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 and for quotes and information on alfombras

Semana Santa Processions

November 30, 2008 by  
Filed under What is Semana Santa

All male or all female brotherhoods organize and walk in the processions. The brotherhoods (los hermandades) were originally called cofradías and are religious organizations.  It is thought that the carriers (cucuruchos) participated solely as a form of penance.  Today, while there is some degree of social status involved, the principal motivation seems to be that of devotion by the carriers.

“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.

 “A block behind the main float, women carry a smaller float with a figure of the Virgin Mary.  The women wear white in their procession before Good Friday.  Following behind are a funeral-march band and two additional floats carrying the sculptures of San Juan and Mary Magdalene.”


In Antigua, staging points for processions include La Merced, San Felipe, San Jose Cathedral, and the road along San Francisco and Escuela de Cristo churches—the largest on Holy Thursday and Good Friday. Some processions start as early as 2 AM or 5 AM. The processions consist of andas with statues of Christ carried by hundreds of purple-robed men. At 3:00 AM on Good Friday, preparations begin for the mock trial and sentencing of Christ. Participants dress as Roman soldiers, Pontius Pilate, and other participants in the drama. At 7:00 AM, the sculpture of Christ carrying His crucifix is moved through the carpeted main streets of Antigua on the shoulders of His worshipers until early afternoon, when the image is replaced by another of Christ being laid to rest.
Black crepe paper adorns the city as thousands of people, burning incense and dressed in black, crowd city plazas and streets. A spectacular procession is led by a man bearing the crucifix, with hundreds of followers carrying black banners and standards engraved with the final words of Jesus and the pronouncements of God. Life-like images representing archangels, Stations of the Cross, Cavalry, apostles, and many others are part of the silent procession through the streets of Antigua.


Holy Saturday continues with other funeral processions led by the image of the Virgin Mary (virgen dolorosa), followed by countless women dressed in black who commemorate the Virgin’s moments of sorrow at Christ’s side. The processions move slowly through Antigua’s cobblestone streets, the feet of the bearers cushioned by the alfombras, which are destroyed as the procession passes over. Finally, Easter Sunday is a time of rejoicing, with early processions through the streets of Antigua celebrating the resurrection of Christ. Firecrackers are heard throughout the city, and masses are held in all the churches.


Following these processions, Easter Sunday is a time of rejoicing, with early processions through the streets celebrating the Resurrection of Christ. Firecrackers can be heard throughout the city, while masses are held in the local churches.



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

Semana Santa Dates Back to 16th Century

November 30, 2008 by  
Filed under What is Semana Santa

The tradition of the Semana Santa dates back to the 16th century in Spain, when the Catholic Church decided to educate congregations about the events surrounding Christ’s crucifixion. Needing an easily understood and effective means of depicting the Passion of Christ, the church turned to art. This religious ceremony dedicated to the suffering of Christ and the Virgin Mary is celebrated in cities, towns and villages throughout the world.

Semana Santa begins on Palm Sunday, one week before Easter. On Good Friday the ceremonies reach a climax and it ends the day after Easter Sunday. The groups of figures and floats are carried throughout the streets from each of their churches. Processions continue day and night accompanied with beautiful ceremonies and picture-like rhetoric, decorated with garlands, flags and crosses.

Processions for Holy Week – History

November 25, 2008 by  
Filed under What is Semana Santa

Today as throughout history, the celebration of Holy Week (Semana Santa) processions “remains a sacramental centerpiece for the period of Lent. Each procession is organized by brotherhoods which coordinate all of the logistics including the carriers (cucuruchos) for the floats (andas). Some of the major processions begin before dawn and conclude after dark, requiring some 8,000 participants along the route. Although some processions are more elaborate than others, all of them include two traditional andas. The first, bearing a statue of a cross-laden Jesus of Nazareth, is carried by up to 100 men. The second is a smaller float, born by women, transporting Virgin de Delores who represents the Virgin Mary grieving over Jesus’ crucifixion.”

“According to Elizabeth Bell, cucuruchos historically carried the floats with their faces covered. It is believed that the carriers previously participated solely for penance. But, during the 1950s because of political attitudes, carriers were required to show their faces.”

“Preceding the anda in the procession is a man holding a pole with a sign declaring the turn number the procession is getting ready to make. When the float makes the turn, the carriers designated for that turn are waiting on either side of the street and, as it slowly stops, subtly take the place of the carrier in their assigned position.” This maneuver is so seamless that it is hardly discernable, even though you know it is happening.

