Cuaresma y Semana Santa en Antigua Guatemala
Lent and Holy Week in Antigua Guatemala

The Easter is considered the most important Christian holiday and is celebrated in remembrance of the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The period preceding Easter is called Lent and is in the Christian Church devoted to fasting, abstinence, and penitence in commemoration of Christ’s fasting in the wilderness. In the Western Church it runs from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday and so includes forty weekdays. In that time processions are taking place on the streets of many towns in Spanish-speaking countries all over the world. Probably, one of the most authentic and traditional processions take place in Antigua Guatemala, an old, charming colonial town, an hour’s drive away from the Guatemalan capital.

In Lent, Antigua Guatemala is clad in purple color that in the Christian liturgy symbolizes penance. Male participants of processions are dressed in purple togas. Larger or smaller clusters of purple dressed boys and men are seen everywhere in the town. On the metal window grilles and balconies of colonial houses purple flags are attached. Stone portals and window frames are decorated with dried flower arrangements in purple. Even one tree specie of acacia, just in that time, bloom in purple and the grounds beneath the trees look like natural purple carpets.

The monotony of the purple color is disrupted by many man made carpets (alfombras) those appear overnight on the routes where the processions will take place the next day. Traditionally, the alfombras are made of colored sawdust or sand, fruits, vegetables and flowers. Symbolically they represent clothes and palm branches which Jews threw on the road before Jesus Christ, the long-awaited Messiah, as he rode on the donkey into Jerusalem one week before the feast of unleavened bread (Passover). There Jesus Christ was betrayed, judged, flogged and crucified. Motives of the alfombras vary from religious symbolism to pure abstract patterns. Each family makes an alfombra in front of its house and competes with its neighbors in its size, appearance and material. Sometimes several families from the neighboring houses make one large alfombra together in front of their houses. While making the alfombras, socializing, cooperation and assistance, is more important than a victory over neighbors. Making the alfombras is time-consuming and requires many hours of detailed, exhausting, filigree skilful and patient work, which shows result in the final product. The work takes place in not too pleasant positions, like kneeling on the knees or sitting on the hard rock floor. But when the procession passes the alfombras, several hours of work turns into a bunch of mixed sawdust and flower residues in a few minutes. However, since the town is often windy, immediately after the procession comes a team of street cleaners and sweep the remains of the alfombras. So the wind can not blow the dust all over the place.

The participants of the processions are gathered in their parish churches before dawn. Each of them has a specific role in processions. The porters have small devotional pictures attached on their purple togas with a group number and the number of their place at the stage. Groups of the porters are exchanged every hour, as the processions often last all day long. They usually have to cross the whole town until they finally return back to their church late in the evening. At the beginning of the procession boys and men walk with censers. The censers could be very simple, made out of a can and wire, or even some genuine masterpieces of silver, according to the social status and wealth of the owner. The censers-men have glowing charcoal in their censers and as the incense they use the resin from copal trees. The copal was used by the rituals those Mayan priests performed in history. The whole procession is often wrapped in a dense smoke. The censers-men are followed in procession by the children, dressed in red togas with pointy hoods bearing the image of the biblical prophets and the twelve apostles. Sometimes they are followed by the heavy chain chained right and left thieves, Dismas and Gestas, which were crucified together with Jesus Christ. After them, Roman legionaries march in costumes, along with representative of the authorities, Roman Pontius Pilate and the Jewish high priest Caiaphas. Then follows the head stage with statues of Jesus Christ with the cross or Our Lady of Sorrows, which must often, due to weight bear as many as 50 porters at a time. The main stage may be followed by a few statues of saints on the small stretcher with four porters. Behind them march the men in black – the band that plays specifically for the processions composed music. Locals as well as other observers stand in front of the houses along the street waiting for the procession to go past them and do not go after the procession.
Photo Gallery
Postne procesije v Antigui Gvatemali (SL, Svet in Ljudje, 4.2011)
Postne procesije v Antigui Gvatemali (SL, Ognjišče, 4.2011)
Veliki teden v Antigui Gvatemali (SL, Ognjišče, 5.2011)
Antigua Gvatemala – Velikonočne alfombre (SL, Reporter, št.17, 2011)

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