Semana Santa Components

December 1, 2008 by  
Filed under Semana Santa What to Expect

Though the style and mood of Semana Santa through out the world varies from city to city, the basic components remain the same. Each day there is a number of processions, one from each brotherhood in the city, made up of floats which are carried from their church to the cathedral and back again. Most brotherhoods carry two floats, one with Christ and one with his mourning mother, Mary the Virgin.

 Each procession is different and each one has its own particular followers, either due to the location of the church or the exact nature of the procession (the presence of or type of music, the time of day, etc).

 The floats are heavy, strong men carry the floats, but with the procession lasting many hours, even they will feel the pain. The suffering experienced is likened to that experienced by Christ and the men (known as costaleros) consider it a great honor to carry the float, despite (and indeed, because of) the pain involved.

Elaborate Floats can Weigh as much as 7,000 pounds

November 30, 2008 by  
Filed under Semana Santa What to Expect

“There is a Holy Vigil (velacióne) before each procession.  Holy Vigils generally take place at the church the day before that Church’s procession.  The vigils are organized by a brotherhood, and there are different brotherhoods for each sculpture that will appear in the processions.”

“The sculpture is moved near the church altar in front of a huge decorative paper backdrop.  A carpet is constructed in front of the sculpture.  Around the carpet is a garden scene (huerto) that includes fruit and vegetables, bread, candles, flowers, and the native seed pod – the corozo.”

In the evening, a funeral-march band plays. Outside the church, larges crowds form, and a carnival atmosphere develops.  You find traditional foods and drinks–even games in some instances. 

Leaving from each respective church, the processions follow predetermined routes through the streets of Antigua before returning to the church several hours later.  The procession carriers wear purple robes worn until Good Friday. Then, they wear black robes signifying mourning.

“Processions generally begin with incense carriers and the brotherhood’s banner, followed by the carriers and the float (anda).”  Carriers will carry the float for a block, and then a new group will take over.  Turns are determined by carriers’ shoulder height to ensure that the float is balanced.  This is extremely important as floats can weigh as much as 7,000 pounds.

Thanks for quotes and information on Semana Santa processions from www.questconnect.org/guat_semana_santa.htm (which acknowledges “Culture and Customs of Guatemala, Lent and Holy Week in Antigua” as a source).

Planning Your Trip

November 30, 2008 by  
Filed under Semana Santa What to Expect

Taking part in Semana Santa requires a good deal of advanced planning. Be prepared to make reservations for accommodations a year in advance, and be prepared for huge crowds wherever you go. During this week, many schools and businesses close.

 Specifically in Antigua, consider purchasing tickets for one of Elizabeth Bell’s Antigua Tours. Ms. Bell is an ex-patriot who has resided in Antigua for more than 30 years. She is the city’s premier guide for antiquities, culture, and religion. Her book “Lent and Holy Week in Antigua” serves as a helpful resource for experiencing Semana Santa in Antigua. She gives an in-depth orientation to the events of the week and shares valuable tips on maneuvering through the maze of activities in order to enjoy them more. (Thanks to http://lifesstory.com/site/semanasanta.html)

Observations and Tips from My Semana Santa Trip to Antigua in 2008

November 30, 2008 by  
Filed under Semana Santa What to Expect

Transportation—Plan on walking, so wear comfortable shoes as the streets are primarily cobblestone, and sidewalks aren’t always level. Tuk-tuks are available for short distances, but be prepared to speak Spanish to the drivers. Of course taxis are also available, but restaurants and tourist attractions (markets, jade factory, etc.) are within reasonable walking distance from the town square. You will also find horse-drawn carriages around the town square.

Currency—A lot of restaurants accepted credit cards (where you get the best rate), but some mom-and-pop type places only accepted local currency (quetzales). The vendors selling food during Semana Santa accept local currency. However, some local vendors at the area markets accept U.S. dollars. But it’s always helpful to carry at least some of the local currency when traveling abroad. 

Vaccinations—It isn’t necessary to get a malaria shot (or pill) before visiting Guatemala, but it is wise to be current on tetanus. It doesn’t hurt to get Hep A and Hep B shots as well, which my family and I did before we visited Guatemala. But others in our group didn’t, so the choice is yours. I recommend checking with the CDC before traveling to make an informed decision. 

Accommodation—My family and I stayed in a lovely bed and breakfast a few blocks from town square. The food was great, and the service was better! Keep in mind that it is customary to leave a tip for service staff. 

