Lenten Season in Antigua
Lent begins this month on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 14, starting the countdown to Holy Week and the largest celebration in the world in La Antigua Guatemala! Yes, we outdid Seville, Spain a few years ago.
The most exciting velaciónes (holy vigils) and processions this month are from Santa Catarina Bobadilla and Santa Ines, both located on the outskirts of this magical city. Indeed, nothing seems to be more important for Antigüeño than creating the incredible decorations for these religious celebrations, which date back to colonial times but have acquired a new air of their own.
With such a packed schedule – more than 60 activities during a 40-day period – Lenten observances actually start the Saturday before Lent begins with the first velación at Santa Catarina Bobadilla. The church will be decorated with elaborate displays honoring the Virgin Mary that will be in the procession on Feb. 18. Each year is a surprise because the design is kept top secret so everyone will be thrilled when they see it!
The velación represents the Garden of Gethsemane, which Jesus visited before being sentenced and crucified. The best time to visit is early in the morning – or you may battle the crowds later in the day, as it will be packed by 5 p.m. and stays open until after 9 p.m. The food in front of the church is also part of the folklore.
The following velación is for the 1650 Christ figure on the First Friday of Lent (Feb. 16) at San José Cathedral and for the Christ figure at Santa Catarina Bobadilla on the same day. The hermandad (brotherhood/sisterhood) at Santa Ines del Monte Pulicano also sponsors a velación on the Second Friday (Feb. 23). The dyed sawdust carpets made in all of these are exquisite.
The finest sawdust carpets for the processions are always found a few hours before each departs in the neighborhood of the church – Sunday, Feb. 18, at Santa Catarina Bobadilla and Sunday, Feb. 25, at Santa Ines. Thousands of carriers sign up in advance to carry the wooden figures of Christ, the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene and St. John around the streets of Antigua.
If a procession is going to pass by your house or business, it is customary invite friends and family to prepare a carpet on the street in front of your place with flowers, fruits and vegetables and dyed sawdust. While some designs are created months in advance, many are fashioned on the spot. All carpets are of equal importance.
The oldest processions date back to the 1500s with the cofradías and guilds. When the capital was moved to present-day Guatemala City in 1773, those religious figures were moved then too. However, Antigua was not procession-free for long — the city resumed Lenten processions in 1808 and has embraced them ever since. The number of Guatemalan-composed funeral marches played by the bands behind the wooden figures has also increased.
For more information, my book, “Lent and Holy Week / Cuaresma y Semana Santa La Antigua Guatemala,” was recently updated (2017) and is available locally and on www.amazon.com.
We remind guests not to carry any valuables to these activities because among the thousands of visitors are also some expert pickpockets. Stay tuned to the REVUE’s March issue for more information about Lent and Holy Week!
Revue article: GUATEMALA INSIGHT
by Elizabeth Bell, author/historian. AntiguaTours.net