this view.

Looking down street, red domed church mid ground, mountains in distance

Looking over rooftops at red domed church in mid distance and mountains in background

Looking over rooftops at red domed church in mid distance and mountains in background

Red dome of church in foreground with mountains in background

View of Templo del Carmen Alto from Crespo, near the Escaleras del Fortín.

There is beauty out there…

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Sunday, in the Plazuela de Carmen Alto, celebrations honoring the Christ of Esquipulas (Black Christ) were in full swing. I was awakened at 6 AM to the sound of fuegos artificiales (fireworks) and eventually drifted off to sleep after 11:30 PM, as fireworks’ explosions resumed.

Festivities lasted all day and I couldn’t resist heading up to the church courtyard to see what was happening.

When I arrived, seats in the shade were filled and a small crowd was gathered behind a barricade; a castillo, laying on its side in three parts, was being constructed; a teenage Oaxacan brass band, with the requisite tuba towering over the other instruments and their players, was waiting to play; and young dancers were performing with a combination of earnestness and joy.

Skirts flying

Dance always seems to be an integral part of celebrations both secular and religious, and, in reflecting on my love for this, at times, perplexing and contradictory place, dance is one of the things that resonates the most.

Piña Dancers

A small stage set up under the trees; dancers, their handmade and unique costumes; energetic music; choreographed steps passed down through generations spirited me back to my childhood…

Mom and me

Let’s dance!

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