Build Up To Semana Santa

Greetings friends of HSA!

We here at HSA endeavor to provide a total language experience, and no language can be learned entirely devoid of culture.

For this installment of our blog, we’d like to give you an insight into a huge cultural event that is currently in process here in Antigua. We are leading up to Semana Santa.

Semana Santa is the holy week, the famous Catholic celebration to commemorate the Passion, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The entire city of Antigua participates in this event, drawing thousands of visitors from Guatemala and all nations.

Procession in Antigua

Not your typical parade!


Although Semana Santa technically begins on Palm Sunday, the celebrations and processions start on Ash Wednesday and continue to build fervor throughout Cuaresma (Lent).

The holy week celebrations kick off on Palm Sunday when the venerated images of Jesus of Nazareth and the Holy Virgin of Sorrow (Santisima Virgen de Dolores) are carried from their churches through the city on the shoulders of devoted followers who carry lanterns while dressed in purple robes with white waistbands. As the week progresses, similar processions are held each day on Monday through Thursday to celebrate the last days of Christ.

A little note about the processions, they are organized and led by all male or all female brotherhoods (hermandades). The evening before a procession this is vigil by the particular brotherhood that will be leading the procession. When the procession begins, a funeral-march band plays while large crowds gather outside the church. More often than not, a carnival atmosphere forms and you’ll find traditional food, drinks, and games. Leaving from the church along a predetermined path, the procession consists of incense carriers and banner bearers, followed by the carriers of the anda (the float).  The carriers switch out every block, which is important since some andas can weigh as much as 7000 lbs. The carriers all wear purple robes until Good Friday, when they witch out their purple robes for black, to signify mourning for the death of Christ.

The Carpets of Processionals

Beautiful carpets line the streets of Antigua

On Good Friday, the whole event takes on a whole new level of spiritual significance and color. On this day, the streets of Antigua are covered in alfombras (aromatic carpets made of flowers, pines, clovers, and fruits) which residents make and place in front of their homes. Alfombras form intricate, delicate carpets on the street pavement for the processional route to walk on. Some alfombras can be very long (more than half a mile) and all contain religious, colonial, Mayan, Roman, or other original designs.

A reenactment of the Passion starts at 3:00 AM with a mock-trial and sentencing of Jesus. At 7:00 AM the image of Christ bearing the cross is carried through the carpeted streets of Antigua until early afternoon, when it switched out for the image of Christ being laid to rest.

At 4:30 PM Antigua is adorned with black crepe paper as people dressed in black crowd the streets to see the procession led by a man bearing the cross followed by hundreds carrying black banners. The image of Christ is laid to rest in a church at 11:00 PM.

On Holy Saturday, there are more funeral processions, led by the image of the sorrowful Virgin Mary (Virgen Dolorosa). Easter Sunday is a festive day of rejoicing. Processions celebrating the resurrection of Christ start early. Fireworks are heard throughout the city most of the day, and masses are held in every church.

At the end of the week (and after much cleanup), residents go back to their normal lives.

We’re still a week away from Palm Sunday (April 1st this year) and the beginning of Semana Santa, but already the processions have kicked off. Expect more pictures and footage as the festivities continue!

¡Hasta Luego!

Blog Credit: Bobby McKinney

Video Credit: Ron

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