The Trial of Christ

San Miguel de Allende

There is a saying that silence can be deafening. It can also evoke a profound sense of sadness.

In a town full of scurrying vendors, clanging basura trucks, yelling milkmen, and the laughter of children, silence pervades all on this Friday. It is the absence of church bells that truly…disturbs.

Not a single bell will ring in San Miguel de Allende on Viernes Santo, Good Friday.

Making our way down Loreto Street, we encounter lovely altars along the way.

The entrance to the Artisan's Market is
splendidly decorated for the day's solemn events.

All of San Miguel and the surrounding villages are headed towards the steps of La Parroquia to witness or participate in the Trial of Christ. Events begin at high noon, and the sun is unrelenting.

Volunteers install the cock that will
crow three times, foretelling Christ's fate.

As we make our way to the church courtyard, it is almost impossible to find a spot among the waiting thousands. At last the realistic trial begins as Roman soldiers emerge to announce the charges against the accused.

Roman soldiers bring forth the guilty for trial. The plumes on
many of the helmets are cleverly made of red brooms.

Before the entire town of San Miguel, a complete trial ensues with loud accusations, taunting Roman soldiers, and charges of " Guilty, guilty!". The "criminals" then parade around the perimeter of the Jardín escorted by legions of Roman soldiers, a host of saints, followed by angels and magnificent replicas of Christ and the Virgin Mary.

A common thief is mockingly whipped.

One by one, antique saints emerge from the side sanctuary of La Parroquia. The sight of these figures in broad daylight is breathtaking. Equally appreciated is the sheer weight of each image. As many as 30 to 40 saint-bearers carry the sacred figures, each saint dressed in splendid finery and laden with additional kilos of fresh flowers.

The parade of saints and religious figures is truly magnificent.
A host of adorable angels joins the procession.
Every faithful citizen wishes to participate, even the old, infirmed, and poor. Those familiar with San Miguel's characters will recognize "la estrella" in the red rebozo. She is easily recognized in the movie, Once Upon A Time in Mexico, and can be found most days at the entrance of El Tecolote bookstore begging for a few pesos.

The heat is so punishing that the black-clad señoras must seek refuge beneath the very saints they bear. As the slow-moving procession stops along the route, metal tripods are quickly placed under the saint-bearing platforms by assistants so the señoras may have a moment's rest. But not a single complaint is uttered.

The sentence is death. Christ will next appear.

As the drama slowly unfurls, the long awaited appearance of a special Christ figure is at last near. The crowds surge forward as this crucifix-bearing Christ image appears. Every person in The Jardín has patiently waited for a glimpse of this particular image.

The special Christ image begins the path depicting
the last moments of his life around The Jardín.

Through the long trial, the lengthy procession, and in the intense sun, not a single person leaves The Jardín and in fact many more are somehow crowding in. A file of saints led by the Virgin Mary, make their way on a western route, and a file of saints led by the Jesus figure, rounds The Jardín to the east. At last the two processions seem to rejoin directly in front of the Parroquia. But suddenly everything stops and everyone falls completely silent. Virgin Mary, borne on the shoulders of the señoras, stands about one hundred feet before the Jesus figure. It was later explained to me that this is the only moment during the procession that the two figures face each other, and this is the first moment in which Mary sees her suffering son bearing the cross.

And then the most-unbelievable thing happened.

Everyone is standing perfectly still for what seems an eternity, and then the Christ figure raises its head to look into the eyes of the Mary figure. I did not imagine this because he did it again! Even though the surrounding crowd had seen this moment many times throughout their lives, they gasped and wept as if witnessing this anew. I of course was among the gasping. This special Christ figure is equipped with a mechanical device allowing the head to lift in a most-realistic way. This special effect is VERY effective.

You will have to take my word for it because I was too shocked to snap a photo. Or better yet, plan to witness this life-sized drama and the special-effect Jesus in person. Ah, the milagros of Mexico!

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

All photos by Deb Hall. Photos taken in 2002.