The Passion of Devotion

One of the big reasons we came to Antigua was for Holey Week, or Semana Santa in Spanish. We’ve spent weeks here at Christmas but have never seen the beautiful carpets (alfombras) and processions of Semana Santa which is a much bigger holiday in Guatemala than Christmas.

Not being Catholic, much of the details of the various processions, of which there are 4 or 5 different ones some days, are lost on me. Pre-crucifixion, the color is purple and they are focused on the period up to Jesus being crucified. At 2 PM on Friday, everything changes as Jesus is now dead. The colors change to Black and the processions become even more dirge like and solemn. These processions ultimately cover just about every block of the main part of Antigua at some point during the week and some processions last as much as 12 hours. They are not just during the day, some are all night.

Cucuruchos walking in one of the processions.

There are andas (floats) carried in each procession by cucuruchos, devote Catholics who have paid some money to the church for the opportunity to carry the anda. As these processions are quite long and the andas heavy with their depictions of the important moments leading to and through Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, there are many people needed to carry the andas.

Cucuruchos can be women or men.

Cucurucho is a cone, or a penitents pointed hat. Although most of the cucuruchos do not seem to wear pointed hats at this point, one can clearly see the origins in this procession on Friday afternoon after Jesus has died.

Both men and women carry various andas. I can’t begin to understand the differences between, although the andas carried by the men (always carried before those carried by the women) although those carried by the men seem to depict events in Jesus’ live and those carried by the women are always of the Virgin.

I’ve read that an anda can weight up to 7000 pounds which dictates the number of cucuruchos are needed to carry it.

Note the anda being carried over an alfombra

I cannot for get the Romans. All the processions we’ve seen so far start with the Romans. Soldiers, horses and one chariot. Then the rest of the procession follows.

Some of the Romans use brooms for feathers. Quite stylish!

The Roman proclamation that Jesus must die.

The Romans always have a chariot. This group was out and about at 3:30 am!

But, to the alfombras (carpets); the beauty of Semana Santa. The origins are from Spain and came with the Conquistadors. The purpose, I cannot telly you as I’ve not really sorted this piece. However, the alformbras can be found is some places in Mexico and Spain (and Corpus Cristi, TX???), but mostly in Guatemala, and most heavily in Antigua. They are made on each day through Holy Week, but mostly on Good Friday, also the day of the most processions. The carpets are of several styles. Lets just start with a few examples.

Some alfombras are made almost exclusively of flowers.

Many are very intricate and made of colored sawdust.

Some are of other natural materials such as pine needles, flowers, and fruits and vegetables.

Still others are of coarser wood shavings.

Some alfombras may take only a few minutes to make, while others take many, many hours. The carpets are all made on the regular streets of Antigua and thus, many streets are close for a few hours or perhaps 10 or 12 hours or more.

We let to look at alfombras at 2:30 am. This allows you to see some of the most intricate designs before they are gone, and with fewer crowds. These guys had been working all night.

Not as intricate, but still very detailed. The boards allow you to get to the middle of the carpets.

Touch upsthat are hard to reach are required.

Some work is very detailed.

The most interesting thing about these carpets, as if there is only one interesting thing, is that the processions walk over them, but only those carrying the andas, not the Roman, nor the processional cucuruchos awaiting their turn to carry the anda. The alfombras are quite ephemeral, only lasting only a few hours.

My understanding is that the creation of them is an offering and a sacrifice. The people making them receive no compensation, nor are they funded. The supplies can cost a fair amount of money for people who in many cases make little. An interesting aspect is those carrying the andas, walk in a side by side gate and as they walk over the alfombras, the crouch a bit and move back and forth, forward and back which I have been told is a blessing for those who live in the homes making the alfombras. Nice!

I’ll leave you with a few more carpet and procession images. My understanding is that the processions tomorrow, Easter are a bit more uplifting as Jesus has risen! Time will tell.

You begin to appreciate the beauty of some of the execution. And remember these things last less than 24 hours.

There were a few good fruit carvers

Beautiful flower patterns

And always lots of incense!


The Passion of Devotion — 2 Comments

  1. The alfombras remind me of sand paintings – also for religious purposes and and meant to be ephemeral. Am of course most familiar with those of the Southwest USA, but sand painting, and I am sure other similar tradition such as the alfombras are found in many cultures. Very beautiful.