Language—As with most tourist places, some vendors and locals speak English. However, for out-of-the-way places and most tuk-tuk drivers, Spanish was preferred. Even if your Spanish isn’t grammatically perfect, just attempting to speak the local language is much appreciated. I had several people laugh at my attempts, but overall I think it is well worth it to brush up on the local language before traveling abroad. 

Carpets (“alfombras”) During Holy Week

Carpets (“alfombras”)

On Good Friday, streets are covered with aromatic carpets (alfombras) of vibrant and beautiful flowers, pines, clover, and fruits. Alfombras form intricate, delicate carpets on the street pavement for the processional route to walk on. Some are long—more than half a mile long—with religious, colonial, Mayan, Roman, or other original designs. Everywhere you turn, you can smell the sweet smell of bougainvillea, chrysanthemums, carnations, roses, lilies, orchids, and other flowers in every color imaginable. 

The themes for the carpets are usually religious. Crosses and hearts are common symbols, but there are also political motifs and the occasional Mayan or Roman themed carpet, depending on where in the world you are partaking in Holy Week. 

Types of Alfombras

There are two types of carpets made during Semana Santa: 1. Elaborate and stunningly beautiful carpets along the processional route, which are made by residents; and 2. Carpets in churches which are made by the brotherhoods for the holy vigils (velaciones). Preparations for the carpets begin weeks, sometimes months, ahead. “In fact, distinct alfombra patterns are handed down from generation to generation!” 

“Carpets along the processional route are made by residents, friends, and families during the 24 hours prior to the procession. When one procession has gone by, a clean-up crew follows to remove the remains. Almost immediately residents begin to build another carpet in anticipation of the next procession later that day or the next.”

“Velaciones are held in the churches that have religious activities during the holiday. These carpets are made by members of the brotherhood responsible for the sculpture. The carpets are made in front of the religious figure on display and are surrounded by fruits, vegetables, and candles brought as offerings to the church the day before.”

 

Thanks to http://www.travelyucatan.com/maya/mayan_holy_week_carpets.php andhttp://www.questconnect.org/guat_semana_santa.htm for quotes and information on alfombras

Passion Play

In addition to special mass ceremonies, an important element of Semana Santa is the Passion Play. Brought to Mexico by Christian missionaries from Europe, the Passion Play is a reenactment of the crucifixion of Jesus. The Passion Play represents a vital element of European culture. In Mexico, brilliant Aztec colors are prevalent, and ancient dances are often performed alongside Christian rituals. 

Holy Week Food

August 18, 2008 by  
Filed under Semana Santa What to Expect

Street vendors sell everything from grilled meats to ice cream and fried breads. You will find women selling freshly squeezed orange juice, as well as small children peddling ice cream and candy. Bring local currency to purchase food from vendors.

 

Streets are covered with aromatic carpets (alfombras)

August 18, 2008 by  
Filed under Semana Santa What to Expect

Carpets (“alfombras”)

On Good Friday, streets are covered with aromatic carpets (alfombras) of vibrant and beautiful flowers, pines, clover, and fruits. Alfombras form intricate, delicate carpets on the street pavement for the processional route to walk on. Some are long—more than half a mile long—with religious, colonial, Mayan, Roman, or other original designs. Everywhere you turn, you can smell the sweet smell of bougainvillea, chrysanthemums, carnations, roses, lilies, orchids, and other flowers in every color imaginable. 

The themes for the carpets are usually religious. Crosses and hearts are common symbols, but there are also political motifs and the occasional Mayan or Roman themed carpet, depending on where in the world you are partaking in Holy Week. 

How Alfombras (carpets) Are Made

“Sand or sawdust is generally used to level the cobblestone roadway. Sawdust is then collected and dyed in different colors. Favorite colors include purple, green, blue, red, yellow, and black. Flowers such as bougainvillea, chrysanthemums, carnations, roses, and other native plants and pine needles are also used.”

 Before laying the base, the spot is washed with a garden hose. Not only does it clean the area, it also holds down the sawdust base, gluing it to the street. A frame of 2x4s is made, and a layer of raw sawdust is poured to make the carpet level since the cobblestone streets are not flat. For builders to work in the middle of a carpet, large boards are placed across a carpet resting on the 2x4s. After a carpet is made, it is sprayed with water again.

 Pictures are welcomed, and praise of one’s work is even better. However, it is not recommended to offer tips for their work. This generally brings astonishment; after all, these are selfless works of art made as sacrificial offerings to Christ.

 

 

 

Thanks to http://www.travelyucatan.com/maya/mayan_holy_week_carpets.php and http://www.questconnect.org/guat_semana_santa.htm for quotes and information on alfombras.