Like many things in Oaxaca, Holy Week is a very special season. It’s true that for much of the year we tend to organise huge, showy parties but, during these days, calendas, fireworks and live music hide away, and silence, prayers and devotion take over. This might sound slightly boring, but it is actually one of the most intense sides of Mexican Culture. Holy Week proves that devotion in modern Mexico arises in Churches but transcends their walls –believers (and sometimes non-believers too) go through a personal and quite intense period of mourning and contemplation. Yes, rituals are important.
Semana Santa is the week before Easter and commemorates the last days of Jesus’ life. This halo of intense spirituality and symbolism also gives many art and cultural spaces the chance to organise stage plays, exhibitions of sacred art and concerts in which both artists and audience can reflect and question issues around sacrifice, redemption, the end of old cycles and the beginning of new ones.
Holy Week events are about to start, and although we will share a complete guide to the events, we’ve made a selection of the most interesting –and intense- ones.
March 25, 1pm
Blessing of the Palms. This day officially marks the beginning of Holy Week, and commemorates Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem. The city churches are full of crown-looking palms and branches dedicated to the man who will soon become King of Christian Spirituality.
Good Thursday – Visit of the Seven Temples
March 29, 6pm
On Good Thursday people in Oaxaca evoke the last hours of Jesus after the Last Supper and up until his Crucifixion. Crosses and images are removed from all churches, which are crowded with people praying for one of, if not the most important moment in the history of Christianity. Streets are also full of people praying and walking in silence while they make a pilgrimage to their favourite seven churches in the city, with each stop representing a different stage of Jesus’ last days.
Good Friday – Stations of the Cross and Procession of Silence
March 30, 7am-9pm
This is the Holy Week’s most solemn day. All the Banners and Reliquaries of all the churches of Oaxaca leave their original location and gather in the city’s cathedral. At 5.30pm they depart the cathedral and join the silent procession which will start at the Temple of “Sangre de Cristo”. The Procession of Silence reveals a great deal of mysticism – it is meant to mourn Jesus’ death. Besides the surrounding silence, devotion is both pervading and intense: people with covered faces wearing black and purple garments walk barefoot and chained around downtown, carrying coffins and images that represent Jesus’ calvary and Mary’s pain. In a way, participants also carry their own crosses and sins. They ask for God’s –and their own- forgiveness and for the redemption of their souls.
Holy Saturday, Blessing of New Fire
March 31, 10pm
Lights go out in every church, prayers float in the atmosphere and people await Jesus’ resurrection. The only light burning amid this darkness is the New Fire that will soon be blessed. The symbolism here is crucial- the New Fire represents the light shining after Lenten Sacrifices and a dark mourning. It marks the arrival of better times where the possibility of purifying ourselves and becoming less worldly and more divine beings is real.
April 1, 7pm
It marks the end of Holy week and the beginning of Easter -a new cycle. Now the King is in Heaven and churches are crowded with people who will join a Procession of Joy, celebrating the triumph of life over death, light over darkness. Music, color and laughter are back in Oaxaca streets again.