In my previous post I highlighted the ornate Alfombras (carpets) that are laid out in the streets of Antigua, only to be erased by the feet of the many who participate in the Semana Santa Processions. The Processions are impressive on all accounts and as a first time observer it took me a while to acknowledge the magnitude and complexity of the spectacle. Even now, a couple of weeks after returning home to Colorado, I am still trying to figure out exactly what I witnessed. I’m not Catholic but I know about the Stations of the Cross and the Passion Play which are traditional manifestations that commemorate the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Christ. Semana Santa was a whole new experience, a Passion Play on steroids if you will.
Good Friday, the day known for Jesus’ final march up Mt. Calvary to be nailed to the cross, is the busiest day of the week. Three massive processions, one for each of the three Churches in town, begin at their places of worship and wander through sixty some odd blocks of the ancient city. The first procession embarks at 4am and the other two in the heat of the afternoon. Keep in mind that these processions are very slow, taking up to 12 hours or more to make the rounds. Pace is set by the swaying feet of those carrying Andas (floats) which weigh upwards of eight thousand pounds. A changing of the guard takes place every block or two as a fresh group of Cucuruchos (Male Float Bearers) step in to keep the heavy Andas aloft. Throughout the day and night, the processions and participants and onlookers manage to steer clear of one another without a glitch, pure logistic genius.
The Cucuruchos pay an entry fee for the privilege of carrying the Andas and they are grouped with others of similar height so that the weight of the float will be evenly distributed. At 6’3” I stood out like the towering Gringo that I am and it made me very self conscious but it did give me an advantage as a spectator. I can only imagine that if I had the upbringing and ambition to sign on as a bearer, I might be politely re-directed to another assignment after they measured my shoulder height. In addition to the Cucuruchos, there are many roles to fill. Roman Soldiers on foot and in Chariots, sign bearers, and more Men and Boys cloaked in purple or white or black lead off the procession. Incense smoke fills the air surrounding the floats thanks to those in charge of swinging fiery pots back and forth as they march and at the heels of the floats marches a band playing dramatic and mournful music. The float of the Virgin Mary brings up the rear and is carried by Dolorosas (scarfed Women dressed in white or black). Throw in a city cleaning crew which immediately picks up the remains of the destroyed carpets and a generator and lighting crew after dark and it all adds up to one heck of a production.