Semana Santa, When Faith Becomes Visual

San Miguel de Allende

Every moment before Easter Sunday in San Miguel de Allende is like a dream filled with saints, cherubic angels, aromatic herbs, and a cast of thousands. Even mother nature complies as the jacaranda trees burst with lavender blooms as if on cue. The devotions begin a full two weeks prior, but Semana Santa, Holy Week, is the very emotional and very dramatic culmination of the Lenten season.

The procession from the church, El Orotorio de
San Felipe Neri, begins to assemble with the
Padre's urging.

Every "colonia", or neighborhood, celebrates with local processions, beautifully constructed altars, and the proud display of saints that only leave the parish church over these days. So many processions are occurring, often simultaneously, that villagers scramble from one neighborhood to the next in an effort to admire friends and family as they participate in the solemn rituals of the season.

Beautifully costumed women play special roles, and bear symbols reflecting key aspects of the crucifixion, including the rope that bound Christ to the cross, the crown of thorns, and the dice of the gambling Romans. The symbols are a direct reference to how indigenous people were taught the crucifixion story by priests before Spanish was known. In a culture rich with symbolism, clearly these story-telling objects remain sacred to this day.

The church, El Orotorio, conducts one of the largest and most-colorful processions in San Miguel on the Wednesday of Holy Week. Organizing the parade takes time and patience, but no one minds as young and old eagerly gather to see this visual pronouncement of faith.

Many women are dressed in funeral black. Several of the
crucifix symbols are presented on elegant, red velvet pillows.
The solemn bearers of one of three crosses.

Faithful followers are dressed in sombreros, a respectful nod
to the farmers and ranchers who make up the majority of the
population of the municipality of San Miguel de Allende.

One of the most-endearing moments is the appearance of the host of angels. Throngs of little girls are dressed in virgin white, each bearing feather-covered angel's wings, golden crowns, and branches of flowers. Cameras are clicking in every direction, and their parents could not be prouder.

The little angels even wear golden huaraches on their feet.
Beautiful saints next emerge, their tremendous weight borne on
the shoulders of women.

As the sun sets, the massive parade makes its way to The Jardín, the central
plaza of San Miguel de Allende.

At last, the dramatic appearance of Christ.

The slow cadence of the saint bearers, the solemn expression on every face, and the reverent silence of the crowds adds to the emotional moment that has enveloped all of San Miguel. It is the collective faith of thousands that permeates the air. Although clouds gather and there was a moment of rain, the sun has now burst through and the sky is glowing. The procession turns the corner and dramatically enters The Jardín to pass before the spires of La Parroquia and the admiring eyes of the faithful.

Saints pass through The Jardín before adoring thousands.

The following day, Maundy Thursday, the sacred events continue in various "colonias" including the re-enactment of The Last Supper, the washing of the feet of the disciples, and a re-enactment of the arrest of Jesus. On this night, villagers attempt to visit each of San Miguel's seven main churches, known as Las Siete Casas.¹ Thousands will go to El Orotorio to visit the chapel, La Santa Casa de Loreto, which is only open to the public on this night.

Despite the pageantry and wonder that has occurred in every neighborhood for days, nothing can compare to what is to come; Viernes Santo, Good Friday.

Tomorrow our village will awake to witness the most emotional and profound day of the year. And there is no better place to witness Viernes Santo than in San Miguel de Allende.

March 12, 2005
By Debra Hall
ZOCALO Fine Folk Art
San Miguel de Allende, MEXICO
Pátzcuaro, MEXICO

All photos by Deb Hall, taken in 2002.

¹ Brief information regarding Maundy Thursday in San Miguel de Allende found on page 88, The Best of San Miguel de Allende, 2005 Edition, by Joseph Harmes, Ediciones de la Noche, Guadalajara, Jalisco.