I knew before I left that Easter is a pretty big deal in Mexico & Central America, with the celebrations in Antigua de Guatemala being the most famous.
Luckily for me, Guanajuato’s celebrations were nearly as spectacular, and much less crowded as they are nowhere near as well-known. All day on Good Friday (Viernes Santo), we saw men wandering around town carrying rolls of (mostly) purple cloth, tied together with thick ropes, and were mystified as to what they were. When we turned up outside the main church at 9pm to watch the procession, scores of these men were heading inside, so we followed them in to find out what the point of them were.
Inside was more packed than any church I’d ever seen, and instead of anormal mass, they were performing a passion play, with a huge cast, which was pretty spectacular. Soon our questions were answered – towards the back of the church was a huge wooden bed, garlanded with flowers and palms, with a statue of the dead Christ lying on top. Supporting the bed were the men we’d seen earlier – and it turned out that the roles of cloth were full-length hessian tunics, which they were wearing along with colourful masks, covering the full face leaving just eyeholes, with the rope wrapped around their foreheads. In the dark of the church, it was quite a scary but impressive sight.
Soon, the play ended and the procession began. At the front was a young child, marching with a picture of Jesus, soon followed by a band of pipers and drummers, playing a solemn march. What really stood out were their costumes: long black robes, with long pointy hats somewhat reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan on tour. Very bizarre.
After they passed, they were followed out of the church by the bed of Jesus – and as they struggled to carry it out of the narrow church door and then turn it to head out onto the streets, you could really see quite how heavy this thing was – and they’d only just began.
Following the large bed, followed smaller ones, with women carrying statues of the Virgin Mary & Mary Magdelene, and then more men carrying St John.
I’ve really never seen anything like it. Back home, Easter is largely marked by the consumption of huge amounts of chocolate, and my memory of Easter mass are pretty tame. It’s amazing the amount of effort they go to – and the procession continues for hours into the night, as they struggle round the narrow hilly streets of town going from church to church, stopping at each to perform prayers, and all done barefoot.
After watching for a while, we headed off for a beer, pleased that we’d made the effort to see something quite so special. Nearly three hours later, the music stopped in the bar, and we stepped outside to see why – and it turned out the procession was still going at 1am, stopping at the church outside. By this time, they looked pretty shattered, and not a little bit fed up of being photographed by countless tourists like me.
The highlight of my trip so far definitely. You can see more of my photos of Semana Santa in Guanajuato here