“The order of every procession follows a similar pattern. The float of Christ appears first with the figure of the Virgin de Delores trailing about a block behind. Accompanying her are a funeral band and two smaller floats with sculptures of Saint John and Mary Magdalene. These are carried by four men who make change turns (but not at every corner).”

“Some of the processions are more comprehensive in the re-enactment of the last days of Christ’s life. Many participants portray Roman soldiers. The roles of Pontius Pilate and Judas Iscariot are paid positions because no one wants to volunteer for them, and they must march the entire route without replacements. One of the most stunning processions happens on the morning of Good Friday, originating from La Merced Cathedral in Antigua. Along with the typical andas, there are incredibly lifelike wooden statues of Christ depicting His torture and suffering leading up to the crucifixion.”

Thanks to for quotes and information on the history of processions for Semana Santa.

Alfombras on the streets of Antigua

October 30, 2008 by  
Filed under What is Semana Santa

Semana Santa or “Holy Week”  has a completely different feel from the states, as people reflect on Christ´s death and celebrate his resurrection — no chocolate rabbits and colored eggs. There is a reenactment of trial and crucifixion of Jesus Christ and on good friday, Christ´s body (in a glass casket) is the center of many large processions.

Late into the night, families gather in the streets, enjoy seemingly tasty traditional treats from local vendors.  At midnight, streets continue packed with people, shoulder to shoulder. The crowds are not intimidating, as people are calm, respectful and somber

The most beautiful part of the festivities are the alfombras, or carpets, that are created in the streets. Groups spend hours carfully sifting sawdust through stencils to create patterns and figures. Everyone has a few hours to enjoy the finished product, then they are walked over and destroyed by the processionals.

They are amazing, although very temporary, works of art created out of colored sawdust, flowers, fruit, and pine needles. 

History of Semana Santa/Holy Week

August 18, 2008 by  
Filed under What is Semana Santa

History of Semana Santa

“As with any cultural celebration, Spain’s elaborate Semana Santa was for centuries a work-in-progress. The starting point for its extensive history is the death of Christ; however, the celebration that we see today is the result of centuries of evolution.” 

“A significant point in Semana Santa’s history is 1521, when the Marqués de Tarifa returned to Spain from the Holy Land. After his journey, he institutionalized the Vía Crucis (Stations of the Cross) in Spain, and from that moment on this holy event was celebrated with a procession. Over time, the observance of the Vía Crucis eventually broke up into the various scenes of the Passion, with the incorporation of portable crosses and altars. This would eventually lead to today’s elaborate processions.” 

“Check out any map of Seville’s Semana Santa routes and you will see the official route clearly marked. This original route, while it has evolved since 1604, continues to serve as the backbone for the present route. The final major step took place in the 17th century, when Seville’s various cofradías (brotherhoods) began dividing and organizing themselves into what they are today.”



Thanks to for quotes and information on the history of Semana Santa.  For additional information, please also visit

Mix of Christian and Mayan tradition

August 18, 2008 by  
Filed under What is Semana Santa

Imágenes are religious sculptures that were made during the Spanish rule, dating back to the 17th century.  The faithful believe that the sculptures will grant believers their requests.  In some places in Guatemala, these sculptures are considered divine religious figures. The sculptures played a principal role in the conversion of the Maya to Catholicism when the Maya personified the sculptures with the stories of their own deities.


Thanks to (which acknowledges “Culture and Customs of Guatemala, Lent and Holy Week in Antigua” as a source).

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. 

History of Alfombras (Holy Week Carpets)

August 18, 2008 by  
Filed under What is Semana Santa

There are several different theories regarding the history of the alfombras.

The Christian theory for carpet making appears to stem from the Bible itself. The Canonical Gospels describe how Jesus rode into Jerusalem, where people laid down their cloaks and small branches of trees.

Another theory is that local residents threw pine needles on the cobblestone streets to make it easier on the feet of the penitents carrying the floats (andas). Then later, some neighborhoods added flower petals. From there each street, wanting to outdo the other, started adding designs—until brilliantly colored sawdust alfombras became the norm.

Some say the custom of making carpets can be attributed to Spain and the Canary Islands. However, it is believed that in pre-Hispanic times Mayans made carpets for ceremonial reasons, which carried over to Holy Week celebrations. 

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 and for quotes and information on alfombras. 

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