Lent is upon us here in Antigua Guatemala and Yolkobsens have decided to forgo nothing for their sins. However, there are many faithful here and we admire and envy them for their strong and solidly held beliefs. And we are grateful to experience the profoundly moving gestures of faith that take place here during the Lenten season, many of them right in front of our house. Having a rental home in Antigua this kind of event affords travelers a first hand opportunity to see these parades through Lent.
In Antigua Guatemala, no matter what season, there is always a surprise, large or small, to be had when we walk out our front door. Among the more moving demonstrations are the processions that happen every Sunday leading up to Semana Santa or Holy Week.
Last Sunday, our road, like many here, was closed off early in the afternoon. Our neighbors came out to dress our calle with lines of flowers: Snap Dragons, Baby’s Breath and rose petals, on beds of pine needles. This floral carpet was repeated over and over by the barrio faithful throughout the town as the procession wound its way through the streets and over to the Calvario Church, located near the edge of Antigua Guatemala.
At around 3 p.m. we heard strains of music from the brass band that accompanied the procession and we ran out to join our neighbors who were putting the finishing touches on their floral carpets loving placed on the cobblestone streets. Many continued to pour water on them, bringing a breath of pine into the dusty air.
Leading the informal procession, was a series of street vendors hawking everything from cotton candy and helium balloons to deep fried bread. Lent may be a time of repentance, restraint and suffering, but commerce of all sizes carries on.
In all there must have been over three hundred people participating in the formal procession. There were: the waves of men robed in purple, the color representing the suffering of Christ and his royal place in the kingdom of heaven; the Roman soldiers with their lances and helmets done up with real broom ends; the Israelites; and the priests guiding the proceedings and who, for some reason, were wearing surgical gloves, a modern improvisation.
Finally came the floats, all of them heavy and meant to be a welcome burden to the people who carried them. None of the three large and ponderously heavy religious depictions was on a flat bed truck. No, the congregants shouldered the religious scenes as they walked in time to the music through the streets. The largest one, depicting Christ on his way to Calvary, was so heavy that the purple clad bearers had to change shifts every four to five minutes or so. This was arduous work indeed. All the men where sweating, many grimacing with the effort.
There was a smaller, but still relatively heavy stage on which sat the Queen of Heaven, Mary. This was born through the streets by young women straining to complete the task. We saw that this was a serious duty, solemnly carried out.
As for the flowers? All of the band members, Israelites, Roman soldiers and other procession members stepped around the carpets. These were reserved as part of the path for the religious icons and scenes. Only the feet of those carrying the religious stages walked on these gentle tributes. These simple floral and pine carpets are a prelude to the more elaborate versions that people will work through the night to create during Samana Santa/Holy Week.
We had a sudden realization. Ours was the only house in the neighborhood that had not provided a Cuaresma alfrombra de flores or Lent flower tribute. Next Sunday will not catch this gang, comprising two lapsed Catholics, a Jew and one Buddhist, napping. We’ll be out there with our lines of flowers and pine, waiting and watching among the faithful.
Having a rental home in Antigua this kind of event affords travelers a first hand opportunity to see these parades through Lent.