Lent and Semana Santa in La Antigua: What Not To Miss
By now, you have probably noticed that the city of La Antigua is resplendent in purple during the month of March because of Lent, and the biggest event celebrated every year is here: Semana Santa or Holy Week. The whole city and the surrounding towns commemorate these holy days with a variety of activities and events, and since there simply isn’t enough time to enjoy them all, Qué Pasa presents some of the best and most important ones below.
The world-famous alfombras (or carpets) are made from colored sawdust, flowers, sand, and many other materials which are typical of the celebrations in La Antigua, and you can see them in their maximum splendor during Holy Week. Some of the must-see ones are:
• Maundy (Holy) Thursday: On the streets around San Francisco El Grande Church, around midday, you’ll find some of the most intricate designs, especially along the Calle del Hermano Pedro.
• Maundy Thursday night into the morning of Good Friday: The Calle Ancha de los Herreros is the perfect place to see many of the best alfombra designs, some of which are family traditions dating back more than 80 years. Start your walk around 2 AM (yes, in the wee hours of the morning, but you’ll find thousands of others wandering the streets, too) to see the various patterns and teams at work.
• Also, that same night, walk along 7a Avenida Norte to the corner of Callejón Camposeco (to the north of 1a Calle), right in front of Kaffee Fernando’s. Not only will you see the alfombra, but you’ll be able to smell it, too, since it’s made of coffee and cocoa husks – so be careful if your weakness is chocolate! Half a block north, you’ll also find a sand alfombra about 60 feet long, right in front of Tienda San Antonio de Don Chepe Armas, and it’s one of the ones with the most intricate designs in the city.
• Good Friday: around 9 AM, once you’ve had a nap after your overnight sightseeing, you can start your walk from the corner of 7a Calle Oriente and 1a Avenida Sur (at the side entrance of San Francisco El Grande Church) heading north, and then turn left on 4a Calle Oriente, where you’ll find a beautiful flower alfombra before you reach the corner of 2a Avenida Norte.
Food and Drinks
Especially for Holy Week, Guatemalans prepare delicious meals which have their roots in the Colonial Era and have been influenced by Arab, Pre-Hispanic, and even Caribbean Garífuna cooking. There are also special drinks for this time of year, so don’t miss out on these:
• Chinchivir drink: This is made from several varieties of limes and spices, and originally was a refreshment especially for cucuruchos (the men who carry the platforms in the processions). You can find it at Tienda San Antonio de Don Chepe Armas (7a Avenida Norte). But don’t be confused, even though the locale is a hardware store which sells incense for processions and the materials to create alfombras, you’ll find the best chinchivir here!
• Súchiles beverage: If you’re on your way to the church in the village of San Felipe de Jesús to look at the alfombras on Good Friday, you’ll see several signs advertising súchiles. Try it! It’s a fermented beverage made from fruit with ginger and sugar. The refreshing drink is sold all during Lent and Semana Santa.
• Vizcaína-style Fish: This dish is usually made with cod, and it’s traditional during this time of year. Even though Guatemalans don’t normally eat a lot of fish, during Lent and Semana Santa, many Catholics give up red meat as penance, and several dishes are prepared with dried fish. The Vizcaína style is cooked with bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, and potatoes.
• Molletes: This is a type of Guatemalan bread, filled with a sweet mixture of butter and raisins, which is then coated with an egg batter, fried, and finally soaked in a sugary syrup. You can find them at street vendors’ carts and especially at velaciones.
The reenactments of the last days of Jesus Christ are numerous and start each year on Ash Wednesday. You may think that all processions look the same every year; they do, to a certain extent, but each year they vary somewhat in designs and themes. You can choose several events to attend, but if you want to experience the most popular and important, the ones described here should not be missed.
• Velaciones (Holy Vigils): These religious events happen every Friday during Lent and they are very good opportunities to see up close the images of Jesus of Nazareth and the Virgin Mary which will be used in the procession of that church on its appointed Sunday during Lent. Inside each church, a scene from a Biblical passage is portrayed using the images and special effects. Outside the church, many street vendors start selling food at about noon and continue until the early hours of the following morning. The velaciones you won’t want to miss out on are the ones from Jocotenango, Santa Ana and San Bartolomé Becerra during Lent and the one at San Francisco El Grande during Holy Week.
• San Bartolomé Becerra Procession. This procession is the most famous and most viewed during Lent. It happens on the Fifth Sunday of Lent and the procession’s path meanders through the city of La Antigua, finishing in the early morning of Monday. Usually around 100,000 people come into the city for this event and one of the most impressive points to see the procession is when it reaches the Parque Central. Another amazing sight during this procession is to see it early Monday morning near the San Lázaro Cemetery as the procession leaves La Antigua, since, as a tradition, the cucuruchos turn the platform around so that the image of Jesus of Nazareth can face the city one more time and a complete and deep bow to the city is made with the platform.
• Holy Monday, Huerto of La Merced: Huertos (or gardens) are made inside churches with offerings – usually the best fruits and vegetables – brought by parishioners for decoration. The offerings are arranged near the altar to create an alfombra of colored sand, fruit and vegetables. Among the huertos, the one on Holy Monday at La Merced Church stands out, since it stretches all the way from the altar to about halfway from the front doors.
• Maundy Thursday Visitation of Church Tabernacles: One Catholic tradition in La Antigua is to visit seven different church tabernacles starting at 6 PM on this day. It’s a very special way to visit the insides of churches and to see some of the ones which are specially decorated for the occasion. You can start at the Cathedral, and make sure to enter the ruins of the Cathedral (behind the current parish church), which will be beautifully decorated and candlelit. After which, you should be sure to visit at least San Francisco El Grande and La Merced.
• Good Friday, Proclamation of the Judgment: Starting around midnight, Roman centurions ride their horses from the atrium of La Merced Church to several points in the city to read the Proclamation of Judgment. The best place to witness this is right at the church, because there will be a large group of soldiers both on foot and on horseback. At the atrium, you will also see a mannequin hanging from one of the trees; it represents Judas Iscariot.
• Good Friday, Act of Crucifixion and Lowering of the image of the Entombed Jesus to its glass coffin at the Escuela de Cristo Church: At this church at noon, a very solemn act is performed: the image of Jesus is lowered into its glass coffin and placed on the processional platform (the anda) to exit the church at 3 PM. The event is impressive because the movements of the image’s articulated limbs seem almost real. The processional platform is also beautifully decorated, and the Stations of Cross represented by small andas, each with different images, precede it.
For the times and dates of the events listed in this article, as well as other Lenten and Semana Santa events, turn to our calendar starting on page 32 and look for the cross symbols.
Photos by: Sergio Berducido