New excitement for a century old tradition!
UNESCO included Holy Week in Guatemala in its UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List on November 22, 2022 with the official ceremony in Guatemala held on February 26, 2023! Antigua hosts the largest celerbation in the World – so you can imagine how excited everyone is this season. The first processions, holy vigils and sawdust carpetmaking began on Ash Wednesday, February 22nd, with renewed energy as this will be the full schedule since 2020.
All of the activities are organized by the hermandades (brotherhoods and sisterhoods) that are dedicated to the different Christ and Virgin Mary sculptures. The schedule is much the same from year to year but 2023 will prove itself even more spectacular!
The Velaciones (holy vigils), are celebrated at each active Catholic church with the sculpture on display. A one-day event, it brings to life a biblical message with the processional figure, and the most spectacular sawdust carpets surrounded with fruits and vegetables that represent the Garden of Gethsemane that Jesus visited. The best time to arrive is in the morning as the crowds fill the churches in the evening when the funeral march bands begin to play a repertoire of Guatemalan composed marches.
Processional routes are readily found this year through social media. Antigua Tours will be posting them weekly through our Facebook page. Processions leave their church and return to the same church about 12 hours later. The finest street carpets are created by local residents close to that church. If the procession is going to come by your house, your friends and family invite themselves over to make the most artistic designs in dyed sawdust, pine needles, flower petals and a palm tree pod called a “corozo” known for its Semana Santa special fragrance. There is no carpet competition and each carpet is of equal importance.
These traditions date back to the arrival of the Spanish in Guatemala in 1524 at Iximche, when Jorge de Alvarado reportedly made the first carpet for Corpus Christi. Inspired centuries ago, from Seville, Spain, Guatemala has added its own flavor. In recent years, as Antigua has flourished through tourism, celebrations blossom with new creativity. Completed moments before the procession walks over them, timing and location is essential for the best photos. After the procession passes, these are all swept up!
Thousands of processional participants sign up in advance. Men carry the Christ figures, many of these dating back to 1650 and all made in Guatemala, and the women carry the Virgen Mary. Antigua has some of the finest 17th century sculpture in the world! Made out of cedar, plaster and a special material to give it the flesh-like look of the face and hands, the glass eyes are very expressive.
Tips to enjoy activities: 1) know the processional route; 2) don’t take anything of any value other than your camera; 3) position yourself on the right side of the Christ figure to get the impressive look; 4) pace yourself and 5) remember Antigua hosts the largest celebration in the World!
Check Elizabeth Bell’s bilingual publication: Lent and Holy Week/Cuaresma y Semana Santa La Antigua Guatemala for a complete description!