Semana Santa in Guanajuato

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

12 responses to “Semana Santa in Guanajuato

  1. Very good description of the encounter. Felt almost like I was there. Very cool!

  2. “we”? the royal “we”? have we found some new friends? oh good – I ‘m glad!
    those costumes are pretty scary – what happened after they’d passed the bar? did they slowly pass out and get carried back?
    I’m loving the updates – makes me feel like I’m there. miss you

  3. Wow, what an experience to happen upon!!

  4. Geoff, that looks wonderful and odd in equal measure. KKK, Hamas, then funereal women (which I guess is what they’re meant to look like, after all) and then more Hamas. So glad you’re having a wonderful time.

    I know it’s silly to give tips when I am sure you’ve done your research and have an itinerary, BUT, if you do happen to be anywhere near Tlaxcala at any point, I remember it as being somewhere that blew my mind. I was taken there by my Mexican hosts on a day trip from Puebla, so I don’t think it’s majorly out of the way, and I think Puebla’s on your route.

    And now that I know our taste is so similar, both in loving Guanajuato AND all the same songs on last.fm, I’m guessing you’d like it too.

    Happy onward travelling.

  5. LOVE pointy-hatted celebrations!!

    (except the KKK ones)

  6. Just stopped in to check your blog and found these Easter pictures… it brought me back to last year, when I was just beginning my trip and enjoying Easter in Morelia! Beautiful pictures – what a lovely reminder!

    Also, Copper Canyon sounds amazing… it’s definitely on my future list of “must-travel” places, a list which (alas) is only growing bigger rather than smaller the more I travel.

    Glad to hear your trip is going well!

  7. Thanks Malena! Don’t despair – at least with the list growing longer and longer you’ll never run out of holiday plans.

    The Copper Canyon is really amazing – my only regret is that due to needing to meet friends I couldn’t spend more time there

  8. Pingback: Memorable City experiences – #13 BlogSherpa Carnival « Travel With Den Den

  9. Looks like something really interesting to see and be involved with.

    Did you get the feeling that people took the ceremony seriously?

    I ask because as time marches on and the world becomes smaller, more and more cultural expressions are becoming swallowed up in the modern world and may seem no longer relevant.

  10. Nice post and great photos! The hoods are kinda spooky, especially the long pointy ones.
    Jason

  11. One wishes that cities would document their rituals & processions and make it possible for visitors to know their meaning. The Intangible heritage that seems to gradually ebb from our modern lives.

  12. Pingback: Memorable City experiences – #13 BlogSherpa Carnival

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