Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Passion of Holy Week in the Heart of Mexico

This time last year I spent the "Holy Week of Easter" in the Mexican central highland states of Guanajuato and Queretaro attending a photography workshop with National Geographic photographer Raul Touzon. Our assignment was to photograph the spectacle of Easter pageants and celebrations that take place here -- colorful festivities that are particularly unrivaled anywhere else in the world.

The colonial town of San Miguel Allende rises up out of the central plains of Mexico to more than 6000 feet above sea level. It is here that the festivities begin two weeks before the Sunday designated as Easter. For more than 400 years the faithful have come here during Holy Week to celebrate with an enduring devotion and unwavering faith that simply overwhelms the senses. What takes place here during Holy Week really transcends any personally-held beliefs and religious observations of Easter.

On the Wednesday before Easter little "angelitas" bedecked in feathered angel's wings, golden crowns and their bright, white confirmation dresses symbolically carry the body of Christ in the procession of San Juan de Dios. The emotion was palpable and moving -- and my favorite images were those that captured that motion and movement.

In the nearby puebla of Cadereyta, the procession of the 400 Christs, a great parade of Easter devotion symbolized by brightly colored papier-mache streamers attached to wooden poles carried by thousands of marchers, begins slowly ...trundling through the cobblestone streets of the village with an unfathomable solemnity and then ends in a rush of blazing color at the doors of the church.

The little village of Ixtla plays host to the Passion Play on Good Friday. In the sweltering heat and dust the tiny spot in the world is flooded with the faithful who have come from afar to bare witness to the reenactment of the crucifixion.

The little hilltop outside of Ixtla swells with both pilgrims and emotion. The hill is overwhelmed by the mounting fervor and the air seems to explode rapturously into the searing heat.

Embedded in the solemnity of the moment is always the celebratory feasts of colorful, festive Mexico.

The most famous procession in all of Mexico takes place Thursday afternoon In the city of Queretaro. In the Procession of Silence more than 2000 "penitentes" march the perimeter of the city....

...carrying heavy crosses carved out of mesquite wood and often dragging chains strapped to their ankles.

not a word is spoken -- the only sound heard is the rasping of breath as crosses are hoisted onto shoulders and the scrape of chains against the pavement as the penitentes begin their march.

Children also take part in these century-old traditions which have, over time, have absorbed some of the older indigenous celebrations of the area.

The processions of Holy Saturday belong to the local women - mothers and children filling the streets of San Miguel at dusk to accompany Mary to the grave of her son.

In the flicker of a single flame, the rapture and joy of faith and rebirth transcends generational divides.

I find it fascinating that many of these traditions here have been passed down over the centuries and incorporate age-old rites and symbolic gestures that predate Christianity. Regardless people across the world mark this time of year with celebrations to honor the return of the son/sun.

Happy Easter - Happy Spring
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